Note: This is part nine in a multi-part story based around the events leading up to the containment of SCP-2982. It is recommended that you read the previous entry Comfort Breaks first, or start from the beginning At the Library.
“How long’s the shower been broken?” Dimitri asked. Helen shrugged and dried her tears on her blouse. “Damned thing,” he continued. “Keeps switching itself back on…. You okay?”
Helen took a deep breath. “No,” she admitted.
“That's understandable.” There was a long pause. “I thought I heard you… “
“Talking to someone?”
“To yourself, I figured, or Angela.”
“It hasn't sunk in yet. If it ever does.”
“It will,” said Dimitri. “It’ll take time.”
Helen nodded slowly in acknowledgement. “Can I stay here tonight? It's late. I don't want to go somewhere else.”
Dimitri opened his mouth to speak but Helen continued over him. “It feels like she's still here,” she said. “It feels like I'm with her. Not so alone. Please.”
Dimitri waited long enough to give the impression he had a choice. “Okay,” he said. “I'll get someone to stay in a car outside or something. You'd better take this.” He started to put something around her neck but then stopped, and instead handed her a small orange box; a rape alarm. “Just in case.” His tone was apologetic.
She took it awkwardly and put it next to the basin. It made her skin crawl.
“We're still looking for Aidan Brown,” the lieutenant said. “If he tries to come back, we'll pick him up.”
“Do you think that's likely?”
“Him coming back? No. He hasn't been seen in weeks. Not by anyone but you, anyway. I think we need to go through some more questions tomorrow, if you're okay with that.”
Helen nodded. “Okay,” Dimitri said. “I'll get someone to come over. If Aidan contacts you, let me know. I'll see myself out.”
Helen waited until she heard the front door close, turned back to the shower, and switched it off. She regarded Aidan numbly as he shifted position in the bathtub, his carapace grinding as he tried to make himself more comfortable. He looked up at her but couldn't maintain eye contact. “I'm sorry,” he said.
Helen sat on the edge of the toilet and picked up Angela's toothbrush. She held it in her three left fingers and turned it over, trying to find some significance to this most mundane of everyday items. There were memories wrapped up inside, memories of happy times when they'd laughed and played as she taught her daughter how to brush her teeth. You make the foam like this; not too much or it hurts. Swish your mouth out with water when you're done. If you gargle it makes a funny noise but if you're not careful it'll come out your nose. Angela had a beautiful smile. Two gaps where milk teeth had come out that only made it more adorable.
Those memories were still there, but the meaning was lost, or locked away where they couldn't hurt so much. For now, she had nothing.
In time she looked back towards Aidan. He had stopped crying.
“Why?” She asked, her focus still on the toothbrush. Aidan didn't respond. “The police think you saw a vulnerable single mother with a young child. That you befriended me to get to a seven year old little girl. That that was your intention all along.”
Aidan started to weep again.
“Don't,” she said. “Just give me answers.”
“It’s not true,” said Aidan.
Helen laughed softly, entirely without humour. “Maine put those urges into your head, didn't he? Turned you into a child molester. Probably wrote it down somewhere. How can I hate you? I want so much to hurt you right now, but I can't. Even if I wasn't like this.” She raised her disfigured arms and fingers to him. “Even if I could, I couldn't. It isn't your fault. This goes deeper than either of us.”
Aidan Brown sobbed uncontrollably again. Helen's forgiveness was so much more unbearable than her hate. “If I could change things - “
“Don't,” Helen warned. “Don’t. I can't cope with what-ifs right now. I have to focus on what's real. What can't be changed. Accept. Move on…” She exhaled slowly and put the toothbrush back in its place. And then another thought sprang to mind. “Might you do this again? To other children?”
Aidan took a deep breath as well as his dysfunctional lung would allow. He thought long and hard, imagined scenarios where conscience and kindness would struggle against opportunity and desire, and be victorious; imagined similar struggles where conscience and kindness would lose badly every time. The latter far outweighed the former.
Helen looked across at him. “Well?”
“Yes,” he admitted. There was no reason to lie.
“Jesus,” she said, quietly. Aidan moved uncomfortably in the bathtub.
“I can't give myself up,” he said. “Nobody can see or hear me. After I… After… Afterwards I came in here. Turned the shower on and curled up under it. The police came. Broke down the door. They switched the shower off, I switched it back on. Cried all the time they were here. They didn't hear me. They didn't see me. Tried to grab them, they moved away. I just sat here under the shower. I couldn't interact with them.”
“But you interacted with my daughter,” Helen countered abruptly. “You managed that.”
“I know. It… wasn't easy.”
Helen looked down at the floor with red stinging eyes, and the emptiness was all around her. This was surely the end of her life. Aidan Brown must have been thinking the same thing; another rasping deep breath, then: “I don't want to be alive anymore,” he said.
Helen nodded in dejection, then looked at him fiercely. “Don't you fucking dare,” she hissed. “Don't you fucking dare even think about it. You're not done here yet. Not by a long way.”
