Containment Engineer - A Typical Day
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Avery Zhang sighed as he swiped his Level 2 key card through the scanner on the wall. The light beeped from red to green, and the steel door in front of him slid aside to let him through. He sipped from the coffee cup in his right hand's grip as he stalked through the doorway. A security guard who must have possessed familiar features beneath the mirrored face shield grunted a greeting to him as they passed each other. Halfheartedly, Zhang returned a floppy wave at the guard with his free hand.


Zhang sat down at his desk in his office. He logged into his computer and pulled up his email. One new message matter-of-factly informed him that the construction of his latest project had been finished and put to use, and that researchers at Site-19 were happy with it. This put him in a good mood; unfortunately, his bright start to the day was not to last.

A knock at the door. The first of several appointments scheduled.

"Come in!" he shouted.

A man in his late twenties and dressed in a slightly wrinkled suit entered the office. The ID clipped to his chest distinguished him as a field agent. He took a seat across from Zhang's desk, and Zhang braced himself.

The conversation began reasonably. Ten minutes later it had devolved into the following:

Exasperated and frustrated, Zhang exclaimed, "For the last time, this anomaly does NOT need a specialized team of caretakers!"

The agent frowned, retorting, "It's a spatially-limited creature whose anomalous properties prevent it from being readily able to take care of itself."

"It's a baby chicken that can't move more than two meters away from a two-kilo chunk of granite," scowled Zhang, "We'll attach the rock to an RC car and a tracker to the chicken and program the car to follow the chicken around."

"But—"

"No. Just, no," Zhang sighed, "The chicken doesn't need any additional containment procedures. It'll be fine at one of the Foundation's animal care facilities. Stop coming to containment specialists about this."

"… It's just that I grew up on a farm, y'know, so that poor thing—"

"Goodbye."


Thankfully for the containment engineer’s thinning patience, his remaining appointments of that morning were far more reasonable than his first. There had been two of these which were notable. One had been with a senior researcher who needed the containment cell of a humanoid anomaly remodeled. The other had been a conference call with a supervisor who informed him that a procedure he had designed was being selected for high-priority implementation.

In his last scheduled meeting before lunch, Zhang had dealt with the case of a junior researcher whose object of study had left him with a somewhat amusing handicap. The very irate Dr. Seymour Tracy was the latest person to have read an anomalous copy of Green Eggs and Ham. This had left him unable to speak in anything but iambic tetrameter — the classic children’s book’s rhyme scheme, in other words.

It was well-documented that this effect would pass onward as soon as another human being read the anomalous book; however, none of Dr. Tracy’s co-workers was willing to aid him. Interestingly, they had all cited Tracy’s “jackassery” as reason not to. But Zhang was a stickler to the principle of professional integrity. His simple solution to the doctor’s problem had been to gift the book to a D-class subject in the infirmary, one who had recently been rendered mute by an encounter with another anomaly. Both parties were happier for it.

On his way back to his office from that brief excursion, Zhang’s pager went off. After a quick check informed him that Site Command wanted him at ground-level containment, he dutifully hurried to the nearest stairwell.

He made it to the ground floor lobby area after climbing three flights of stairs. A glance around the place quickly distinguished a fully-uniformed security guard waving at him as he held open the door to the containment area. Zhang ran to the guard.

The guard lifted a hand in a stop signal as the out of breath containment specialist approached.

“Containment engineer, right?” asked the man behind the face shield.

Zhang patted the ID clipped to the chest pocket of his shirt, verifying, “Yes. Avery Zhang, Level 2 clearance.”

“This way,” replied the guard, leading him through the doorway.

They soon arrived at the sealed door of a containment chamber. Two other security guards were present there, both of them with their face shields off. One was peering into the containment chamber through the window next to the door. The other was cursing as he entered a code into the entrance’s keypad and nothing happened.

The guard whom Zhang had followed into the containment wing explained, “The skip’s in temporary holding elsewhere while we’re supposed to be maintaining the chamber. Four D-class personnel went in, and one of ‘em managed to trip the cell’s emergency lockdown. The room’s sealed airtight, they’re running outta oxygen, and our override code isn’t working.”

Zhang moved to the keypad by the door. The guard who had previously been trying to override the lockdown stepped aside for him.

He entered the ten-digit passcode that had been issued uniquely to him. He hit enter, but the keypad screen flashed red, denying him access. Zhang frowned and entered the nine-digit passcode that was shared by all the on-site containment engineers. The keypad again rejected it.

“Crap.”

Anxious, Zhang glanced through the window into the containment chamber. To his astonishment and confusion, he saw four D-class personnel using long brooms to scrape slime off the steel-plated walls in no great hurry.

