Where Have You Been All My Life
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Who the fuck infiltrates a senior Foundation official's home, while they're home?
어떤 미친놈이 선임 재단 임원의 집에, 그것도 당사자가 집에 있는 동안 침입한단 말인가?

Marion Wheeler lives deep in coniferous forest, a long drive from the nearest major city and a long drive in the opposite direction from Site 41. It's late, last thing, and she's reading in bed when she hears the muffled, unmistakeable click of her front door being unlocked. She looks up, and stares blankly at the wall for a second while listening to soft footsteps moving into the hallway.
매리언 휠러는 가장 가까운 도시에서나, 그와 반대 방향에 위치한 제41기지에서나 마찬가지로 장거리 운행을 해야지 닿을 수 있는 침엽수림 깊은 곳에 산다. 게다가 밤도 깊었고, 침대에 누워 책을 읽고 있는 그 때, 휠러는 현관문의 잠금장치가 풀리면서 나는 작지만 결코 헷갈릴 수는 없는 소리를 듣는다. 휠러는 시선을 들어올려, 복도에서 나는 작은 발소리를 들으며 잠시동안 멍하니 벽을 바라본다.

She marks her place and reaches for her Foundation-issued phone. She has no permanent security staff at home — the Division is understaffed and trained operatives are in much more serious need on Site — but the building and grounds have beefy electronic countermeasures. They, she discovers, have all been disabled, along with the sensors and cameras. She was not notified that this had happened. Whoever did it had a valid code.
휠러는 제자리를 지키며 재단산 전화기로 손을 뻗는다. 휠러의 집에는 상주하는 보안 요원이 없지만 — 부서에는 항상 사람이 부족하며 훈련받은 요원은 기지 내에서 더 심각한 업무에 배정되어 있다 — 건물 자체와 부지에는 엄중한 전기 방범 장치들이 설치되어 있다. 휠러와 재단 사람들은, 센서와 카메라를 포함한 방범 장치가 전부 꺼져있는 것을 발견한다. 이런 일이 있었다고는 통보받은 적이 없다. 누군지는 몰라도 유효한 암호를 가지고 있다.

Who, though?
문제는, 누구란 말인가?

The Foundation has enemies. True, the list of credible, motivated enemies is surprisingly short, and the list of groups stupid enough to try to kill or capture someone at her level is shorter. But it's far from empty, and it's not actually so hard a feat; not too many people below O5 level are privileged to travel in motorcades. The real trick, the impossible trick, is to avoid unholy retaliation. But what if you really think you can? What if you've decided it's worth it?
재단에는 적이 있다. 신뢰성 있고 동기까지 있는 적은 아주 적고, 휠러 정도나 되는 인물을 죽이거나 사로잡으려 할 만큼 멍청한 집단은 더더욱 적은 것이 사실이다. 하지만 아예 없는 것은 아니고, 그다지 어려운 일도 아니다. O5 급 아래에 있는 사람들 중 자동차 행렬을 이루며 이동할 수 있는 특권을 가진 사람은 그닥 많지 않으니까. 진짜 비결은, 불가능한 것이나 다름없지만, 위험한 보복을 피하는 것이다. 하지만 그렇게 할 수 있다 생각한다면? 그럴 만한 가치가 있다 판단한다면?

Wheeler triggers the silent alarm. She sets her phone back down on the nightstand and collects her gun. She rolls out of bed, tucks a few pillows in her place, moves silently to her bedroom door and stands beside it, listening and thinking.
휠러는 무음 경보를 작동시킨다. 침대 옆 탁자 위에 전화기를 돌려놓고는 총을 손에 쥔다. 휠러는 침대 밖으로 빠져나와, 누워있던 자리에 베개 몇 개를 쑤셔넣은 뒤, 방문쪽으로 조용히 다가가 그 옆에 서서는 바깥 소리를 들으며 생각한다.

