When he was first partnered with Dr. Mann, Lament was handed a remote. As he was partnered to the doctor, so it was partnered to a small explosive implanted in the doctor's chest without his knowledge.
Administrator Bunbridge had couched it in gentle terms. "Only as a last resort, you understand," and "Kindest thing, really, if it becomes necessary."
Some days, Lament was depressed by the whole idea of an organization that would prepare to kill its own people just in case they went rogue. Other days, after being barraged with the Bee Gees, Abba, and KC and the Sunshine Band, he thought of the button longingly. But he'd never been seriously tempted to press it. In fact, some days, he forgot to take it with him, and it was left neglected on his coffee table.
This was one of two mistakes Agent Lament realized he had made when he heard a low thud somewhere outside his bathroom. The other (obvious in hindsight) was to leave Mann unsupervised in his home.
He rushed to the living room, barely taking time to button his trousers, mentally rehearsing the excuses he was going to have to feed to the Administrator, when he caught sight of Mann, holding the remote and pressing the button repeatedly. "I think your remote's got a dead battery," he said. "The telly won't turn on."
"Um," Lament said, trying to piece together why Mann was intact. "That's… that's not for the television, Mann. That's for…" he searched around, "…for the dog door. But it, uh, doesn't work…"
"Because you don't have a dog!" Mann said. "Of course. I should have realized." He smiled from under the mustache, as the world fell into place for him.
"So, why did you have me bring you over?" Lament asked, trying to sound casual.
"Oh, yes!" Mann said. "I think someone's trying to kill me."
"Ah..?" Lament said, glancing at the remote. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, they put an explosive in my chest. That's definitely suspicious," Mann said.
Lament forced his eyebrows to raise up in surprise. "So you found… you have a bomb in your chest?"
"Oh, not anymore. I took the thing out. I decided to play it safe." And this was indeed an unusual amount of self-preservation for Mann.
"Then… where is it now?" Lament asked, thinking back to the thud he'd heard earlier.
"Oh, where did I put it? Oh, I know. I left it in your car," Mann said cheerfully.
I just finished paying it off, Lament thought. Well, of course it would be blown up. I should have expected it, really.
"But not to worry," Mann said. "I'm sure I know precisely who's responsible."
"Do you?" Lament asked weakly.
"Oh yes. Means, motive, and opportunity, Lament. That is the formula. Find those, and you have the culprit."
"Then who is it?" Lament thought desperately to his sidearm, currently by his bed, upstairs.
"At first I suspected the Church of the Broken God. What is a bomb, Lament, but a mechanism for murder? And we all know how they love to tinker with human bodies." Mann's voice held no trace of irony.
"But…" Lament listened in somewhat horrified fascination. Listening to Mann expound was like watching a Rube Goldberg machine, except that the machine could be expected to accomplish something at the end.
"But the bomb uses an electronic trigger. Not their style. So next I looked to the Chaos Insurgency. They do like to sneak around. But they're not sly enough to get into my chest. My stomach, maybe, but they could never penetrate my rib cage and its secrets."
"Granted," Lament said, as he tried to decide if he should come up with a cover story, or just rush Mann off to the site to let someone else deal with it.
"But what of Wondertainment? So little we still know of the toymaker. Does he employ elves? Are they union? Surely if he can make a custom people as playthings, his knowledge of biology should make a simple chest bomb… well, child's play!"
"What would he gain? I've almost saved up enough box tops for his Mikey Medula's Brain Surgery Kit. No, he'll not give up a potential sale so easily." Mann rubbed his chin. "I next suspected the Global Occult Coalition."
"Because they're opposed to our containment. I am, of course, a linchpin of the Foundation's operations, so I'm a natural target. But I've met their top surgeons. A bunch of amateurs, the lot of them. By no means capable of concealing such an invasive surgery, unless they tried some manner of… of sorcery, and I think we can discount that possibility. Are we not… Begging your pardon, Lament. Am I not a man of science?"
"…For the sake of argument, sure," Lament said.
"So clearly not them. The Serpents Hand could certainly have inveigled themselves onto the premises. But that bunch of long-haired ne'er-do-wells lacks the mechanical expertise for an explosive. Next, I turned my mind to Prometheus Labs. A bomb would be mere child's play for the least of their technicians."