“Wait,” said Zhang in disbelief, “They’re still cleaning in there?”

The guard looking through the window replied, “They didn’t notice when they tripped the cell lockdown, and we haven’t told them that they’re suffocating.”

Zhang’s morbid response was, “It’s a big room, and carbon dioxide is heavy. They’ll die of CO2 poisoning before they run out of oxygen.”

“Well, get them out, then!”

“Manual bypass it is.”

The engineer removed a red-handled multitool from his back pocket. Using it, he made quick work of the bolts holding the face of the keypad to the wall. With the numerical pad hanging by a mass of wires, Zhang set down his multitool and pulled a small penlight off the keychain on his belt.

Clicking the light on in his left hand, he pointed it into the dark space in the wall. With his right hand, Zhang reached in and tugged at two gray wires. Carefully, he separated them from the bundle they were grouped in. Holding onto the small lines using two fingers, he set down the penlight in his other hand and picked up the multitool once more. With the wire clipper function of the tool, he cut both gray wires.

With an audible hiss, the door to the containment chamber unsealed itself, sliding open without resistance.

“Finally,” sighed the first security guard, “Thanks, Zhang.”

“No problem,” he said, “But I, uh, really hope that your temporary holding cell can last a while. With a problem like this, they’re going to have to check the whole system before normal operations resume.”

One of the other guards frowned, responding, “Damn. The temp cell’s not a problem, but this incident is gonna be a pain to write up.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have to write the technical report.”


Having turned in the technical report and enjoyed a blissfully uneventful late lunch in the cafeteria, Zhang made the trek back to the engineering department with significantly less tension in his shoulders and in a moderately optimistic mood. With the crisis of the day averted, he felt reasonably sure that what remained of the afternoon would be calm in comparison.

As he passed by the engineering division’s break room, Zhang remembered that he was out of coffee in his office. He decided to backtrack for a quick caffeine stop.

There were two people already sitting on the couch when Zhang entered the break room. To his pleasant surprise, both of them were good friends of his.

He greeted the two by name, “Cynthia. Remy.”

The round-faced blonde in the violet blouse responded first. She greeted him sunnily, “Avery, hey! Come sit down with us.”

“Yeah, Zhang,” grinned the man sitting next to her in baggy civilian garb, “Take a break for once, don’t overwork yourself.”

Uncertain, Zhang paused to check his wristwatch. He glanced back at his friends and acquiesced with a softening expression, “I just came back from lunch, but guess I have the time. I don’t have to be anywhere until three. Just let me grab some coffee before I join you guys.”

“What do you have at three?” asked Cynthia.

As he grabbed a paper cup from a small stack by the coffee machine and poured himself a generous helping of French roast, Zhang answered thinly, “I’m supposed to oversee a procedure I designed. Details are need-to-know, sorry.”

“Fair enough,” shrugged the blonde with little disappointment.

Zhang stirred several spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee, foregoing cream entirely. After the sweet granules dissolved in his drink, he slipped a plastic cap over the rim of the cup.

Cynthia called out to him from across the room again to say, “Hey, Avery, have you seen this week’s break room challenge yet? Patel picked a great one. The responses are hilarious.”

“I haven’t yet,” Zhang replied.

A bit of explanation:

Some number of months ago, the facility had taken in an anomaly that near-constantly broke containment while also being mostly harmless. In response to this annoyance, an anonymous joker had posted a challenge on the notice board daring any engineer on break to tackle the task of containing the thing.

Half the department wound up attaching slips of paper (and styrofoam cups) to the notice board with suggestions written on them. Few of the responses had been serious (several had involved SCP-682), but the entertainment derived from the break room challenge popularized the concept. Even after a permanent solution to the anomaly’s containment was found, certain creative minds in the engineering department took it upon themselves to continue the challenge with a variety of already-contained anomalies, particularly the very infamous ones.

Zhang took his coffee from the countertop and walked to the notice board next to the refrigerator.

Among the humdrum of morale posters, rules, and policy updates tacked to the corkboard was an index card. Scrawled in black sharpie on that index card were three numbers: “096”.

He barked a laugh, “The Shy Guy? Hah! You’re right, Patel did choose a good one.”

One suggestion said to encase SCP-096 in concrete. Another recommended restraining the anomaly with bungee cords. An idea written in what Zhang believed to be the department head’s handwriting on the back of a napkin proposed strapping it in a neodymium vest and suspending it in a vacuum chamber from an electromagnet in the ceiling.

Still shaking his head in wry amusement, Zhang plopped himself into a lone armchair and sardonically inquired of the man on the couch, “Say, Remy, what brings an ill-educated field agent like yourself down to Archimedes’ playground?”