This door, her bedroom door, can't be opened silently. It creaks like hell, so if she goes through it she'll have to be ready to draw attention. There's an attic, but access is out there on the landing and, again, can't be operated silently. There's no alternate route to ground level other than jumping from the window, and someone has to be covering it. Even if she landed in the bushes alive, she'd still have to break the perimeter with a sprained ankle.
이 문, 자신의 침댓방 문은, 조용히 열리지 않는다. 끔찍할 정도로 끼익거리는 소리가 나므로, 문을 열고 나가려 한다면 관심을 끌 준비는 해야 한다. 다락방이 있긴 하지만, 층계참까지 가야하며, 이 역시나 조용히 갈 수는 없다. 창문으로 뛰어내리는 것 밖에는 1층으로 내려갈 다른 방법이 없지만, 그쪽을 담당하는 사람이 있을 것이다. 살아있는 상태로 덤불에 뛰어내린다 하더라도, 발이 삔 상태에서 이 지역을 벗어나야 한다.

A better question than "Who?" is "How many?" She may already be straight-up dead, simply due to numbers. If the attackers tread cautiously and try to flush her out, she figures she can Home Alone her way through perhaps eight of them before running out of luck. If they rush the second floor and have armor she might be overwhelmed by as few as two, even with the staircase acting as a choke point. All of this, naturally, assumes that the attackers aren't anomalous. If they are, and they're not in the, say, thirty percent of anomalies which can be neutralised simply by shooting them in the centre mass and head, she may be fundamentally helpless even after the response team shows up. Which will be, at best, ten minutes from now.
"누가?"보다는 "얼마나 많이?"가 더 나은 질문일 것이다. 숫자가 많다면 휠러는 이미 진즉에 죽었어야 한다. 만약 적들이 조심스레 들어와서는 휠러를 공격하려 하는 거라면, 운빨이 떨어지기 전에 어쩌면 여덟 명 정도는 《나홀로 집에》식으로 무력화할 수는 있을 것 같다. 무기가 있는 채로 2층에 돌격해온다면, 층계참을 이용하여 목을 조른다고 해도 고작 2명이면 압도당할 것이다. 물론, 이 모든 가정은 침입자들이 변칙적이지 않다는 것을 전제로 하고 있다. 만약 변칙적이라고 했을 때, 몸 중앙과 머리에 총알을 박아넣는 것 만으로 무력화할 수 있는 전체 변칙 개체의 30퍼센트 안에 들지 않는 경우라면, 휠러는 대응팀이 온 뒤라도 완전히 무력하다. 대응팀은 잘 하면 지금으로부터 10분 뒤 쯤에 온다.

A creaking. This damned house. Someone is coming up the stairs, making no effort to be quiet about it. A soft tread, though. As if they removed their shoes. Just one of them? That barely makes sense.
끼익거리는 소리. 이 망할 집 같으니라고. 누군가 계단을 올라온다. 조용히 움직일 생각은 전혀 없는 것 같다. 신발을 벗은 것 처럼. 딱 한 명만? 그건 전혀 말이 안된다.

With five seconds' grace, Wheeler casts around the dark room for a second weapon. She knows there are knitting needles downstairs in the lounge and knives, good ones, in the kitchen. But she can't get to them. It's too late. The door's opening. It seems like the man's trying to say something as he comes in, but he only gets as far as "I— whulp," and it's done. He's flat on his face, cheek pressed into deep cream carpet, with Wheeler on his back pinning both his wrists with her knees. She sights urgently back down the stairs for a second; there's no one there. She prods him in his other cheek with the muzzle of the gun. "You speak, you die," she hisses. "You try to move, you die." She glances at the windows, checks the stairs again, listens intently. There's no sound. There's nothing to be seen.
딱 5초 간 기다린 뒤, 휠러는 두 번째 무기를 찾기 위해 어두운 방 안을 돌아다닌다. 아랫층 거실에 뜨개바늘이 있고, 부엌에는 아주 잘 드는 칼이 있단 걸 안다. 하지만 가지러 갈 수는 없다. 너무 늦다. 문이 열리고 있다. 한 남자가 들어오면서 뭔가를 말하려 하지만, 얼마 말하지 못한다. "나— 트헙." 그게 끝이다. 바닥에 엎어져, 진한 크림색 카페트에 볼이 짓눌린 채, 휠러가 등에 올라가 무릎으로 남자의 양 손목을 누르고 있다. 휠러는 이 뒤에 올 사람을 찾으려 급히 뒤쪽 계단가를 보지만, 아무도 없다. 휠러는 총포로 남자의 볼을 쿡 찌른다. "말하면, 죽어." 휠러가 낮게 읇조린다. "움직이려 한다면, 죽어." 휠러는 창가를 보다가, 다시 계단을 확인하고는 가만히 귀를 기울인다. 아무런 소리도 없다. 보이는 것도 없다.

