March 15, 1994
Francis tapped his pen against his chin, surveying the great sheet of paper pinned to the wall. He had been here longer than he thought: great swathes of it were covered in lines of his writing. He selected a reasonably-sized blank space and began to print in thin, neat letters.
[Next question: how do you perceive what I am writing?]
The drawing of a girl picked up a drawing of a piece of chalk and wrote on the drawing of a blackboard next to her.
[I hear it.]
[But you can’t see us.]
[Do people sound different to you?]
She erased the board to make more room.
[A bit. Sometimes a lot. Some people mumble, and some people sound really uptight and draw out their words. You sound normal. I can tell the difference, but it’s subtle.]
Hmm…probably dependent on handwriting.
Francis scratched some more notes down on his own tablet before writing once more on the larger sheet.
[Thank you. That’ll be all for today, Cassie. I’ll send up some new pictures for your wall this afternoon.]
[Wait! Could you stay? I’d like to keep talking.]
[I’m sorry: I have work to do. Agatha or Simon will be around sometime after lunch, I promise.]
[Oh. Okay. Goodbye.]
Francis watched the sketched girl begin to doodle forlornly on blackboard for a few moments before he stood up from his chair and left the room. He signed out on the time sheet hanging next to the door. A little hollow hole sank in his gut, as it always did after visiting with Cassie. Simon had “officially” confirmed that she was depressed, but that was obvious to anyone who spoke with her. It was like visiting your great-grandmother in the nursing home. All she wanted was someone to talk to, to break the monotony.
The staff did what they could for her, but with juggling recruitment, management, studying other items, and maintaining the façade as they stealthily wrapped up their outside lives…
Oh well. Off to the next job.
Francis’ footsteps echoed in the empty hallway for a minute or so, before they were drowned out by a blaring alarm klaxon and the amplified voice of Dr. Crow’s over the intercom speaker.
“Attention all personnel. A security breach has been detected in Tower 3, Level 5. SCP-682 has broken containment. Area lockdown has been initiated. Please proceed to your designated safe zones.”
Tower three. He was in tower three. He was in a locked tower with the lizard. Alone.
Francis automatically ran his left thumb over the smooth scarred depression in his right.
Son of a fuck.
“So. Dmitri. Where’d you find these pieces of work?” John motioned to the four men sitting around the conference table, his toothpick held between his first two fingers. Fucking administration and their no-smoking policy.
Strelkinov pointed to each in turn.
“Vasili is good friend from army days. Boleslav, he kill Afghans with bare hands. Live in mountains alone after war. Stanimir work for the KGB. Very classified work. Listed as KIA. Matvey, he is mafia.”
John raised an eyebrow.
“Not even going to ask. They’re your problem. Any of them speak English?”
“Your problem then, you give them the spiel.” John walked off towards the door. “I gotta take a piss.”
“Ah. Okay. Mm-hmm. [Hello, gentlemen…]
John pissed like a racehorse. Too much coffee. Fucking no-smoking policy. Toothpicks, gum, coffee, nothing worked. He needed tobacco, dammit. He was jumpy, rattled, razzled, and supremely agitated. No smokes in four days. No sun in four days.
Easy, John. Relax. Just fucking relax…
The recruits. He focused on the new recruits. That was his job anyway. With these four, it brought the total number of security staff to sixteen. The others were a scattering of mercenaries, ex-cons, homeless vets, several other Russians, and one retired state trooper. Crow had been steadfast that they get a reliable security staff up and running as fast as possible, and John agreed. What irked him was that he and Dmitri were in charge of all of it, and it was not easy. Dmitri may have been able to pull old war buddies out of his hat like rabbits, but it wasn’t like they could just put out personal ads for this shit.
Still better than working for the CIA, though.
The stream finally trickled off. He had just zipped up as the alarms went off: his coffee and withdrawal-wrecked nerves shot him a good two feet in the air. He barely had time to land before the bathroom door was kicked open and he felt a large hand grab him by the collar and drag him backwards.
“We are having an emergency! We must be fast!” Dmitri pulled him out into the hall and threw him upright. John wobbled to a stable pose as Dr. Crow's voice came over the intercom.
“Attention all personnel. Security breach detected in Tower 3, Level 5. SCP-682 has broken containment. Area lockdown has been initiated.”
“Shit on a biscuit!” John spat out his toothpick.
“That will not help us.”
“Goddammit Dmitri you know what I meant!”
Francis was alone, and he was very scared. He held his mop in a vice-like grip, creeping with his back flat against the wall, and trying to control his breathing, as he had been doing for the last half hour.
He was terrified of 682. He would admit that. The last time he had worked with it, it fit in his palm and took a chunk out of his thumb. It wasn’t so small and cute now.
“Come on out, little guy. I’ve got a mop with your name on it. A nice dirty mop. I’ll mop you good. Beware my mop, boy. Respect the mop.”
Nothing beyond an empty hallway responded to his whispered bravado. Nothing at all.
He leapt into the middle of the hallway, whipping out with the mop and hitting nothing. There was still nothing there.
Still nothing there.
There was a vent, though.
Something hit Francis in the chest, knocking him to the floor. Now there was something there. It was right there, actually. Right on top of him.
The lizard was about the size of a large cat, and held itself in much the same way: hunched and bunched up, ready to lash out, tail flicking back and forth. Its hide was knobbly and thick, a dull greenish yellow-brown with faded dark spots. The teeth were crooked, like the jaw wasn’t fit for them, but they were sharp. Very sharp. Francis could feel its breath on his face. It glared at him with yellow eyes that looked thoroughly evil. Francis shut his own eyes tight. It looked like it had been smiling.
This was it. This was mauling time. He was going to get mauled. He clenched everything he could clench and readied himself for the pain
The weight lifted from his chest. Snarls broke out once more, this time a few feet above him.
Francis opened his eyes. Dr. Gerry stood over him, wearing a stained apron of thick leather and matching gloves that went up to his elbows. He held 682 by the scruff of the neck in one hand. It had stopped struggling, and the cause was clear: a frighteningly large hypodermic needle held in Gerry’s other hand.
“This will suffice for the moment. I will place it in the backup containment unit before it adapts to the drug.”
Gerry turned and began to walk off, carrying the unconscious lizard as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.
“Now then, I believe you are still scheduled for overseeing experiments this morning. Good day to you, Mr. Wojciechoski.”
Francis fell back on the floor and began to laugh. He had been there the whole time. Of course he had.
Of course he had.
“I’m sorry you weren’t able to see your new recruits in action, Dmitri.”
“Win some, lose some.”
“That said, I’ll be revising 682’s containment procedures to include a permanent guard station. It’s become far more adaptive than I had originally foreseen, and I don’t want it getting out again.”
“Very well. I go speak with them.”
“Two decades of work and the only variant of the prion that works leaves us with a psychopathic gecko. It's a pity Sanderson isn't here, Connor. He'd be calling this a massive success. I miss his enthusiasm.”
“His absence is regrettable.”
“And will continue to be, because he's been in the ground for twelve years. He would have loved to see this. Probably would have put a collar on it and called it Leeroy or something.”
“As you say.”
“…You really are a bore nowadays, Connor. Has anyone told you that?”