"But they've been defunct for years. No, they haven't the means to discover me, let alone to isolate me for surgery. So I turned my mind to Nobody. But obviously he couldn't have done it."
"Because he doesn't exist?"
"No," Mann said, shaking his head, "because he's in Toledo this time of year. So there's only one possible group that could have possibly pulled it off. Are We Cool Yet!"
"Yes, Are We Cool Yet. I see your disbelief, but when I lay out my evidence, you will see-"
Lament had had enough. "No."
"No?" Mann frowned. "But wait, you see-"
"No. Just… just no. I'll take your word for it."
Mann's face fell. "But… But it's awfully clever. I… I made diagrams."
"No. Mann, look, I'll go along and look into this with you. Just… don't explain it. Please." Let me continue to live in a world where I haven't heard yet another of his explanations, he pleaded with the universe.
"Oh, all right," Mann said. "Terribly clever, though. You're missing out."
"So, what do you plan to do about this?" Lament asked.
"Why, seek revenge, of course!" Mann scowled. "I haven't been this vexed since Doctor Vang put hair remover in my mustache wax. The part that makes me angry is that they mucked about where I've already performed surgery. It's almost like… like a critique. Imagine how you would feel if someone criticized your shooting, and shouting, and so forth."
"I don't have to imagine," Lament said. "Because you do that. All the time."
"Yes, well, I'm an expert surgeon, so it's a bit different."
"Are you saying I'm not good at… shooting?" Lament asked, eyebrow raised.
"Well, you did miss that fellow at the factory," Mann pointed out.
"It was a warning shot!"
"Oh. Well. Was it really?" Mann said. "I suppose that explains why you were so cross afterwards."
"I wanted him to talk," Lament said.
"And so he did, after a fashion," Mann said defensively.
"Gurgling does not count as talking, Mann."
"Anyway, I do feel your shouting could use more work," Mann said. "Not to criticize, but you have to feel it. Make it come from the diaphragm."
Inside his coat pocket, Lament ran his thumb along the button. What might have been. "And my… so forth?" he growled.
"Actually, no complaints there. I've always thought you were exemplary in the field," Mann said.
"…The field of so forth."
"Yes, not many are so gifted," Mann said. "Anyway, let's be off. I know exactly where to find them."
The car, happily, was still in running condition, though all of the windows were blown out. It hadn't been a terribly large bomb, all things considered. It hadn't needed to be.
Mann directed Lament to drive downtown, until they reached a fairly nondescript office building, housing businesses dealing with corkboard, investment banking, and posters with cats on them.
"What makes you think Are We Cool Yet is here?" asked Lament.
"I realized that if they hadn't been found, they naturally must have taken the most devious, clever hiding place possible. So I asked myself where would I never think to look, even if given a thousand years. And here we are."
A pained expression crossed Lament's face. On the one hand, he was glad Mann didn't actually know where to find the GoI, which should keep this from being too horrible an evening. On the other hand, he wondered where his life had gone so wrong that he regularly let Mann talk him into things like this.
After wrestling with this profound betrayal of logic for a moment, he sighed and said, "All right. We'll go in, look around, and then head out. Just a little light reconnaissance. Then we report what we've found, and we let an MTF take care of them."
"I'd like to show them the old vinegar, but I suppose you're right. Best leave it to the professionals." Mann twirled his mustache. "They'll regret messing with my thoracic cavity!"
They snuck into the building, quietly moving from floor to floor. With each empty office, Mann grew more and more anxious, and Lament more relieved.
"Okay, this is the last floor," Lament said. "If they're not here, we'll just have to go home, and report everything to the administrator." And hopefully he'll put an end to all this nonsense.
"Right," Mann said, grimly.
Lament slowly opened the door, and was blinded a moment by the bright light on the other side. A surprised looking man in an artist's smock was staring at him, surprised. Not so surprised, however, that he didn't punch an alarm and duck behind a wall.
"Run!" Lament said, and started pushing back. Unfortunately, Mann misinterpreted the direction, and ran forward, colliding into Lament's back. The two fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs, and while they attempted to regain their feet, they were quickly surrounded by a bunch of college-age men and women who were surprisingly well armed.
Lament wasn't sure which part was worse: the fact that they had been caught, or the fact that Mann had been right. His eyes rose upwards, as if to say to the universe, "This demeans us both, you know."
