Breakfast arrived at 0700 every day. Iris tried to make sure that she was showered, her bed was made, and her quarters were clean and neat by then. Not that she particularly cared what the white-coated man with the food trays thought of her, but it was the principle of the thing.
She sat at her desk reading a dog-eared novel, waiting for the knock on her door. When it came, she was surprised to also hear a female voice saying, "Hello? Miss Thompson?"
She opened the door curiously. There was an attractive woman of indeterminate race standing there, smiling pleasantly. She was dressed in a neat skirt suit in light grey, over a pale blue dress shirt. The name badge clipped to her lapel read "Adams." It had a Lambda symbol on it, crossed with the number 2.
Mobile Task Forces, then. I'm not familiar with Lambda-2. Must be a new one.
"Iris Thompson?" the woman said. "Andrea Adams. I'm the head of your security detail. I was just wondering if you'd like to join me for breakfast."
Iris glanced up and down the hallway. The two guards at the end of the hall had their weapons slung over their shoulder. They seemed unconcerned about the containment breach. One of them even gave her a smile and a thumbs-up.
"Um," Iris said cautiously. "This must be breaking a ton of rules…"
"Your SCP file was updated this morning," the woman said. "You're being allowed Class 4 Privileges. Consider it thanks for saving all those lives."
Funny that they didn't give me these privileges three weeks ago, right after the incident. "I think you mean my reward for joining Alpha-9," Iris said.
"You really want to stay in that cell? Just accept the damn reward."
"All right," Iris said reluctantly. "Shall we go?"
"Not yet. Blue scrubs are so last year. Here." Adams thrust a plastic grocery bag towards the other woman. "I'll wait for you to change."
"These jeans feel weird," Iris said. "My legs feel all constricted."
"Did I get your size wrong?" Adams asked. "I looked up the report from your last physical."
"The jeans are fine. I just haven't worn jeans in nine years," Iris pointed out. "And I'd almost forgotten how to tie shoelaces, too." Special Containment Procedures humanoids were only allowed soft slippers. Less opportunity to hang yourself or improvise a weapon without shoelaces.
"Ah. Well, hopefully, you'll have a chance to get back into practice in the near future," Adams said. She opened the door of the Site-17 cafeteria. "After you."
The din of conversation in the mess hall didn't ebb as the two women entered. Word of Iris' updated containment procedures must have gotten around: no one turned to gawk at the SCP walking free in a restricted area. A few did stare at the strikingly attractive woman in the grey skirt suit. Probably some of those stares were also intended for her, the moderately attractive one in t-shirt and jeans.
It was strange how comforting just being looked at felt, compared to wondering if the armed agent was going to decide that you'd taken a threatening action and go for his weapon.
Adams shrugged off the stares like rain and walked confidently up to the counter, picking up two orange plastic trays and passing one to Iris. "Hey, Flames," she said to the bearded man in the white chef's apron. "One Denver Omelet Special." She glanced over at Iris. "What do you want? I'll buy."
"Oh. Um." Iris felt a brief moment of panic: she hadn't had to decide what to have for breakfast in years. She thought back over the variety of meals that had arrived at her cell room door over the years and settled on the one that she'd found most appealing: "Bagel, cream cheese, and fruit salad, please."
"Ah, yes. Breakfast Menu 12," the bearded man said. "You don't need me for that: you can pick up continental breakfast stuff at the cold bar."
"O-oh! I'm sorry," Iris stammered.
"It's all right." The bearded man smiled pleasantly. "First time in my cafeteria, Miss Thompson?"
"… well, yes," Iris said nervously.
"No problem. Hope to see you again later. If you come back for dinner, I'm making my special chili…"
"… which you should not eat unless you want to suffer the wrath of SCP-Six Six Six and a Half," Adams interrupted.
"… I'm not familiar with that one," Iris said seriously. "Which containment block is he in?"
Adams and Flames both laughed out loud.
"All right, so SCP-666 1/2 is… horrible digestive problems," Iris said, "SCP-006-J is gigantic bugs, and SCP-095-J is Comic Sans. Any other stupid in-jokes I should know about so that I don't embarrass myself again?"
"No, that's about it," Adams said. "I'm surprised you never picked them up during your time in the Mobile Task Forces."
"I hung out with geeks," Iris said. "They mostly made jokes about Portal and Half-Life. 'SCP-003 Lambda is a video game that has the anomalous property of never being completed ever.' That sort of thing."