The man is fifty, and lanky. He wears an expensive dark suit, tailored to his build. He has angular features, thick, greying hair and rimless spectacles, now quite possibly bent out of shape by their sudden impact with the floor. He wears discreet platinum jewellery: a wristwatch, cufflinks and a ring.
남자는 50대 정도에 키가 멀쑥하다. 체구에 맞추어 맞춤 제작한 값비싸 보이는 검은색 정장을 입고 있다. 각진 얼굴에 굵은 회색 머리카락이며, 쓰고 있는 테없는 안경 갑자기 바닥에 눌려서 살짝 뒤틀린 것 같다. 또한 손목시계와 커프스 단추, 반지 등 작은 백금 장신구를 걸치고 있다.

The two of them halt like that, a tableau. He makes no attempt to move, although he does look askance at Wheeler, as best he can given his dislodged glasses.
둘은 꼭 정지 화상처럼 그 상태로 멈춘다. 남자는 움직이려는 생각은 없어 보이나, 비뚤어진 안경을 통해 곁눈질로 휠러를 본다.

Wheeler asks, "Where are the others?"
휠러가 묻는다. "다른 이들은 어딨지?"

"It's just me, Marion," he answers.
"나뿐이야, 매리언." 그가 답한다.

"Who are you?"
"넌 누구지?"

He says nothing for a moment, but his expression slowly, subtly drops. "I, ah. Well. Well, it really happened, didn't it? I always wondered."
그는 잠시동안 아무 말도 하지 않지만, 감정선이 천천히, 미묘하게 내려간다. "난, 아. 그래. 정말 일어났군, 안 그래? 항상 궁금했었는데."

"Who are you?"
"넌 누구야?"

"There is a monster which follows you around and eats your memories," the man says. "SCP-4987. You drip-feed it inconsequential trivia so it doesn't go after anything important. You watch game shows. The book you were reading just now. On your nightstand. It's a trivia book. Right?"
"당신을 쫓아다니며 기억을 먹어치우는 괴물이 있어." 남자가 말한다. "SCP-4987. 중요한 기억은 먹지 못하게 당신은 하찮은 정보를 먹이고 있지. 그래서 퀴즈 쇼를 보잖아. 지금 읽고 있던 책도 그렇고. 침댓가 탁자 위에 있는 거. 상식 책이지. 그치?"

Wheeler says nothing to confirm or deny this, although it is true. At feeding time the entity manifests like a bright gold-white spot in the corner of her eye. It's gone now.
전부 사실이기는 하지만 휠러는 그 말을 긍정도 부정도 하지 않는다. 식사 시간이 되면 개체는 눈 한 쪽 구석의 밝은 백금색 점처럼 나타난다. 지금은 없다.

She's already put the rest of it together. It is all mind-bogglingly, insultingly obvious.
이미 상황은 다 파악하였다. 상상할 수 없을 정도로, 화가 날 정도로 뻔하다.

With a well-suppressed but still detectable note of dismay, she asks, "What's your name?"
경악의 감정을 잘 억누르기는 했지만 여전히 찾아볼 수는 있는 상태로, 휠러가 묻는다. "네 이름은?"

"Adam," he says. "Adam Wheeler."
"애덤." 남자가 말한다. "애덤 휠러."

*

Obviously, she has the man detained.
당연한 일이지만, 휠러는 남자를 구속시켰다.

