Cafeteria Chat
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“Hey, can you pass the salt?”

Junior Researcher Benedict Kim startled. It was December and the stale air of the Site-19 cafeteria reeked of rancid body odour and subpar budget meals. For the past hour in the cafeteria’s northwest corner, Junior Researcher Benedict Kim had sat uncomfortably at a table of near-strangers, united only by their Foundation jobs and their determination to ignore each other.

But this stranger wasn’t ignoring him. This stranger was trying to engage him in conversation. It was a terrifying upheaval of the established social order, especially considering that the salt was perfectly well within arm’s reach.

“Uh,” said Benedict, with all the eloquence of a socially stunted sea slug. “Yeah. Here.”

He nudged the salt shaker marginally closer to his table mate. The other man picked up the shaker, spun it around handily, and shook an even layer of salt over his plate of… something.

Despite himself, Benedict went in for a second look. On closer inspection, his lunch companion appeared to have ordered the Thursday Meat-Loaf Surprise, but the amorphous mass of porous, meaty brownness had been sliced into perfectly even cubes. This had the overall effect of transforming a fairly mediocre meal into a culinary masterpiece, straddling the border of modern art and affordably priced sustenance.

His lunch companion smiled charmingly and began consuming his meal in a series of quick, efficient bites. Benedict’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he immediately fumbled to get it out, grateful for an excuse to avert his eyes and end the brief bit of conversation.

He’d had a tough morning, courtesy of SCP-3009. For once, the sapient snapchat account hadn’t actually done anything of note, but its continued existence and presence in Foundation custody seemed to generate endless amounts of paperwork. An encounter with a stranger was altogether too much stimulation for Benedict.

Then he actually looked at his phone, and any sense of relief for a distraction immediately faded.

3009

so, i’ve been thinking
you should let me talk to C again!!

Benedict stared at his phone in a sort of dumbfounded frustration and struggled, fruitlessly, to string together a full sentence, preferably composed of vaguely tactful words. His brain, unfortunately, seemed to be malfunctioning. The words just weren’t connecting.

3009

great idea right?

No. No, it wasn’t. Or at least Benedict didn’t think it was. What good could possible come of the two talking? There had been a good week when 3009-C, the fifteen year old humanoid that shared 3009’s identity, would burst into tears at the mere mention of its more obviously anomalous counterpart. 3009-C had been making good progress lately and had apparently developed a keen interest in psychology. It would be reckless and short-sighted to put all that at risk.

He expressed this sentiment by choking on his spaghetti. A clump of half chewed spaghetti flopped gracelessly out of his open mouth, and landed with a messy splatter onto his plate, flecking his plaid shirt with speckles of tomato sauce.

The stranger looked over at him in concern. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” said Benedict hurriedly. “Fine. Uh, yeah, fine.”

“Do you… need a napkin?”

“No. I mean. Yes. Actually. Thank you very much.”

There was a brief, awkward kerfuffle as Benedict and his lunch companion both reached for the napkin dispenser simultaneously. The other man politely withdrew. With napkin in hand, Benedict dabbed gingerly at his shirt. The action just sort of spread the sauce around, causing it absorb into the fabric.

The result, upon inspection, was significantly worse.

Giving up, Benedict picked up his phone again in an effort to ward off further social interaction.

3009

the heck!!!
don’t leave me on read… 😑
you know I can see you’ve opened the message right?
anyone in, space case???? 😒😒

Me

I’m not sure that talking to 3009-C at this stage is a good idea.

3009

why not? 😢

Me

What are you hoping to talk to her about?

His cellphone began to vibrate like an extraordinarily aggressive hornet. 3009 was trying to call him. Benedict glanced around. Lunch period was nearly over, and the cafeteria was fairly quiet. His table mate was watching him curiously.

“I’m, uh, going to take this one,” Benedict said awkwardly, fumbling to lower the volume of his buzzing phone.

The stranger shrugged, turning away politely. “Sure. Go for it. Don’t mind me.”

Reluctantly, he accepted the call. The face of fifteen-year-old Stacey Lee filled the screen as 3009 launched straight into its pitch.

“Well, to apologise, right? Like. I don’t know. Offer an… an olive branch! Of peace! And friendship!” As it talked, 3009 backed away from the screen and had begun gesticulating with such impressive speed that it was actually too much for Benedict’s internet connection. Its arms had turned into a sort of off-white, hoodie-shaped blur. “And, like, give her some souvenirs in person. How else am I going to fix things?”

Benedict shrank back into his seat, wishing he’d gone outside to the bathrooms to take the call. It seemed by far too awkward to try leaving now. “That’s really wonderful, 3009, but she’s making some good progress, you know, and—“ He paused, confused. “What souvenirs?”

“You know,” said 3009 impatiently. “Like the bear video! And that piece of the wall!”