"Hm. I guess even a group like ours has its cliques and circles. I suppose it's inevitable in an organization as large as ours."
Iris picked up her knife and began spreading cream cheese over her toasted bagel. "I suppose that's true."
Adams smiled. "You agree, then? You're a member of the Foundation?"
"When did I ever say that?"
"Right now. When I referred to 'our' organization and you didn't object."
"Maybe I'm not one of those Sherlock types that picks up on tiny turns of phrase. Not everyone makes a big deal out of the specific words people choose to use."
"You also took interest in the in-jokes among the staff," Adams pointed out. "Which means you have an interest in being part of our culture."
"So what the fuck's your point?" Iris took a vicious bite out of her innocent bagel.
"No point. Just trying to get to know the person they want me to take a bullet for." Adams picked up another forkful of omelet and chewed thoughtfully.
Iris took a bite of her fruit salad.
The silence continued.
"You're supposed to ask me something like 'Well?' Or 'And what do you think'?" Adams prompted gently.
"What, does this conversation have a script now?" Iris retorted.
"Your containment file didn't say anything about sarcasm."
"All right, then, here it is without sarcasm," Iris said, spearing a piece of cantaloupe with her fork. "As long as you do your job, I don't care what you think about me. You're my minder, not my friend."
"Ah." Adams waved her fork in Iris' general direction. "If I'm not your friend, then who is?"
All my friends are dead. Killed by him.
Iris looked down into her fruit salad. The dark red grapes looked back up at her.
"Is he really that frightening?" Adams asked. There was no accusation in her voice. Just genuine curiosity and concern.
Iris closed her eyes. "He's like… have you ever looked into the eyes of a shark?"
"I've never seen a shark. Not in real life," Adams said.
"Neither have I, but… I've looked into Able's eyes… and I think that if a shark were human, that's the kind of eyes they would have," Iris said. "The kind of eyes who would kill a billion people just to see what their corpses would look like strewn from here to the horizon."
"I can understand why that would be—"
"You don't understand," Iris interrupted. "I wasn't afraid that Able would kill me. I was afraid I'd be the one that he'd keep alive to see it happen."
She pushed her fruit salad away. She wasn't hungry any more.
Adams, meanwhile, had cleaned her plate. She folded her paper napkin up and tossed it onto her tray, then leaned back in her flimsy plastic chair and tapped her fingertip against her lips. "How do you feel about taking a trip off-site?" she asked.
Iris laughed. Then she stopped laughing. "Wait, you're serious?"
"Class 4 Privileges include limited off-site excursions, so long as you're accompanied by Foundation security personnel. I happen to count as Foundation security personnel," Adams said. "You should feel flattered. There aren't many Skips with Class 4 privileges."
"I don't know…"
"Come on," Adams said. "It'll be fun. We can go shopping for clothes and giggle a lot and try on jewelry and drink cosmos and gossip about boys and pretend I'm actually your friend and not just your bodyguard."
"… all right," Iris said. "Except for the 'gossip about boys' part."
"So," Adams asked. "Any thoughts on what you want to do?"
She'd changed her clothes in the intervening time: black jeans, a sleeveless top that looked like a Tiffany lampshade, and a pair of black velvet shoes with dangerously high heels. Iris felt envious of the older woman's ability to walk in those things, or the bold confidence with which she climbed into the driver's seat of the blue sports car in the parking lot.
"None at all," Iris said. "I was just going to follow your lead."
"Well, first of all, we need to get you some clothes. I know the Foundation provides uniforms, but a girl can't wear digi-cam and tac gear all the time. After that, I'm thinking we grab some dinner at this awesome wine bar up-town. You like wine?"
"I actually don't know," Iris admitted. "I've never had any alcohol before."
Adams gave Iris a Significant Look over the tops of her sunglasses.
"I was thirteen when the Foundation recruited me, fifteen when Omega-7 was shut down, and I spent the nine years after that in a cell," Iris pointed out. "Alcohol has never really been in the picture."
"So you never had a twenty-first birthday?" Adams asked.
A slow, devious smile spread across Adams' lips. "I know exactly what we're gonna do tonight," she said.
"I'm not buying it," Iris said.
"C'mon. It'll bring out your eyes."
"No," Iris said angrily.
Adams sighed and put the baby blue halter top back on the rack.
They were three stores into their shopping trip, and their pile of bags was, quite frankly, ridiculous. Iris wasn't sure how the hell they were going to fit them all into the trunk of Adams' car. Which brought up another issue.