She instructs her people to interrogate him — lightly — and to run deep background research on every word he utters, while for her part she stands far back from the investigation to avoid contamination. She resists the urge to interfere, particularly to visit "Adam" and personally demand answers. She goes to her office, curls up on the couch there and tries to catch some sleep, but doesn't succeed in any real sense.

Seven hours later a Foundationer knocks on her office door, bringing an inch-thick block of printouts and a paralysingly strong cup of coffee. Wheeler takes the drink first, accepting it as a kind of authentication step before letting the man in. She moves back to the couch and sits hunched over the drink for warmth, inhaling its fumes.

The man settles heavily into a chair opposite. He is a misleadingly stocky, perpetually unshaven individual, somewhere just shy of forty, and inarguably the most dangerous person on the Site. He is the Division's physical fitness and combat instructor and the leader of their solitary Mobile Task Force. His name is Alex Gauss. "They, uh," he says, "figured I should be the one to present their results. Even though I didn't research one line of it. 'Cause we 'get along'. Their words. Personally, I don't see it."

Wheeler stays focused on the coffee. "Who is he?"

Gauss opens the first page of the report, more for show than anything, then closes it again. "He's your husband. Every word checks out. There is limitless physical evidence. Half of the Division knows him socially, including me. I credit your diligence and adherence to protocol, but the bottom line is that SCP-4987 got hungry."
가우스는 보고서 첫 페이지를 펼친다. 별건 아니고 단순히 보여주기 식이므로, 곧 다시 닫는다. "당신 남편이에요. 전부 맞아떨어져요. 셀 수 없이 많은 물리적인 증거가 있어요. 저를 포함해서 부서의 반절은 되는 사람들이 사회적으로 그를 알아요. 당신이 성실하게 프로토콜을 고수한 건 칭찬할만하지만, 요점은 SCP-4987이 배가 고팠다는 게 되겠네요."

Wheeler nods. This assessment matches her own, pieced together overnight from gut reactions and analysis of the plain facts. Where the hell else did her name come from? She wasn't born "Wheeler". But she had to get independent verification.

She asks, "Has this happened before?"
휠러가 묻는다. "이런 적이 또 있었어?"

"No."
"아뇨."

"Could it happen again?"
"또 일어날 수도 있을까?"

Gauss shrugs. "You would know better than anyone."
가우스가 어깨를 으쓱여보인다. "당신이 누구보다 잘 아시겠죠."

"I would. I do. And I can tell you this: I have SCP-4987 trained to follow me at my heel. I feed it according to a strict regimen, it eats only the memories I say it's okay to eat. A rapidly progressive, universally fatal memory parasite made chronic and then domesticated. And now, what, it suddenly breaks training? That adds up?"

"If you say it doesn't add up, it doesn't add up," Gauss says, cautiously. "But speaking from field experience, anything can happen twice."

Wheeler has waited long enough, and takes a long pull from the coffee. She stares into the coiling steam, as if trying to see the future. "But who is he?" she asks again. "At this point, you know him better than I do. What's he like? Do you like him?"

Gauss grimaces extravagantly. This is the great-great-grandmother of all loaded questions.

Wheeler looks him in the eye and says, "Tell me your personal impression of Adam Wheeler. Direct order."
휠러는 그의 눈을 들여다보며 말한다. "애덤 휠러에 대한 개인적은 감상을 말해봐. 직접적인 명령이야."

"…He's a nice enough guy."
"…꽤나 착한 사람이죠."

"'Nice enough'?"
"'꽤나 착한'?"

Gauss clicks his tongue. "I don't like him," he admits. "Personally. All that much. We're civil. But he will always be a little bit too smug, and a little bit too clever. He just… grates. Would I throw someone in a cell for that? No."
가우스는 혀를 찬다. "전 그 사람 별로 안 좋아해요." 가우스는 인정한다. "개인적으로는요. 그 뿐이죠. 우린 정중해요. 하지만 그는 항상 조금 너무 의기양양하죠. 조금 너무 똑똑하기도 하고요. 그냥…짜증나요. 그렇다고 감옥에 쳐넣어야 한다고 물으면요? 아니라 대답하죠."

"Do I like him?"
"난 그를 좋아헀나?"

