Foundation Command-03, Whitehall, UK
Saturday, 24 December 1988, 1300 hours local time
The explosion was predictable. "He wants what?!" demanded Seven over the secure telephone line.
Harper took a calming puff on his cigarette and said, "I believe his exact words were 'I require seventy-five liters of liquid from SCP-006 for my research.'"
"Absolutely out of the question," Seven shot back. "Sir James has lost his marbles this time. Did the file on him include details on his failed recruitment?"
"Only that recruitment was attempted and failed back in seventy-one," Harper recalled.
"Sir James' doctoral thesis in mathematics had to do with the binomial theorem, specifically an aspect that was of interest to the Foundation," Seven explained. "We knew he was valuable talent, and we wanted to beat the other groups-of-interest to him. So, a couple of agents were sent to do the usual meet-and-greet. Pretend to be part of the local government's intelligence service, give the pitch, point out that not working with us might be a bad idea…" In other words, Harper knew, extort the prospective employee into working for the Foundation. Not one of the organization's finer policies, but at least the Foundation tried to handle it with a velvet glove, unlike many of its rival organizations.
"So what happened?" Harper inquired.
Seven scoffed, "He laughed in the agents' faces. He told them he knew they worked for the Foundation, and that he wasn't interested in being one of our 'lab coat wearing canon fodder' before having his butler forcibly remove them from the premises. Apparently, he thought working for us would be 'boring,' but he offered to 'consult from time to time' if we had 'some interesting challenge' our researchers couldn't figure out."
Harper was flabbergasted. "I bet that went over well."
"You wouldn't believe the shitstorm that kicked up," Seven confirmed. "We believed the man thought that just because he was on a first name basis with the Prime Minister that he could ignore us. The Overseer who was handling recruitment in those days was all set to authorize a coercion operation to ensure Sir James' cooperation when we found out that the Chaos Insurgency had beaten us to the punch."
"Oh?" asked Harper.
"They sent a squad of a dozen ex-black-ops thugs to abduct him in the middle of the night," Seven said. "According to our intel - and the GOC's intel agreed, by the way - he was home alone. Nobody knows for sure exactly what happened, or how Sir James pulled it off, but three days later the heads of each of the hit squad members arrived in the mail to each of the various organizations dealing with the paranormal (the Insurgency, the Foundation, the GOC, all of them)." Harper gagged slightly - he had a strong stomach, but this had come out of left field. Apparently, Seven had heard him, because she continued, "It gets better. Each parcel had a hand written note from Sir James, stating that he was not interested in working for a particular organization, but would 'happily consult on any puzzles we have that struck his fancy.'"
The counterintelligence officer massaged his temples. If the world made sense, such behavior would have been nipped in the bud. Working for the Foundation, however, quickly hammered home that the world does not make sense. "So then what?" he asked.
"Everyone backed off," Seven replied. "Cooler heads prevailed in the Foundation and GOC, realizing it wasn't worth the loss of personnel and resources to bag this guy when he openly admitted to being willing to consult, while the Serpent's Hand and Chaos Insurgency were both sufficiently cowed by his rather spectacular display of cruelty to stand down."
"'For this has to be noted,'" Harper quoted, "'that men should either be caressed or eliminated, because they avenge themselves for slight offenses but cannot do so for grave ones; so the offense one does to a man should be such that one does not fear revenge for it.'"
Seven chuckled, "I see you've read Harvey Mansfield's recent translation. Most people would quote the better known verse: 'The response is that one would want to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to put them together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one has to lack one of the two.' Sir James has a first edition of the original in his library."
Harper moved the conversation from the philosophical and historical back to the business at hand, "While that is interesting, and perhaps explains the apparent arrogance of the professor's demand, what is the problem with double-oh-six? Besides the Foundation's general policy of not handing SCPs out?" A policy, Harper didn't say (since both were aware), the Foundation was willing to overlook if the circumstances were sufficiently dire or the price was high enough. It was a dirty little secret known only to the tiniest of the upper echelon of the staff; a secret remarkably well protected, considering the gossip such things would normally attract in a bureaucracy. Of course, it probably helped that the Foundation essentially never actually broke the stated policy. And that the slightest whisper of a rumor about a time when the Foundation did give an SCP to someone else generally resulted in the person doing the whispering being purged so thoroughly Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria would have been proud. It is unwise to make an organization controlling reality-warping entities decide that it would be best if you no longer existed.
There was brief silence on the line as the Overseer considered her answer. "Mr. Harper, SCP-006 is one of the most dangerous items the Foundation controls. Its existence is only known to a select handful of Level 5 personnel and the staff directly involved in handling it. Only the current Overseers are permitted to know the exact details of zero-zero-six," she explained. "Here is what you need to know: you should consider it Keter. Over time it produces limited quantities of one of the most deadly toxins known to humanity. This thing is so dangerous any procedure in which liquid is acquired from zero-zero-six requires at least three Overseers to sign off on it, and any personnel who come into direct contact with either the liquid or the item itself have to be terminated by incineration."
"In short, it is nasty stuff," Harper said. "So, what could Sir James want with this?"
"Whatever it is, it's not good," Seven said. She sighed. "I'll talk with the other Overseers about this. I've had a number of dealings with Sir James before myself. I don't trust anyone with this stuff, but I suspect he's less likely to abuse it than most. In any case, it's a moot point. Because of my dealings with him, I'd need to recuse myself from the release authorization: so, unless none of the other leads he gave you pan out and I can convince three other Overseers to approve and the rest of the Council doesn't veto it, the professor will have to do without."
"And that is about as likely as six-eighty-two keeling over from a heart attack," Harper remarked dryly.
"In the meantime, Mr. Harper, I want you to go check on five-five-seven and one-four-four-zero," Seven instructed. "You'll be on the next flight to Research Site-29 in Oman."
Harper quietly objected, "With all due respect, ma'am, tomorrow is Christmas, and the tenth anniversary of my family's passing."
"Right," Seven apologized. "I'm sorry, Mr. Harper. I had forgotten. I know this is not a pleasant thing to ask of you. I also know Christmas is the only day of the year you ask to take off. And I hope you know that I am deeply sorry for your loss. But this conspiracy is a very serious threat to the Foundation, and by extension—"
"—To everything else," the counterintelligence officer acknowledged sadly. He sighed. He knew, in its own way, that a conspiracy like this one was as large a threat as the Foundation ever faced, even if the science types thought a rampaging gecko was a bigger concern. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Alright. But I will arrange my own flight. I am going to take time to stop by St. Paul's Cathedral to light a candle for my family, since I can't do it at the National Cathedral like I do every year."
"Very well," Seven acquiesced. "Who knows when you'll next be near a Church. I'll pass along your update to Mr. Muir and Ms. Daniel, and have them attempt to track down SCP-1440. Good luck in Oman." She disconnected.
Putting down the receiver, Harper leaned back in his chair, rubbing his face with his hands. This sort of thing brought back bad memories: putting work before family.
In the next room, the office staff wondered what had caused the visiting Level 5 VIP to swear so loudly they could hear it through the soundproofed walls.