"Where the hell am I going to put this? I don't exactly have a closet big enough to store all this."
"You'll get one," Adams said. "You're due for a living quarters upgrade."
"Class 4 Privileges?"
"Yup. Yet another carrot for being a 'good girl'." Adams rummaged through a rack of cardigans. "You know, maybe I've been getting it all wrong. Everything we've bought so far has been 'girl next door,' but I bet you could totally rock the 'hipster' look. Horn-rimmed glasses, knit beanie, tartans…"
"I don't need glasses," Iris said.
"Neither do I. Doesn't mean I don't look damn good in them." Adams pulled a white cardigan out of the rack, and held it up to Iris. She frowned, shook her head, and replaced it on the rack. "I'm not seeing anything I really like here. Should we move on?"
"Sure. Where next?"
"Well, we could hit up another department store, but I think you've got enough casual wear." Adams grinned. "I think it's time to buy you a suit."
"I feel ridiculous," Iris said.
"You look like a badass," Adams said.
"How come these pockets are all sewn shut?" Iris poked her finger at her jacket pocket, annoyed.
"Because women's fashion sucks that way," Adams pointed out. "Give me a minute with a razor blade and I can fix that for you, not that you'll want to put anything more than a handkerchief in there unless you want to ruin the lines… Damn, that reminds me. Purses. We need to get you some purses. And shoes. We need to do this again soon…"
Iris whimpered. Eight hours at the mall, trying on dozens of outfits, enduring Adams' never-ending critiques and opinions on fashion, and the younger woman was exhausted. They had stopped only to have a quick lunch in the food court before rushing off to continue shopping. Iris wanted nothing more than to collapse onto her cot and take a nap.
Adams, on the other hand, seemed like she could keep this up for days if she wanted. The woman was a machine.
She was tuning out Adams' rambling monologue regarding future fashion expeditions when a familiar-looking sign caught her eye. She cleared her throat. "Hey, Adams?"
"Call me Andrea," the older woman said. "What's up?"
All her hands being full, Iris gestured to the store with her chin.
Adams smiled. "Ah. Sure. Let's check it out."
"Welcome to Camera Shack," the bored-looking teenager behind the counter said. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Yeah," Iris said. She ruthlessly dumped her double-armful of clothing into Adams' arms. "Where's your Polaroid Film?"
"Polaroid?" the pimply-faced teen said dubiously.
"Yeah," Iris said. "I need some film for a One Step 600."
"Shit. I don't think we've carried that in years. Hang on, let me get my manager." He climbed down off his stool and opened up the door to the back room. "Hey, Greg!" he shouted.
"Yeah?" a voice called back.
"Got a lady out here asking about Polaroid film."
"Hang on." There was a shuffling sound, and then the clink of tools, and then an older man in a plaid shirt with an impressively large beard came out of the back room. "Polaroid, huh? You and me both, kid," the man said sympathetically. "What model?"
"One Step 600," Iris said. "G1."
"Ooh wow. That one's a classic," the older man said. "Yeah, we haven't carried 600 series film since Polaroid went out of business in 2008."
"Oh," Iris said in a small voice.
"There's this company, calls itself Impossible, bought out the machinery and manufactures the film under a new label. You could try them."
"Could you put in an order for me, then?"
"I could. But to be honest, it would be easier for you just to order it online. It would arrive at about the same time, and you could probably get it for cheaper," the older man said.
"Oh. Thank you."
"Hey, no problem." The older man gave her a friendly smile. "Just glad to see someone out there still appreciates the classics, you know?"
"Thanks," Iris said.
Adams waited until they were in the car before asking the question that was on both their minds: "Is this going to be a problem?"
"I don't know," Iris admitted. "I tried off-brand film once, and it didn't work as well as the real stuff. But it could have been a quality-of-manufacture issue." She gazed quietly out the window, her contemplation only slightly ruined by the gigantic pile of clothes and boxes stuffed into the back seat of the tiny blue sports car.
"You know, I never did get a clear story about your abilities," Adams said. "Does the type of camera matter?"
"I'm not sure," Iris said. "With my old camera, I get full manipulation of the scene. Real-time window. Other cameras… it depends on a lot of things. Film quality, sharpness of picture, development time… Other Polaroids worked best. One theory was that the sooner the negatives get printed, the better the fidelity."
"Hm. So one reason why the Polaroid works so well might not be the camera itself, but the speed at which it develops the photos?" Adams said thoughtfully.