"You" Gauss begins, then stops. He looks away. And over time, a soft smile develops on his face, one which Wheeler doesn't recall ever seeing before, not in a working relationship going back years. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah. He's the one."
"당신은
" 가우스는 말을 하다가, 멈춘다. 눈길을 돌린다. 그리고 시간이 지나자, 옅은 미소가 가우스의 얼굴에 떠오른다. 휠러가 그와 함께한 몇 년동안의 업무 관계에서 한 번도 본 적 없던 미소다. "네." 그가 말한다. "맞아요. 당신은 그를 좋아했어요."

*

Full name: Adam Bellamy Wheeler. Born February 27, 1962 in Henge, Derbyshire, United Kingdom to Rosemary Leah Wheeler née Wizst and Jonathan 'Jack' Philip Wheeler. No siblings. Early education: Henge Church of England Primary School, Matlock All Saints Secondary School. Demonstrated great musical acuity from an early age. By age sixteen had begun to be recognised as one of the more accomplished classical violinists of his generation. Attended the Royal College of—
성명: 애덤 벨라미 휠러Adam Bellamy Wheeler. 1962년 2월 27일

Wheeler skips three pages.

—after sustaining a minor injury while on tour in ████████, he encountered SCP-4051, which had infested a wing of the hospital where he received treatment. SCP-4051 was protected by an unusual form of antimemetic camouflage to which Wheeler — like an estimated 1 in 145,000 individuals worldwide — was (and remains) immune. His attempt to alert authorities to the infestation's presence was intercepted by a Foundation listening station. Operative Marion A. Hutchinson (100A-1-9331), then a field agent based in—

Another page.

—resistant to conventional memory-erasure procedures. Hutchinson applied successfully for an exemption, reasoning that even with his memories left intact it would be impossible for Wheeler to share the details of SCP-4051. They subsequently became romantically involved.

"Oh, they 'subsequently became romantically involved', did they? Tell me more, you featureless gray sphere of a biographer, I'm hooked now."

The biography is contentless beyond this point. Adam Wheeler's life spent touring, playing, lecturing and occasionally conducting, writing and composing is documented in exhaustive, pointless detail. He withstands background checks and surveillance, and consistently demonstrates himself to represent zero risk of leak. He eventually receives the extremely low clearance level normally granted to long-term Foundation-external partners of Foundationers. They get married. She takes his name, which she, reading, considers faintly unrealistic. Blah blah.

There is nothing about his personality. Nothing about their relationship. No content.

She remembers acquiring SCP-4051. There was no one there. She remembers nothing.

*

Up until the end of the third round of questioning, Adam Wheeler assumes good faith. He figures the repetition is a due diligence tic, a corporate procedural requirement. It's only when they start over from "What's your name?" with a brand new interviewer for the fourth time that he finally gets it: they don't like him, and they don't care what he thinks his name is. They're trying to grind him down, until he can't think, until he's just dust particles they can sift through for data.

He reacts badly to this realisation. He asks for his wife, and asks for his wife, and they ignore him, and they ignore him, and she persistently fails to appear, until it becomes a cold form of torture. The questions keep coming and nothing stops them, not answering truthfully, not not answering, not lying, not rambling off on tangents. They don't stop until he begins falling asleep in the middle of his own sentences.

He wakes up in a standard Humanoid Containment Unit, a stackable one-bedroom apartment with holographic fake windows, impregnable walls and extensive discreet modifications for the security and monitoring of anomalous entities. This one is on the first basement level, but he can't tell that. The bright quote-light-unquote pouring in through the main living area window is authentic enough to tan.

He wakes up on the couch, with a start, feeling creaky and dehydrated. He realises that he slept in his suit, and that his suit is creased. He hates that, that sensation of not looking his best, or at least presentable. That's going to gnaw away at him until he can find, at minimum, a razor and a change of shirt.

What woke him was the heavy metallic clack of the door unlocking. He looks up, rubbing his eyes. It's his wife. "Marion! Oh, my God." He leaps up and rushes over to meet her. She stops him a few paces short, with a gesture and a cold smile. And that hurts. It hurts more than anything.