“No.” Helen stood up and advanced on Aidan.
“You don't get it, do you?” she asked. “You can commit murder without getting caught,” she said. “You don't take the easy road until the hard road’s done. Do you understand?”
Aidan nodded. Shower run-off puddled around his bulk. He shivered and wrapped his legs around himself. “I understand,” he said.
“Until then, until you've done everything you can to honour my daughter's life and avenge her death, until you've made reparations, you stay here - or I swear to God I will come down to hell and hunt you down, and satan himself will cower at my coming.” She saw the fear in Aidan's face and softened slightly. “No,” she said. “You stay here until the hard road's done. Maine has to die. After that, you crawl under a rock and you die however you want.”
Aidan nodded again. “Okay,” he said, and he was scared and relieved at once. He had murdered this woman's daughter, and she did not hate him. He had ruined her life, and yet she allowed him his.
“I'll do whatever it takes,” he said, and despite the circumstances that had brought them to this point, there was something akin to belonging between them. The fact was not lost on Helen that Aidan had irrevocably destroyed that which was most precious to her, but likewise she knew she was to blame for it all; she had involved him, when all was said and done.
But, she thought, how did Harold Maine know that?
° ° °
Foundation agent Carol Paris walked through the Laundromat, down the stairs, and into the office. Pass code, retinal scan, pass code, pheromone scan, pass code, fingerprint scan. The final door opened up in front of her.
She'd left this room quiet and empty. Now it was full of noise, full of colours, Thirteen HD screens, each one a visual monitoring aid with twenty or more lines scrolling slowly across it, each one focussing on particular areas of concern that the Site Director deemed worthy of attention.
Five of the lines were red, another eight turning from green to orange in front of her eyes. She was waved over by Agent Caruso. “What’s the story?” she asked.
Caruso, a small, wiry rat of man, smiled tiredly and handed her a coffee.
“Escalation Procedure 926-Infosec-008.”
“No K-class? Never mind.” Paris sat down at her desk and booted her machine up. “Maybe next time. What's up?”
“Rape and murder of a minor in Beacon Hill yesterday.”
“Initial forensic report’s triggered five deviations from normality patterns, another eight possible - well you can see the screens.”
“Traces of human and crustacean sperm at the scene. As in, in the same DNA strand. Not physically possible, obviously. Injuries consistent with crush trauma from claws, fragments of human skin and chitin under the fingernails. Human skin between seventeen and thirty seven per cent crustacean. Chitin between eight and twenty four per cent human. Thirty page synopsis, four hundred page full.”
“I see.” Already she knew. It was obvious. “What kind of crustacean?”
“Limpet? Lobster? Does it matter? Wait a sec, got it written down somewhere… Yeah. Homarus Americanus, American lobster. No one saw any intruders, no comers, no goers. And no one saw any half-lobster monsters either.”
Pings as new alerts came in. Paris looked up at the screens. “More of the same?”
“Oh they're just that ice cream parlour.” Caruso dismissed them with a wave. “The place where you walk in and you can see with your fingers, and the pistachio flavour is sentient.”
“Thought that was contained?”
“It is. Need to update the alert criteria. Six week backlog.”
“So who's on the ground? With the lobster case?”
Caruso tapped on his keyboard and swiped the screen. “Dimitri,” he said. “He's with the mother.”
“Make sure he stays with her.”
“Will do. This is all Jessop, isn't it?”
Jessop, she thought. Harold Maine’s codename. It brought a little lump of dread with it into her throat. She nodded.
Caruso sipped his coffee intently and leaned back in his chair. “We really ought to get moving with this,” he said. “We've flashed entire communities for less. Don't you think we have enough evidence for at least a grade two Meet and Greet?”
Paris shook her head. “We wait,” she said. Caruso made a sucking noise with his teeth.
“Orders from above,” she replied. She didn't mention the favours called in for her father, or the dinner date arranged with Site Director David Runeberg. Caruso looked as though he might raise a further question, mulled it over, then decided against it.
In front of Carol Paris thirteen HD monitors were turning red. “Downgrade Jessop’s alerts to vibrate only and increase the escalation delay to the next level across the board, whatever that is. And flag any extra-continental notifications as FYI; we don't want anyone else getting tied up in this.”
“Okay,” said Caruso, “but we need to act sooner or later. The CMMCH had a flagged incident this morning. Woman gave birth to a full sized cow."
Paris raised her eyebrows. "That's not the end of it," Caruso continued. "The cow was in labour. Gave birth an hour later to the woman's baby. The mother - and all witnesses - are displaying the expected mental trauma, but all three are physically normal now. Site induction times three taking place as we speak. We're checking for links to Jessop.”
Paris played with her bracelet distractedly as she listened; a birthday present from her father. She didn't know it, but it would be her last. Hers, and her two daughters, and Caruso’s, and everyone else she knew.
“We're running out of time,” Caruso said, and he finished his coffee without tasting it.