"That's one theory. We never really tested it, though," Iris said.
Adams immediately pulled a U-turn across three lanes of traffic, prompting a round of loud honking from irate drivers.
"What the fuck!?" Iris shouted.
"We're going back to the mall," Adams said, her jaw set with determination.
"Hello!" the chipper young woman in the khakis and blue polo shirt said. "Welcome to B—"
"I need to buy a tablet and a smart phone," Adams said forcefully.
"Uh… okay," the Best Buy employee stammered. "Which bran—"
"I don't care." Adams took off her sunglasses and fixed the hapless employee with an intense stare. "Just show me the ones with the most megapixels."
"We're gonna get in trouble," Iris groaned.
"We can't get in trouble. This is what they're asking you to do, right?" Adams placed the empty smart phone box on the roof of her car, next to the box from the tablet computer.
"They want me on a Mobile Task Force, yeah," Iris pointed out. "But it hasn't even been activated yet!"
"Call it a training exercise, then." Adams stepped away from the car and glanced up and down the beach. At this time of year, the beach was nearly empty of tourists. "All right," she said. "Give it a shot."
"How!? I don't know where the shutter button is! There's all sorts of… little pictures and stuff!"
"Oh, for crying out loud… I keep forgetting you've never seen a smart phone before. Press that. Then press this. To take a picture, touch this thing here. Get it?"
"All right," Iris muttered. "Here goes."
She held up the tablet computer in front of her eyes and tapped the part of the screen Adams had indicated. There was a flash of blue light, painfully bright in the dimming orange sunset.
A moment later, an image of the two empty cardboard boxes sitting on the roof of Adams' car appeared on the screen.
"Okay," Iris said dubiously. "What now?"
"Well, give it a try. Do your thing," Adams said.
Iris swallowed hard. She timidly placed her hand upon the smooth, cool glass. She flinched. "Feels weird."
"Does it hurt?"
"Not exactly. More like… trying to push my hand through tightly-packed wet sand." Iris took a deep breath and pushed a bit harder. Her fingertips sank into the glass like still water. At the same time, a ghostly image of a hand appeared in the air in front of Adams' car and pushed against the two empty boxes.
They tipped over onto their sides.
"Nice work," Adams said admiringly. "That's gonna come in handy."
"I'm out of practice. And this thing doesn't feel right." Iris frowned. Her fingertips were a bit numb. Rubbing her hands together helped. "With my old camera, I could have picked up one of those boxes and stacked them on top of the other."
"Well, keep practicing," Adams said. "If you can pull it off with a digital, you won't be limited by the amount of film you're carrying."
"Yeah." Iris wiped her fingers on the hem of her T-shirt. "I think there might be a knack to it that I just don't get yet."
"Well, if all else fails, you've at least got a neat little toy to play around with," Adams said.
"I'm not sure what I'd ever use it for, but thanks," Iris said.
"You say that now, but wait until I show you Youtube."
"Youtube? That stupid little site with the home videos?"
"Oh man… you have no idea." Adams grinned.
They threw the boxes into the trash and got back into the car.
"Most people, when they find out about my powers, start talking about ways I could use them to kill people," Iris said.
"Your psych profile says that's a bad subject to bring up with you, so I didn't." Adams checked her rear-view mirrors and pulled out of the parking space.
"Oh." Iris looked out the car window as they headed down the coast highway. "Yeah, they tried to make me do it, but I refused. Locked myself in my quarters. They threatened to drag me out of my room, but the Omega-7 guys wouldn't let them."
"Your Mobile Task Force got into a fight with site security?"
"Oh yeah," Iris said. A fond, happy smile crossed her face, the first peaceful expression Adams had seen all day. "They set up a barricade in the hallway outside my room. Oversight threatened to demote them all to D-Class. Adrian told them to suck his ass."
"Adrian?" Adams' brow furrowed.
"Adrian Andrews, yeah," Iris said. "We called him 'A.A.' He was kind of like a big brother to me. He and Beats."
"Beatrix Maddox. His fiance." Iris flinched as she remembered how that love story had ended. She soldiered on. "She died. He died too. I can't remember how. A lot of us don't remember the details about things that happened back then. Some kind of CK-Class Restructuring. But when I think about it, I feel sick and sad, so I'm sure it was horrible…"
Something caught Iris' eye.
Adams was gripping the wheel tightly. Her knuckles were actually turning white. The expression on the older woman's face was blank and still. Empty, even.
"… are you okay?" Iris asked.
