"You Can't Go Home Again"
Eighteen Months Ago
"So, if you'd let me finish my question?"
"Mmmm? Sure, sure…"
"Okay, here it is. Let's say that you've got a choice of two different prizes. One is an all-expenses paid, three month vacation in Europe."
"Ooooh, that sounds nice."
"The other is ten minutes on the moon."
"Which do you choose, and why?"
"Okay, quick question. Can I take you with me?"
"What? Mmmm… sure. Yeah, you can take one guest along."
"Then it doesn't matter. Nothing matters as long as we're together."
"… are you crying?"
"Men don't cry. We just get things in our eyes."
There was a moment's hesitation. It was enough.
Andrews-in-Valentine looked into the face of his own death, in the form of a HERF grenade held in the hand of the smiling Assistant Director. The object, a Foundation original, was a variation on the classic flash-bang grenade, specifically intended for use against electronic threats. Pull the pin, release the spoon, count to four, and a pulse of high frequency electromagnetic radiation would fire, destroying any circuitry more complex than a lightbulb and battery.
Clef casually dangled the pin from his left finger as he held the grenade in his right hand, spoon still pressed inwards. Andrews lowered the second spear he had lathed from Maddox's bed frame. The point of the weapon gently touched the bloody tile floor, where the paramedic's blood slowly flowed towards him.
"You know," Clef said, idly, "I always suspected that this entire facility was built on a slight slant. It always did make me feel off-balance."
"Are you going to kill us?" Maddox whispered. She was resting her head on Andrews' shoulder, body still weak from her long months spent comatose. A few bedsores were visible on her back, the open hospital gown framing the angry red friction uclers on her skin.
"Well, that depends," Clef said. "I've already got two containment breaches in progress. One involves your old friend the nanomachines, and that's bad. The other involves Kondraki, and that's really bad. So, taking a look at things from a "big picture" perspective, two agents walking out of a half-destroyed facility and never being seen again… that sounds like something that I could prioritize later." He sighed. "Especially since this grenade has a four-second fuse. There's a lot that Andrews could do to me in those four seconds. It would end in him… and you… dying painfully when the EMP fries those clever little connections between your brain and body. It would be a horrible death, laying there still able to think, but unable to breathe, unable to make your heart beat. Probably one of the worst."
"So we have a deal?"
"No," Clef admitted. "But I'm willing to walk right out the door right now and live to see another day."
"You won't have any trouble from me," Andrews said. "I'm not planning on keeping these damn bugs any longer than I need to. The moment that B's cured, I'll be pouring the rest into a jar and sticking it in the microwave."
"Suit yourself," Clef said. The assistant director turned and walked out of the room, casually stepping over the bloody body of the slain paramedic. "It's not really my concern any more."
On the way over to help deal with the mess Kondraki was making, he ran into the erstwhile Director Valentine, who was slaughtering a lot of hapless researchers, using the severed spine of Lieutenant Takahashi as a bludgeon. Clef casually popped the spoon of the EMP grenade and rolled it down the hallway. It popped, and the nanomachine colony that had been SCP-784 dissolved into inert slime.
He nudged the sludge pile with his toe until he found Director Valentine's brain, lifted it up out of the pile. Andrews, he had to admit, did some good work. The brain had been neatly severed from the spinal cord, the connections to the nanomachine colony made so cleanly that it was almost identical to Andrews' own connections. Not bad for someone with no medical expertise at all.
He wondered if some of the neurons still fired, weakly, even now: it wasn't necessarily clear what kinds of changes the nanomachines made to the actual brain structure when it replaced the glial cells. He wondered whether Valentine would feel her mind go if it were damaged, or whether she was already gone and dead.
Just to be sure, he carried the brain with him (pulling off bits and pieces and throwing them away like a child pulling petals off a flower) as he walked to the area where Kondraki was, currently, riding SCP-682 like a pony. He felt much better by the time he found out where the Ball of Sharp had ended up.
It was, all in all, a good day.
"So, any reason why Italy?"
"Mmmmm… I was just thinking. About that question I asked you last year."
"The one about the Moon and Europe?"
"Yeah, that one. It just seemed to me… I can't give you the moon. But I can at least give you Tuscany."
"That sounds wonderful. Wine, food, and music…"
"You sure you want to spend it with me?"
"It's gonna be a bit weird, I'll admit, but… it's still you under there, right?"
"As much as I can tell, yes."
"Then, remember what I said? Nothing else matters…"
"… as long as we're together."
"And nothing's changed that at all."
"… are you crying?"
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"I thought that men never cry."
"First time for everything."