“That’s a good question!” Cynthia laughed.

Said agent feigned hurt when he replied with a jest, “That’s ill-educated intermediate field Agent Anderson to you, Mr. Zhang. And what, is visiting a beautiful lady not a good enough excuse to hang out with you nerds in engineering?”

Cynthia’s retort was lighthearted and teasing, “Not when she’s married to a member of Site Command and you’re head over heels for a certain someone in the research department.”

“Hey, hey, come on, since when did this start being about my love life?” complained the field agent.

The conversation carried on in good cheer for another ten minutes. It ended at 2:40, when Agent Anderson confessed that he was running late to turn in an incident report. Not long after he exited the break room, Cynthia received a summons from her project manager. She stood and left Zhang alone with an apologetic smile.

Zhang finished off what was left of his coffee and tossed the cup away in the garbage bin.

Just as he was about to leave the room himself, he decided to add his own two cents to the notice board. Digging around in his pockets, he found a crinkled, four-day-old receipt from a toy store. Borrowing the pen-on-a-string hanging by the notice board, he scribbled his own response to the week’s break room challenge on the back of the receipt. Once finished, he stuck it to the notice board with an unused thumbtack.

Trap 096 in a giant hamster ball in a spherical containment room.

With that task completed, he left to make the journey to his three o’clock appointment.


2:51

“Remy,” said Zhang with professional detachment, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

The field agent turned around and responded in an equally impersonal tone, “Zhang. I hadn’t realized before running into you in the break room that the procedure was your design.”

Zhang bit his lower lip as a swell of emotions rose in the back of his throat: guilt, sorrow, bitterness, pity, pride. He walled them all behind a barrier of professionalism, but he couldn’t help sighing tiredly, “Remy, let’s just call it what it is: a termination.”

The reply he received from his long-time friend was a choked, thinly-veiled protest, “It’s euthanasia.”

Several minutes of silence passed.

2:55

They were the only two people waiting in a clinically bright hallway deep in the bowels of the engineering wing. The fluorescent lights above their heads cast sterile shadows at their feet for the two men to stare at. The unmarked door at their backs was a gallows.

During this entire time, Zhang was struggling to find something resembling the right words — but find them he did.

“I’m sorry it’s you who has to do it.”

Agent Anderson took in a sharp breath. As he let it slowly back out, he softly stated, “Don’t be sorry, Zhang. I was on the recovery team, so I volunteered. It’s… better this way.”

Unsure of what else he could say or do to comfort his friend, Zhang only nodded.

2:57

“I know we’re doing this out of mercy,” said Anderson unexpectedly, “We’ve had her for months, but we’re no closer to a cure, and… she just wants to die. But I still wish it could be any other way.”

Suddenly, the door behind them opened to reveal the figure of a lanky, owl-eyed woman of graying age who Zhang recognized as his supervisor, the project manager.

She said in a voice like falling sand, “I hope you haven’t been waiting long. We’re ready to begin soon.”

She stepped back, and they followed her inside.

It was not as well-illuminated inside the room as it was out in the hall. As such, it took Zhang and Agent Anderson a few moments for their eyes to adjust.

The room was quite comparable to a small recording studio’s soundbooth. In one corner there was a coat rack from which there hung gloves and a winter jacket. There was space enough for several chairs along one wall. On the wall opposite there was a short row of computer stations where the sound mixing board would have been in a studio. A wide window above the table on that same wall looked into an adjoining space about the size of a recording booth.

But of course, neither instruments nor music stands occupied that adjoining room.

Through the glass of the window and of the door leading into the adjoining room, everyone could see the only two objects inside. The first was a dry, stone bathtub on top of a rubber mat. The second was lying on its side within the bathtub; a metal statue bearing the strikingly realistic visage of a young girl attempting to curl herself into the fetal position.

Anyone viewing the statue for the first time would feel curious about the fact that someone had dressed it in a simple, white dressing gown. Anyone viewing the statue with prior knowledge of its origins would feel little for it but pity and horror.

Zhang looked over the shoulder of a technician at one of the computers. He recognized what was on the screen as a brainwave graph, but he lacked the knowledge to determine what any of the patterns meant. The readout on a separate monitor gave the ambient temperature in the adjoining room as -25 degrees Celsius. An infrared camera feed on another neighboring screen showed that the body of the statue in the tub was significantly warmer than the air around it — almost 37 degrees Celsius, in fact.

A small cough brought his attention to his supervisor, who was standing by the chairs along the back wall. She gave him the slightest of nods.

