The rain beat a staccato passage on the bright red umbrella. It was not a particularly heavy rain, but had been a steady one throughout the day, and the clouds were still as dark as they had been that morning. Dr. Rights had no problems with rain, so long as she was dry, but couldn’t help but feel the unavoidable irritation caused by the fact that it had decided to rain on one of her rare days off.
A car sped past, hitting a puddle of dirty rainwater. The spray splashed Rights dead-on. The doctor snarled and gave a one-fingered salute to the retreating vehicle. She was reminded for a moment of her old philosophy professor, Dr. Cabenwald, who had the habit of calling the gesture the “inverted avian” and the tendency to make said gesture at the back of the dean’s head.
Rights smiled a bit as she stepped over a puddle and continued down the sidewalk.
It’s dark. The kind of warm darkness interspersed with lovers’ murmurings and the rustling of sheets.
The door is kicked open. Sharp light and harsh voices fill the room. He’s dragged off the bed, pinned to the floor with his arms behind his back, stuttering incoherently. She’s screaming profanities.
One man looks at her grimly. He’s armed. He tells her to stay calm, make herself decent, and wait. Someone will explain. She spits and screams at him, still half-naked.
Rights had reached the top of the hill. To her left was a chain link fence and a steep expanse of grass and patches of small trees, all of which overlooked the far distant highway and sprawl of fast-food restaurants. To her right was a line of older, two story houses. Several had overgrown yards and “FOR SALE” signs in the front window. Some were brick, others covered in faded, chipping paint. Rights walked a bit further before crossing, stepping up the concrete steps to one of the houses.
The house was plain brick, though it could use a re-facing. The yard was neat and uncluttered, or at least it had been before it was flooded, and there were flowers planted on either side of the front walk. A creaking wooden swing hung on the porch. The ragged, muddy mat in front of the door was emblazoned with the phrase “Wipe Here, You Uncultured Savages”. Rights collapsed her umbrella and wiped the wet mud off her tennis shoes.
They’re taking him away. She tries to fight them, but the man who spoke to her puts his gun in her face. “I’m sorry”, he says, in the way that meant that he was definitely not sorry.
Minutes pass. The shock passes, at least a small amount. She puts on a t-shirt and shorts and goes into the kitchen. The light is on.
Dr. Cabenwald is sitting at the little table in the kitchen. He has two cups of coffee with him; one in his hand and the other in the spot opposite him. He’s a big man, with no hair on top and a thick salt-and pepper beard on the bottom. He looks tired, but is smiling anyway. He motions to the empty seat and the cup of coffee. She looks around the room. Another man in a police uniform is standing by the apartment door. He’s reading a cheap paperback, but his eyes shift to look at her every few seconds.
”What the flying fuck is going on?” She voices it more like a statement, with a glare that embodies ‘hell hath no fury’.
Cabenwald smiles, and motions to the chair again.
“Take a seat. I don’t know if I can explain it well enough, but I’d appreciate it if you’d hear me out.”
A reluctant moment passes before she sits down. She sips the coffee. Black. Very black.
“What happened to Mr. Matthews was nothing of his own fault. Had we known about him sooner, this whole incident could have been avoided.” He always talked about students like that: Mr. Matthews, Miss Rights. First name basis was given on graduation and not a moment before.
She sips more coffee. Cabenwald continues.
“Mr. Matthews was host to a non-standard bacterial infection of the brain and lymphoid system with underlying memetic hazard. We feared it had progressed to the end of the incubation period and so had to take immediate action to prevent outside infection. He’ll be taken to a secure facility, screened, and treated. This particular infection is usually fatal, unless treatment is applied quickly.” He swallows a mouthful of coffee.” He should survive.”
She looks him in the eye, staring him down.
“So he had some disease? You’ll have to do better than that, professor.”
“I have no reason to lie, Miss Rights, but I understand. The disease that Mr. Matthews was infected with was a disease completely unknown to ordinary science. Had it reached full maturity, he would have begun to experience vivid hallucinations, as well as the development of tumor-like growths which would eventually burst and spread the contagion. His mental state would deteriorate to the point of insanity, which would easily lead to mass murder before his own death.”
“To tell the truth, I am in the employ of a certain Foundation, shall we say. And this Foundation’s purpose is to contain things like what infected Mr. Matthews and prevent them from reaching the world at large.”
“Give me proof.”
Rights knocked on the door.
“Come in!” An elderly voice shouted from inside. She opened the door.
The man sat at his kitchen table, with a half-eaten ham sandwich and a half-completed game of solitaire on the checkered tablecloth in front of him. He was large in build and portly around the waist, with a completely bald head and a brilliantly white beard. He could have passed for Santa Claus.
“Thought you could use a visitor, Greg,” Rights said as she stepped into the kitchen.
Dr. Cabenwald’s face lit up.
“A pleasure as always, Agatha. Got time for a round or two?” he collected the cards and began to shuffle.
“It’s my day off.” She took the chair opposite him. “I've got a full twenty-four hours of time.”
“Where’s the little one?”
“With daddy for the day. I wanted to bring her with me, but he went and said “It’s your day off, I can take care of her!" Between you and me, I just think he wants to show her off to the guys at the office.”
“You better have pictures for me then.” Cabenwald dealt the first hand.
“I do, don’t worry.” Rights smiled.
“Never trust in anyone unless they can give you proof. A+ for you, Miss Rights.” He digs in the pocket of his jacket and takes out a photograph. He hands it to her.
The photo is recent, and incredibly clear. A large green shape, like some sort of twisted dinosaur, can be seen tearing apart a man in an orange jumpsuit. Three men in black uniforms are firing guns at it, to no noticeable effect. It could not and should not be real, but it is, down to the individual blood flecks. No fake could be this detailed.
“SCP-682. One of our more dangerous charges.” He takes the photo back.
“Why are you telling me this?”
He finishes his coffee and folds his hands on the table.
“Because you’re coming with us.
“The chance for infection was low, but we can’t be too careful in these sorts of situations.” Cabenwald stands up. “You’re a loose end, and the Foundation likes to ties those up quickly. We always keep a few open slots on the personnel list, just in case.”
“I’ve been keeping a look after Edward,” Cabenwald said. “He’s doing all right. Got any threes?”
“He never recovered mentally, but he’s managed to hold down a janitorial job near here, and he has a few people who come in to check on him every now than then.”
“Think he remembers me? Sixes, please.”
“Damn it. No, I don’t think he would. Got any kings?”
“Go fish.” Rights chuckled. “It always gets me how I came to the Foundation by sleeping with someone. Got any queens?”
Cabenwald grumbled and inverted the avian at his former protégé.