Jakeob Aldon stared at the clock hanging from the wall with a look alternating between utter focus and total boredom. She stood behind the register of Spicy Crust Pizza, attempting to will the hour hand along. Maybe, if she tried hard enough, she would suddenly become a reality bender. Maybe she already was, and she just had a very specific ability- the ability to make her shift hurry the fuck up and end.
It turned out that she was not a reality bender, however. She was, in fact, a totally normal baseline human. Something that might change soon. Aldon had spent the last week thinking about what the aussies had in mind, and what she would get in return for helping them. A new body. Probably a golem fashioned from morphing clay, her soul transferred and bound during the clay firing process. Once finished, it would be identical to a normal human body. Provided everything went absolutely perfectly.
And if Aldon knew anything, it was that nothing was truly perfect. That niggling doubt that she would make some mistake, the idea that her own inability would doom her, had dogged her since she had made the call to Felix.
By the time she consciously realized she had gone from trying to break normality to very desperately hoping she would adhere to it, a whole twenty seconds had passed. It had felt like an hour. Or at least a solid five minutes.
"Go fasterrr," she groaned at the clock.
"Talking to yourself?" Margret Williams asked, poking Aldon in the back as she did so.
After spazzing out for a moment, Aldon stood up straight."What- no, I'm just standing here doing my job, like a normal person."
"R…right." Margret shifted her weight away from Aldon for a moment. "Uh, anyway, you're wanted in the back."
Panic lanced through Aldon as she realized just how much time she spent spacing out at work. When Margret then went on to mention it was for an employment review, Aldon's shoulders sagged so much they might have dislocated her arms.
"Right. Higher up. Inspection-review-dealio. Thanks, Margret."
Margret touched Aldon's shoulder as she passed. "You alright, Aldon?"
"Uh. No. Not really. Lots of stress. Um. Y'know- girl stuff."
Margret began to chuckle before she caught herself. She quickly cleared her throat in an effort to make it seem like that was what she had been doing all along. She opened her mouth as if to say something, perhaps apologize, and then continued pretending to cough.
Aldon just nodded awkwardly and made a beeline for the manager's office. She knocked on the slightly ajar door and peeked inside. A man she didn't recognize was sitting within, wearing a suit that he didn't look all that comfortable in. He scratched at the coarse stubble along his jaw absently until he took notice of Aldon.
"Oh, hey there!" He was up and out of the chair in one quick motion. He offered a loose handshake, a grin on his face. "Jakeob Aldon? Nice to meet you. I'm Daniel Navarro, I'll be asking you some questions. Please, take a seat."
He shut the door and locked it. Aldon thought that a little strange, but dismissed it as one of the neurotic tendencies she had picked up along the years. Navarro moved over to the desk while Aldon sat down, but rather than sitting down himself he popped open a folder and flicked through it for a moment. He then plucked one paper from it and slid it over to Aldon.
Act normal. Do not react to what I'm about to do.
"So, how do you like it here? Do you like your boss? Your fellow employees?"
"Um. They're alright. Good. No complaints. I, uh, usually keep to myself, I guess."
As they said this, Navarro withdrew six small pieces of paper from the folder and bent down on the ground, affixing one to the floor. He stood and circled the room, placing one on each wall.
He climbed up on the manager's chair. "I see. Any particular reason for that?"
Aldon watched as he affixed the last paper to the ceiling. "Just… shy, I guess."
"That's okay," Navarro said as he hopped off the chair. He then sat in it, unbuttoning his suit and loosening his tie. "Nothing wrong with that. You can react now, by the way."
Aldon chewed on her tongue, nodding in thought. She went with what she felt was a good opening question. "Who the hell are you?"
The grin was still there. "I told you. I'm Daniel Navarro. I'm here to ask you some questions. And make you an offer."
Aldon sighed. "Right, but like, who do you work for?"
"You don't know?" Navarro palmed his chin. Aldon shook her head. "Ha! And they say memetics are bullshit. Spicy Crust Pizza. SCP. The Foundation."
Blocked channels within Aldon's mind suddenly flooded. She left the chair so fast she knocked it over. "Wait- fuck- what? That… Fucking memetics are bullshit."
"Well, bullshit in that they're annoying, not ineffective." Navarro shrugged. He was still smiling, which was beginning to bother Aldon. "Relax, Aldon. I come in peace. The Foundation wants to make you an offer."
Aldon sat against the opposite wall, her head in her hands. "I work. For the Foundation."
"Well, not exactly. See, this is just a front. Nobody save for the owner actually knows."
Aldon wasn't really listening. "I've been good. Careful! Don't do anything too big, nothing dangerous. Keep myself normal. And I've been under you this whole time. You guys probably have cameras and shit all over the place in here, huh?"
"Indeed, we do." Navarro got up from the chair and approached Aldon. He crouched down and offered her a much smaller smile than earlier. "But, hey. We haven't done anything to you. We've known since you applied, and rather than taking you in we gave you a job."
"That actually makes sense. Keep people of interest somewhere you can watch them. Man. Fuck. So, what- wait, what about Finn?"
"He's fine. For now. Depending on your cooperation that might change."
The conflicted look on his face did not stem Aldon's frustration. "Man, fuck you."
Navarro held his hands out apologetically. "Sorry. Just doing my job. Can I tell you what we want you to do?"
Aldon crossed her arms. She hoped to look indifferent rather than desolate. "Whatever."
Navarro took a breath and then became just a bit more serious. "We want you to accept that offer from the Are We Cool Yet? sect that contacted you. Aldon, you're not a problem. But they are."
"You want me to set them up."
"Correct. Most anartists manage to stay under our radar. Even a good chunk of the aussies don't bring much attention to themselves. But these guys do. They were involved in this big… mess on the east coast that we weren't able to deal with, and now they're on the west coast."
Aldon reached out and grabbed nothing. "Y'know, I finally had a decent chance. A slim one, but it was all in my hands. And now it's gone cuz Big Brother was like 'Fuck you, Aldon.' Shit, I probably never can now that I know you guys are watching me."
Navarro slumped. "I'm really sorry about that. I have a trans friend, he's… not happy. I won't say I know what it's like, but I can empathize. I might- and this is a really tiny might- be able to help you with that. I'll submit a request. But I doubt it'll be accepted."
It meant almost nothing, and she wasn't even sure if he was serious, but even as an empty gesture it meant a lot to her. She shrugged again.
Navarro slapped her arm reassuringly. "Listen, nine years ago? I was in your shoes."
Aldon managed a glare. "And now you work for them."
Navarro grinned again. "Make the best of a bad situation. I'd like to think I helped the anart scene in my own way."
"So… why not just take them when they walk into your fucking pizzeria? Like, how hard would that be? Why do I need to double agent this shit?"
"My superiors think they may be the tip of the iceberg. There's been a lot of antagonistic anart activity in the area recently. They think Paulson and Cori are involved. And they are surprisingly difficult to find. Like they have something to clean up any tracks they make."
"Fine. Whatever." Aldon stood, rejecting Navarro's offered help to stand. She glared some more as he straightened his tie and buttoned back up. "Are we done here?"
"Well, you're in a sound-proofed room for the moment. You have to go back to work for a few hours after this. Care to vent?"
"Oh. Yes. Thank you."
Aldon took a deep breath and then began thrashing around.
Navarro clutched at his ears. "Jesus! I meant let me leave first! Christ."