3:00

Swallowing his trepidation and putting on a professional facade, Zhang marched to the farthest corner of the room, where a standard headset and a non-standard defibrillator — one which he knew had been modified to his own, lethal specifications — sat atop a small table. He took the devices from their place and brought them with him to approach Agent Anderson.

The field operative was standing by the coat rack. Stone-faced, he had already donned the winter jacket and the gloves provided to him.

With more confidence than he’d thought he could muster, Zhang handed the headset and the defibrillator to his friend. The containment engineer briefed the agent with information that he was sure the man already knew.

“The anomaly is aware of its impending termination, but it is both unwilling and unable to resist. We will fill the tub as you enter the room. Your task is to minimize the entity’s suffering as the hypothermia sets in and to execute the termination via electrocution once we have verified the entity’s state of consciousness. You are not to begin the termination procedure until you have received our signal. Is this understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

Zhang nodded heavily, “Proceed.”

Anderson turned stiffly to face the door to the adjoining room. He pulled it open and stepped through.

Zhang felt the chill from the refrigerated space enter the air in the control center before the door swung closed and sealed the two rooms apart from each other once again.

The technician at the computer consoles turned a dial, and the tub on the other side of the glass began to fill with with a blue-tinted mixture of water and antifreeze. The technician flipped a switch, and suddenly the light sound of Anderson’s breathing came echoing from the speakers in the control room.

Zhang watched as Anderson sat down on the concrete floor next to the tub. He listened as the field agent talked to the statue about Harry Potter, hedgehogs, and the color teal.

He watched as one of the two orange masses on the infrared feed cooled to yellow. He listened as the one-sided conversation turned to the topic of family.

He watched as the brainwaves on the center screen changed their patterns from what may have been normal to what was most certainly not. He listened as his friend said goodbye to both the eleven-year-old he had been able to speak with for all of three, short weeks and to the projection of a long-dead younger sister who had passed away in a hospital bed six months after a car accident in which he’d been the one driving.

Zhang considered all this with the part of his mind that wanted to empathize with Anderson and feel sorry for the little girl whose flesh had turned to nigh-indestructible metal.

With another part of his mind, one that saw much more use in his day-to-day life, Zhang recalled receiving and analyzing the file on the designation-less, euthanasia-seeking anomaly that the Foundation had slated for termination the same day it had been recovered.

He remembered reading the exhaustive experimentation logs which had determined, after the child could no longer communicate, that that she was insensitive to temperature but not immune to its effects on the human body’s internal systems. He remembered the clinically-phrased caveat that she could not seem to die of temperature fluctuations but that the upper and lower extremes of this had not been tested. He remembered contemplating the cold observation that the girl had, at some point in her transformation, lost the ability to fall asleep. He remembered seeing the termination testing log whose ultimate conclusion was that the girl’s metallic exterior diverted electric charge away from her still-functioning internal organs the same way that a car’s chassis could divert lightning around its occupants.

The engineer remembered in vivid detail submitting his termination proposal to the project manager. He remembered finding his initial proposal rejected. He remembered devising the post-procedure protocol that he felt would convince even those who were more concerned with attaining knowledge than maintaining ethics that finally ending the girl’s life was in the Foundation’s best interests. And he remembered finding out just several hours ago that his second proposal had been accepted.

He was startled out of this reverie when the technician at the computers waved him over, saying that the statue girl Cecilia was finally unconscious. The technician pressed a button, and the bathtub on the other side of the glass drained of fluid.

Zhang walked to the console and picked up the microphone. He said tonelessly, “Agent Anderson, you are clear to begin termination.”

He stared unblinkingly as Anderson opened the defibrillator case. He carved into his memory the sight of his friend peeling the plastic away from the gelled faces of the paddles, the sight of him turning the dial on the device to its maximum setting. He memorized the image of the field agent placing the paddles across the statue child’s chest.

But when the high-pitched hum of the defibrillator gathering charge began, Zhang shut his eyes. When he heard the click of the paddle safety mechanism and the abrupt end to the device’s electric whine, his mind was filled with more clinical thoughts — thoughts of a bathtub insulated from the floor and of a beating heart in the path between 50 amps of current and a grounded paddle.

“Heart rate is null,” confirmed the technician.

When the field agent exited the termination chamber, Zhang was the one who took the defibrillator and the headset from him. He set both on one of the chairs along the back wall.

Briefly meeting his manager’s eyes, he volunteered to escort his friend to the staff dormitories. She gave him a nod of approval.

The two men walked down the labyrinthine halls to the nearest elevator in silence. They rode it up to ground level in the same.