So it really happened: SCP-4987 has bitten out the part of Marion Wheeler which cared about him. She wasn't absent because of some unrelated K-class outbreak. She just chose to be elsewhere, indifferent.

So he doesn't embrace her. He stands at a polite distance. "How are you feeling? Did you sleep?"

"I'm fine."

"I can tell you've had your coffee. Have you eaten? Come on, I'll make you something." The unit has a rudimentary kitchen area. He goes through and starts exploring the cupboards. "There must be something edible around here. Eggs and milk, at least. I'm ashamed to say I more or less fell asleep where I was standing when they put me in here, so I haven't had a chance to scout. Or do you keep the place empty, and the food arrives through a slot in the wall?"

Marion begins, "Mr. Wheeler—"

Adam shoots her a disappointed look.

"Okay," she says, "Adam. Please come and sit down. You're right, there's nothing in any of those cupboards."

He closes the cupboard and sits opposite her at the kitchen table. "Scrambled eggs on granary toast," he suggests. "With a lot of garlic in the eggs. That's what we both need right now. Particularly you, because if I don't make something substantial for you you end up drinking those wretched wallpaper paste milkshakes seven days a week. Or you skip the meal entirely."

"Adam. We've been married for seventeen years, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"I don't know you."

"That's fine," Adam says. "I doubt that that's going to be a serious problem. You've told me, many times, about your own people who've lost themselves in the work and had to bootstrap their own personalities a second time. You love watching it. It's like watching butterflies emerge from chrysalides. The best of your people can turn that around in ten weeks. Imagine how fast it's going to be for you."

"No," Wheeler replies. Her tone is clinical, matter-of-fact. "I'm afraid it's not possible."

"What's not possible?"

"I can't begin a new relationship right now. Certainly not something as serious as a marriage. You have nominal clearance; you know what we do. I have responsibilities. I do not have… 'time'."

"This isn't 'new'," Adam says, deadpan. "It's pre-existing."

"No," Wheeler explains. "That relationship is ended now, and we are somewhere else."

Adam stares at her for a long moment, thin-lipped and far from happy. He asks her:

"What do you remember?"

The question is so open-ended that Wheeler doesn't manage to respond verbally. She spreads her hands slightly, the gesture saying, "What?"

"You don't remember me," Adam says. "SCP-4987 also clearly ate the part of you which would care if you forgot me. And, additionally, the part of you which cares about brunch. 'What else have you forgotten?' would be a stupid question to ask, so instead I'm asking you, what's left? I want you to tell me everything you can remember."

"Everything I can remember?"

"Yes. From 1995 to right now."

It's still a farcical question at face value, and Wheeler's first instinct is to dismiss it as such, but she thinks again. She thinks, intending to genuinely try to answer the question. And she finds gaps. There's a dearth of specifics. It's like being asked to "say something" and immediately forgetting all words.

She says, "I remember… working."

And driving home, and then sleep, and then driving back to work. Big, hostile buildings. Drug regimens, containment procedures, endless piles of opaque numbers, personal fitness drills. Running. Calculating. Never, ever stopping calculating. She remembers, with unfair clarity, a large variety of extremely bad dreams.

And other than that, nothing. A huge, deep, ragged-edged black pit.

Adam says, "You remember nothing good, do you? Nothing good at all.

"When you come home, on the nights you make it home, you are ready to fold up. It has never been an easy job, but these past few years have been the worst they've ever been, because you're coming to the conclusion of something gigantic. You have explained to me how it is that you can never tell me, really, what it is that you do, without the act of you telling me killing me. And I — I couldn't stand that at first, and I still hate your job and I think it's a monstrous farce — but I trusted you in that. And I stopped asking. But I can tell, from the… rattle in your hands and the things you don't say, and the way you sleep, that there is some kind of war going on back here. And you're losing people to it. And you're almost at the end. And you're going to win.

"So I scramble your eggs, and I play the violin for you, and between us we hack out about three-tenths of what I would consider to be normalcy. Not because you can't do this without me, you could take the whole universe by yourself if you really had to, but: to blazes with that, you don't have to.