"Hm?" Adams replied. "Yeah, I'm fine." Her voice was completely calm and collected as she released the steering wheel from its death grip. "Well, we're here," she said cheerfully. "We'd better get inside, and then you can get changed."
"Why the hell would I want to get changed?" Iris asked.
"What, you seriously want to go clubbing in jeans and a t-shirt?"
"Clubbing…" Iris was perplexed. Then she got concerned. Then she saw the beach house.
"Adams?" she asked. "Where exactly are we?"
"We're definitely going to get into trouble now!" Iris groaned. "This has to break some kind of regulation. Misuse of Foundation Resources, maybe…"
"If an agent comes by needing to hide, he can duck behind your shopping," Adams said primly. "Besides, I don't think he'd complain overmuch about having to lay low in a safehouse with a pair of pretty ladies."
"You're a bad influence," Iris moaned. "You're going to get me demoted before I even join the teams. Aren't you supposed to be protecting me?"
"From bullets, not from bad decisions. Shower is upstairs. We have one hour until our dinner reservation." She pulled her smart phone from her pocket and began to dial.
Iris shook her head and marched upstairs, grumbling annoyedly.
Adams walked to the window. The phone didn't even finish ringing once before it was answered. "Clef," the voice on the other end said. "Go."
"Adams here. Mission report follows: everything is fine, we're having a good time. Rest and relaxation is proceeding more or less as planned. Expect SCP-105 back in containment by tomorrow noon at latest."
"Cool," Clef said. "How's it going?"
"Like I said, it's fine," Adams said curtly. "She's fine. We're all fine. That's all."
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. "Tomorrow noon, huh? You guys having a slumber party?"
"Fuck off, sir." Adams hung up. She took a moment to vent her frustrations towards her boss with an angry groan, then dialed the next name on her list.
This is a bad idea. There's no way this can end except in tears.
So was picking up that agent's gun and shooting back. As long as you're doing stupid things, may as well go all the way.
Yeah, but this is a different kind of stupid.
Exactly. For one thing, this probably won't get you killed or kidnapped.
Depends on where Adams wants to go clubbing.
She's your security detail. I don't think she's going to take you anywhere you're likely to get shivved.
Unless this is actually a complicated decommissioning.
Are you gonna wear them or not?
Iris pulled on the boots and carefully got to her feet.
The girl that looked back at her through the mirror… looked like a girl who'd spent the last nine years locked up in a cell and still wasn't used to wearing civilian clothes. The high-heeled boots made her knees all wobbly. The skirt felt breezy and exposed. The scarf was uncomfortably reminiscent of a noose.
This isn't fair. I'm supposed to be all confident and sexy at the end of the dress-up montage. Pretty Woman lied to me.
She pulled the boots off and tossed them away and searched through her bags until she found the red canvas sneakers she'd insisted on buying along with the more hazardous footwear Adams had picked out for her. She traded out the skirt for her jeans.
The scarf could stay. The scarf was awesome.
Downstairs, she heard the doorbell ring.
Iris froze. Cautiously, she moved to the bedroom door and eased it open, just a bit.
She could hear the front door open. "Hey!" Adams said. "You made it!"
"Yup!" an unfamiliar female voice answered. "We're the only ones who could, though. The rest of us are swamped."
"It was short notice. Not too surprised. Iris is getting dressed, but she should be down in a few minutes."
Iris sighed, relieved. She opened the door and walked downstairs.
There were two unfamiliar women in the living room. One of them was taller and plump in a motherly kind of way. She dressed like it too, wearing comfy-looking jeans and a light blue blouse with ruffles. The other one had glasses, short wavy brown hair, and wore a sweater vest over a white blouse and dark brown slacks.
"Cool," Adams said. "She's here. Iris? This is Blaire Roth and Chelsea Elliott. Friends of mine."
"Hi," the shorter woman (Chelsea) said, waving shyly. She had a friendly, if timid smile, and her oval glasses perched delicately on the end of her prominent nose.
"Good to meet you," the older woman (Blaire) said. She gave Iris a friendly hug, which was oddly reassuring.
"Awesome. Everyone's friends. That'll make it easier to celebrate," Adams said.
"… celebrate what?"
"Your twenty-first birthday, of course!" Adams said. "It's a few years late, but every girl deserves to have one!"
A moment of silence as three of the women in the room digested this new piece of information.
"… bar crawl?" Blaire asked with some trepidation.
"Bar crawl," Adams confirmed.
Iris turned pale.