"Who are you supposed to be, Salvador Dali and company?" asked their leader. He was a middle-aged man, with graying hair and noticeable paunch. "What the hell are you even doing here?"
"We came to put a stop to your vile machinations!" Mann said. "You shan't take a single Foundation life this day!"
"What machinations? It's finals week, you hopeless philistine. Do you have any idea, any idea at all, how many papers I have to grade? How many idiots who can't tell the difference between Van Gogh and Vin Diesel? I have far more important things to do than mess about with your idiot bourgeois Foundation." He lowered his half-moon glasses and gave the pair a serious look. "This really is a bad time, gentlemen."
"Then who put the bomb in my chest?" Mann said.
The artist's eyebrows raised. "Not I. Any of you gentlemen or ladies?" he asked those gathered, only to get a chorus of shaking heads.
"Oh," said Mann. "Um. It appears there's been a mistake."
"Yes, that seems to be the case," said the artist.
"Well, we'll just be going…" Mann said.
"Oh, no." The artist chuckled. "We can't simply let you go. No, I'm afraid that you'll be seeing… our gallery." He paused, then frowned. "Our… gallery." He paused again, expectantly, then glared at one of younger men. "Jason."
"Oh! Sorry." He struck a picture of a lightning storm with a fist, and a peal of thunder rolled out.
The artist sighed. "We try, really. Anyway, the gallery." Thunder rolled out again. "There we go." He gestured, and Mann and Lament were dragged to another darkened room.
"You fiends!" Mann said. "Um. What happens next? I'm sorry, I've never been subjected to your gallery."
Thunder rang out through the building.
"Yes, thank you Jason, that's enough please. Here, you will be subjected to our darkest works. Our most terrifying pieces of art. Prepare yourselves, as your very souls are laid bare."
"Can't you just shoot us?" Lament asked. "You have guns. With bullets. We saw them on the way in."
"No! Instead, you must face… the Crushing Banality That Is Existence!" The man threw back a curtain covering a canvas, his face lit with maniacal glee. "DO YOU SEE IT? MY RAGE? LOOK AT MY RAGE!"
"This… this is picture of a pony," Lament said.
"That's Pinkie Pie, Lament," said Mann.
Lament's eyebrows rose. "I… how do you know that?"
"The Foundation is well versed in counter cultures," said Mann. "And, of course, SCP-6345."
"Is… No, stop." Lament held up a hand.
"Yes," said Mann. "A pony."
"Stop. Stop now. I'll…" He turned back to the artist. "Do you have anything more horrifying?"
"We've got this one that will make your eyes eat themselves," he answered.
"That. I'll take that one."
"As you wish!" The man moved to another canvas, and prepared to pull the curtain. As he did, Lament hooked out a foot. The man slipped, caught himself, and looked up into the painting, as Mann and Lament looked away.
"Oh god! My eyes have the idea of teeth! It's sharp!" He flailed about as he screamed, crashing into other canvases.
Lament grabbed the nearest armed student and swung him over a shoulder into another. Meanwhile, others accidentally caught glimpses of the paintings and screamed, cursed, and in one case turned into lime gelatin.
"Like I said, Lament," Mann said, as he cut a man's brachial artery, "no one does so forth like you."
The two fought their way to the exit. There wasn't a lot of resistance. With their leader incapacitated and half their fellows succumbing to horrible art of one type or another, no one was terribly interested in stopping them. As they reached the stairwell, Lament broke the elevator controls and barred the doors, even as he called in reinforcements.
"Well, this has been rather a disappointment," Mann said.
"Oh yeah?" Lament said.
"All this, and they weren't even the ones who—I say! I just realized who must have implanted the bomb."
"Who?" Lament asked.
"I… Wait. Why would you have put an explosive in your own chest?" Lament asked.
"So I wouldn't lose it!" Mann said. "It was such a neat surgical job, I should have known at once."
Lament wanted it to stop there. He needed it to stop there. But some tortured part of him, some part that still remembered a world of common sense and logic, had to ask. "But why don't you remember?"
"Oh, probably the amnestics they had me take after my last physical. They always think I won't notice, but I've learned to recognize the signs."
Wretchedly, Lament realized it could even be true. Mann was entirely capable of implanting things in his own chest, if asked politely. He wouldn't even blink.
"Well," Mann said as the unmarked cars converged on their location, "all's well that ends well."