"It didn't happen instantly. But it happened pretty damned fast. We had music in common at first, Bach and Mendelssohn. We had tobacco in common and a mutual hatred of The X-Files. Then it was coffee and wine. And then after some time it became hiking, and birdwatching, and Perseid meteors. We like Bruce Lee flicks. We watch Law & Order and Jeopardy! and we read stacks and stacks of books. No, in fairness, it's mainly me for the books. You don't have the long-term time to spare anymore."

He pinches the bridge of his nose for a second. Any two people can find that much common ground. Just being in the same place for years doesn't count for anything. What do they have?

"We communicate," he says. "Better than anybody I've seen. We can be apart for two months while I'm on tour or you're overseas and snap right back and pick up a conversation from the word we left off. We are connected. We are in the same headspace. You'll see it all. It'll happen again, just as fast. You've just got to give it a chance."

Wheeler is almost there. She sees the shape of what Adam is describing. It's distant and unclear, but if she concentrates she might be able to bring it into focus. It worries her, for nebulous reasons she can't completely articulate, but she can almost understand how there could be room for it. How it could lock into her life as it currently exists, and still make sense.

But Adam just said something crucial. He said a keyword which means the marriage counselling session is over and this is now a situation. Wheeler can't ignore it. She forces herself to drop the other thread and seize this one.

"What war?"

And now Adam really doesn't know what's happening. "Good God. The war, Marion. I don't know how else to describe it."

"What war? How many people?"

"I don't know," Adam says. "There are names. Names you stop mentioning, and then you ignore me when I bring them up again. I assume there are reasons. I don't know the specifics. How could I know? Why don't you know?"

Wheeler races through the reasoning. The existence of a war computes. It confirms long-term existing suspicions. It could have been going on for years without her realising it. It makes sense to her that she could be fighting it, winning, even, and not know; managing her own memories or losing them in skirmishes. This certainly won't be the first time she's uncovered it. It makes sense that Adam, naturally gifted with the mental equivalent of a thick layer of blubber, could stand on the edge of the conflict and dimly be able to perceive it. And the Division — so understaffed.

People are disappearing around her.

"And what if—" she begins, and stops dead in the middle of the thought, as if the thought itself was stolen out of her.

"And what if we get back together, and—" she begins again, and this time hard instinct seizes her around the midsection and bodily hauls her back from thinking a thought which, it knows, would kill her. She's Wile E. Coyote, she's already run off the edge of a precipice into clear air, and thinking that thought would be like looking down.

She feels SCP-4987 moving around her, abstractly bound to her, a winking speck of glitter in her eye. "Something's wrong."

Adam scratches at his own eye. "Do you see that?"

"How can you see that?"

"I have a mild immunity to antimemetic influence," Adam says. He knows it's in his file and he knows Wheeler has read the file, but apparently it needs to be said again. "I can tell when something is fritzing with my memories. I can resist it. Up to a point. So, Marion, I was hoping to have a relaxed conversation over coffee and get around to this topic organically, but I'm going to have to skip to the end: I have the impression that SCP-4987 is trying to kill me."

"…No," Wheeler says. "That's not its behavior model. It doesn't sustain itself that way, by eating people. It eats memories. And it's never done this. Not to you, nor me, nor anybody. Not since the very early days. It's tame. It does exactly what I tell it to do. Even when I'm waiting, and I'm bored, and I let it eat my short-term, it sits and waits to be told to eat."

"Then what is it doing to us?" Adam is getting nervy, and won't let go of his eye. He stands up and backs away. "I would like it if we could figure this out quickly. We don't have a way to put SCP-4987 down."

There's a sound in Wheeler's mind, but not in her ear, like a distant chorus of baying dogs. She stands too, and moves after Adam into the middle of the containment unit.

She says, "It's trying to protect you."

"I— How does wiping your memory of me protect me?"

"I can't explain," Wheeler says. "And I can't explain why I can't explain. I don't fully know myself. There's an ███████████ ███████."

"A what?"

"You can't be here," she says. "You can't be in my life. You have to leave, or you're going to die."