A piece of wall… Benedict gaped at 3009, amazed. So that was why Researcher Xiulan had mailed him a piece of rubble after the whole disaster at Site-201. It had been a souvenir. He’d thought it had been some kind of advanced hazing tactic. Or perhaps a threat of some kind.

“I’d have to get it approved,” said Benedict distractedly. “I don’t… really have that power. Even if I thought it was a good idea. Which I don’t, for the record.”

3009 huffed, crossing its arms. “What? It’s totally a good idea!”

Benedict glanced around awkwardly, and noticed that his lunch companion was watching him. There was a curious expression on his face.

“Uh,” said Benedict awkwardly.

“Oh, sorry.” The other man chuckled awkwardly. “Is that… your younger sister?” The unspoken question was obvious: Is that a civilian?

3009 tensed onscreen. It had fallen awkwardly silent.

“Um. No,” Benedict paused, and looked his table mate up and down for the first time. He didn’t look much like a researcher, but he was obviously affiliated with the Foundation in some way, and 3009 wasn’t particularly classified information. “This is SCP-3009. It’s an entity tied to a snapchat account. I’m responsible for fulfilling its social needs.”

“How fascinating. I think I’ve heard a little about that case. Very interesting. So you must be on the 3009 research team?”

“Yes,” said Benedict. “Junior Researcher Benedict Kim. Nice to meet you.”

The man nodded, with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation. I’m Agent Johnson. It’s a pleasure.”

That caught 3009’s attention. “Agent,” it repeated, suddenly interested. “You mean there’s people here who aren’t, like, scientists?”

Johnson caught Benedict’s eye, questioningly. When Benedict nodded, Johnson smiled reassuringly. “Yes,” he said. “A field agent. It means that I help the Foundation with work that they have outside.”

3009 seemed extremely impressed by this. On screen, Stacey Lee sucked in a slow breath and nodded slowly. “Wow, like James Bond! Awesome. I thought you had to be, like… super sciencey to work with the Foundation.”

“Ah, no,” said Johnson. “There are lots of different things that the Foundation needs people to do. I just help out where I’m needed, you know?”

“That’s so cool,” 3009 said, fascinated. “Do you do a lot of cool things? It sounds like a fun job. Like something out of a comic book.”

Something flickered oddly in Agent Johnson’s eyes, but the moment passed so quickly that Benedict wondered if it had been his imagination, or perhaps a trick with the fluorescent lighting.

“Well, I do a lot of helpful things,” said Johnson tactfully. His smile suddenly seemed extremely bland.

Like something out of a comic book… Benedict couldn’t imagine, to be honest, that Agent Johnson’s job was all sunshine and rainbows.

The Foundation did need a lot of work to get done, and not all of it was pleasant. Like removing fifteen-year-old girls from their homes and putting them under permanent protective custody. And even that was thoroughly insignificant, when compared to the other things that the Foundation did. The 3009 situation was barely a blip on the Foundation radar.

Benedict startled. The conversation had moved on without him. Agent Johnson and 3009 were chatting amiably. They didn’t look like a Foundation agent and a skip making conversation. Agent Johnson seemed almost like a particularly friendly teacher, chatting to a prized student.

“…which is wonderful, and I couldn’t help but notice that the two of you have a very close relationship,” Agent Johnson was saying. “Do you admire what Researcher Kim does?”

“Uh, I guess,” said 3009. “I mean, Benny’s a cool guy, deep down! I, um, don’t really know much about what he does, but it seems super cool. I’m not very good at science, though.”

“But you’d like to help the Foundation in other ways, if you could?” said Johnson, curiously.

“I…” 3009 hesitated, momentarily. “I guess so. I mean, I’d like to be useful, you know?”

Agent Johnson smiled. He’d finished his food at some point, and had started clearing his section of the table. “That’s excellent. A wonderful goal. I’m sure that there’s some way you can be more useful.”

“You think so?” said 3009 hopefully.

“I’m positive,” said Johnson. He rose from his seat and picked up his tray. “Well, I have some errands to run, but it was a pleasure meeting you both.”

Benedict tried imagined what it might like, for 3009 to be “more useful” to the Foundation. The thought made him strangely uncomfortable, but it was difficult to put into words why he felt that way.

“And you!” 3009 chirped. “Come talk to me again some time! Tell me about all your awesome adventures!”

“Well, it’s classified stuff,” said Johnson with a smile, turning to leave. “But I’ll do my best. Have a great day.”

“Same to you,” said Benedict, a few seconds too late, but he’d timed it wrong and Johnson was already out of earshot.


This was written for the Original Character Tournament. Thank you so much to PeppersGhostPeppersGhost for organising the contest, and to fieldstonefieldstone for the use of Agent Johnson!

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