The engineer knew little of what demons were dwelling in Anderson’s mind. He knew that his own thoughts were full of propane torches and ice baths and brittle ex-flesh in a hydraulic press whose use the Ethics Committee would never have approved of while the statue girl was still alive. But his friend Anderson was aware of none of these things, so what was weighing on the field agent must have been guilt of a different substance.

The doors of the elevator opened at ground level to a tiled floor and afternoon daylight. Both men exited, and they walked across a lightly-trafficked lobby area side by side. They soon came to an intersection where one branching path led to the staff dorms and another led back toward the engineering department.

Before they parted ways, Anderson confided, “I’m glad it was you who designed it, Avery. You made it kinder than it had to be.”

Zhang put on a reassuring smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. He said, “It was the right thing to do for her. I’ll see you later sometime, Remy.”


It was on his way back to his office that Zhang ran into one of the engineering department’s assistants.

The overworked young man curtly reminded him, “Zhang, you’re due in Galileo at 3:40. Tell Dr. Cadence we need her recommendations by tomorrow night,” before continuing his march down the hall with an armful of three-ring binders.

Zhang, while internally berating himself for almost letting an important commitment slip his mind, called back to the assistant a hurried, “Thank you!”

He jogged to the nearest elevator and swiped his key card in the sensor above the button panel. The engineer took the elevator down to the floor which hosted Laboratory G-1A, a room designated for training interns and more commonly referred to as the Galileo Lab.

The double doors not too far from where the elevator let him off did not require a key card. Zhang pushed one of them open and entered a high-ceilinged room.

Inside, a group of young interns were happily lazing about, their current topic of conversation something related to an upcoming movie release.

“Pardon me, where’s your supervisor?” he asked them.

One of the interns pointed toward the wide window on one wall of the laboratory, answering, “In the observation room grading our essays.”

“Thank you,” said Zhang.

He made his way to the door next to the observation window. With the press of a button on the wall, it slid open to let him through.

The room’s current occupant looked up from the papers in front of her to smile and greet him, “Zhang, there you are. Just in time to join me in reading essays.”

“Of course, Dr. Cadence,” replied the engineer to the researcher. As he pulled a chair from along the wall to the round table in the center of the room, he said, “And before I forget to tell you; they want your recommendations by tomorrow night.”

“Right, right,” frowned Cadence, “I still need to write those. I imagine you’ve already turned yours in?”

Zhang nodded as he pulled a set of papers toward him, “Yesterday night.”

“Always so on top of things. Mind if I ask who you’re scouting out?”

“That kid, Almasi, and possibly Nguyen or Smith.”

Cadence laughed, “Really? Darn. I was hoping to snatch Almasi for the research division. But you turned yours in early, so you’ll probably get first pick.”

Zhang countered jovially, “You’re a senior researcher, you’ll probably get to steal whoever you want.”

Shrugging, Cadence replied, “I guess we’ll see how it turns out. The Site Director will be happy no matter what. They’re a good bunch of kids.”

“Yeah, they are… It makes you wonder what they’re doing here.”

“Stop it, you. We have final essays to grade.”


It was the end of the day, and Zhang was in his office, almost ready to leave to grab dinner at someplace that could make decent chicken. He gathered up the files on his desk and locked them in a drawer. Then, he began closing out of the tabs open on his computer.

The last tab he had to close was open to his work email, just as he had left it that morning. Zhang found himself suddenly reminded that he had not checked his personal inbox in some time. With a few clicks of the mouse, he signed out of his work account. Then, he signed into his personal email.

He had one unread message, titled “Katie”. It was three days old and from his ex-wife.

Zhang opened the email, and was delighted to find over a dozen photographs and video clips starring his daughter at her ninth birthday party. In these photos, she had a different haircut than she did the last time he’d seen her — but then again, the last time he’d seen her had been over a month ago.

One particular picture of the little girl holding up the plush dog and the scrambled Rubik’s cube he had gifted her was his favorite out of the bunch.

There was a short message from his ex-wife included with the photographs.

Katie says her new favorite cake is red velvet. She had lots of fun at the party, and she really adores the toys you dropped off for her. You could have stayed, you know. It was her birthday.

But there had been a major anomaly transfer going on that day, and he had just barely managed to find the time to leave the unwrapped gifts at the door before rushing to meet the security detail for the overland haul to Site-19.

Zhang made a note to himself to get a day off for… what was the next major holiday? The Fourth of July. That would do. Katie liked fireworks, picnics, and the color blue.

He replied to his ex-wife’s email, thanking her for sending the pictures and telling her about his plans to get time off work on Independence Day. After that, he shut down the computer.

As Zhang locked up his office behind him, he sincerely hoped that he would be able to keep that date.

Until then, it would be one typical day after the next.

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