"I'm not leaving you," Adam says. "Christ, that's why we did it in the end. Got married, I mean. It was scintillatingly obvious to both of us, very early on, that we were forever. But I wanted to get it on the public record. I stood up in front of everybody I respect and I swore to them that I would protect you. Forever!"

SCP-4987 is agitated. Wheeler feels it flitting around the room, incoherent, trying to tell her what it needs.

She says, with sudden actinic clarity, "I must have made an identical promise."

Adam doubles over, blinded in both eyes now. Closing his eyes does nothing, covering his eyes does nothing. The gold-white light is strobing for him, moving into violet. He panics. "Help. Help me. I can't see." He reaches out, unsteadily, for Wheeler's hand. She lets him take it and pull her close. The light doesn't fade. He clings to Wheeler for a few moments, and she holds on to him until he realises that SCP-4987 is completely within her control, and this is all intentional.

"You're going to do this?" Adam says. "This is the Foundation mandate, this is what your definition of 'protect' amounts to? You've got no idea what you're about to do to yourself. You don't even know me."

"I think I know," she replies.

"You will feel this for the rest of your life. Every day, you will wake up with a sick cold feeling in your stomach where there used to be a real life. And you'll wonder why."

"I'm going to win this war," Wheeler says to him. "I'll beat the universe. And then I will come and find out why."

Adam holds on to her for another long, long moment. He can hear the baying too, now, and he can even barely perceive what it is, far off behind the hill, that SCP-4987 is frantic about. That distant dot, that fleeting second-hand glimpse of the shape of it, far off, is enough to terrify him.

He has faith. He knows how fast Marion can put the jigsaw pieces back together, work against a universe which makes no sense to her, isolate the truth. He knows she can take the universe. But a sharp misgiving jabs him in the stomach and he can't stop himself saying: "And what if you lose?"
그에겐 믿음이 있다. 애덤은 매리언이 얼마나 빠르게 퍼즐 조각을 다시 맞출 수 있는지, 말이 안되는 것 같은 세상을 상대로 일을 해내는지, 진실을 격리하는지 안다. 애덤은 매리언이 세상을 상대할 수 있단 걸 안다. 하지만 날카로운 의혹이 애덤의 배를 찌르고, 그는 주체없이 중얼거린다. "만약 네가 진다면?"

She kisses him. It's a stranger's kiss, there's nothing there Adam recognises. He breaks off, unsettled. It's a whisper now: "What if you lose?"
휠러가 입을 맞춘다. 낯선 사람의 입맞춤이다. 애덤은 그 입맞춤에서 느끼지 못한다. 애덤은 불안에 떨며 몸을 떨어트린다. 이젠 속삭임으로 바뀌었다. "네가 진다면?"

*

Wheeler exits the containment unit; she slams and deadlocks the door with a single movement. The heavy metallic crack makes the whole building shake.
휠러는 격리 단위에서 나온다. 한 동작으로 문을 쾅하고 닫은 뒤 잠근다. 금속성의 하는 소리가 건물 전체를 흔든다.

There are people outside. Gauss, Julie Still and a few others, comparing notes. They look appalled.
바깥에는 사람들이 있다. 가우스Gauss, 줄리 스틸과 다른 몇몇이 의견을 교환하고 있다. 겁에 질린 것 같다.

"Fill in his backstory," she tells them. "He was never married. Relocate him to where I'll never find him, incinerate all the evidence, then report to me for surgical memory erasure. I'll do myself last."
"저 사람 배경 채워넣어." 휠러가 말한다. "결혼한 적이 없는 사람이라고. 내가 다시는 찾을 수 없을 그런 곳으로 재배치하고, 모든 증거를 소각한 다음에 내게 기억 삭제 시술 요청 넣어줘. 마지막은 내가 직접 할테니까."

Gauss looks as if he has an objection. She stares him down.
가우스는 반론이라도 있는 듯 하다. 휠러는 그를 노려본다.

"My husband's dead," she says.
"내 남편은 죽었어." 휠러가 말한다.

Next: Fresh Hell