Dr. Andrea Segerstrom had a wonderful junior year English teacher. The woman had the endurance of a saint, which served her well since she made the regrettable decision to teach at a high school for gifted students. Whenever her students got too out of control, Mrs. Cameron would close her eyes and whisper "I love my job I love my job I love my job," until her thoughts of murder/suicide ebbed away.
As Research Assistant Jarvis lay on the couch in her office, Dr. Segerstrom whispered to herself, "I love my job I love my job I love my job I love my job". To Jarvis she said, "Look, Michael, there's a reason you were ordered to see me. This gambling problem is getting way out of hand. It's clearly affecting your ability to reason."
Jarvis regarded her with a calm, benevolent condescension. "Now, don't you think that's a bit of an exaggeration, Andrea?"
The entirely fed-up psychiatrist simply consulted her files again. "It says here you've taken out a second mortgage on your house and drained your savings. You've spent every one of your days off over the past two months at a casino or other such establishment."
Jarvis' carefully constructed superiority began to crumble a bit. "I'm able to keep my behavior off-site separate from my work life. I'm sure if you look in that impressively extensive file, you won't find a single instance of inappropriate use of Foundation time or money."
Dr. Segerstrom fixed him with her best icily clinical stare. "There's no such thing as a off-the-clock-you and an on-the-clock-you, Michael. And there's no such thing as a compartmentalized addiction either, just one that hasn't become life-consuming yet."
Jarvis sat up. "Look, Andrea, I don't have an addiction, okay? You know, working here is incredibly taxing and a man has a right to unwind."
"Absolutely, unless his method of 'unwinding' begins to monopolize his life, drain his resources, and present a security breach to the Foundation. By the way, in this room, for the next 10 minutes, my name is Doctor Segerstrom."
Jarvis's jaw clenched, his collected haughtiness gone. "Well Andrea, rumor has it you've seen first-hand what the pressure of the workplace does to a man. Perhaps if you were a bit less uptight, certain people wouldn't have to resort to extremes."
Dr. Segerstrom sighed inwardly, bottling her anger. She could drag out this session for the next nine minutes, but it would only be prolonging the inevitable. She jotted down a few more notes on her clipboard before putting on her icy clinical face again. "Well, Michael, I believe we're done here. You've got a few more minutes left but I don't think they'll be very productive." She stood, opened her office door, and motioned the soon to be ex-Research Assistant Jarvis through. "Please exit to your left. When Nurse Takagawa calls your name, she will help you sign off on your required paperwork and give you any further instructions." When Jarvis had made his sneering exit, Dr. Segerstrom exited to her right and handed the papers to the older nurse. "Michiko, please pull up a list of all Foundation sites in need of Level 0 Clearance personnel."
"I shall be sorry to see him go," said Takagawa. Andrea wondered, impressed, how anyone could maintain both genteel politeness and utter contempt in the same sentence.
"Nothing for it, I'm afraid," said Andrea lightly. "He's completely unwilling to address his condition. Unless he begins to display even the vaguest understanding of the responsibilities that come with the title of Research Assistant, it's my professional opinion that he will better serve the Foundation as a Level 0."
Nurse Takagawa handed Doctor Segerstrom the next patient's file. "Research Assistant Connor Graves," she said before pausing. "Have fun with this one." Andrea sighed. No matter what kind of doctor you were or where you practiced, vague statements like that never boded well.
Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Segerstrom was rubbing her temples again. Graves refused to lie down on her couch and was staring at her with the twitchy nervousness of a guilty conscience. She sighed. "Connor, I'm not here to judge you."
Graves barked short, humorless laughs. "Then what's the clipboard for?"
"The clipboard is for me to make sure that you are healthy enough to continue to work for the Foundation. I'm here to find the best possible way for the Foundation and you to continue to work together."
"Connor, we won't consider ending your employment unless you pose a risk to yourself or the Foundation. This is for your own good, Connor. I'm here to help you, not condemn you," Dr. Segerstrom said soothingly. Andrea's Good Doc manner always worked wonders. Graves relaxed visibly as she went on. "Now, what led to today's visit? Don't leave anything out. Remember, I'm on your side."
"Do you know why you're here today, Connor?"
Connor Graves clenched his fists. "Doctor, I get off to anthro skip porn."
"But Doctor, I wanna make one thing clear," Graves looked Dr. Segerstrom dead in the eye as a new determination entered his face. "The vernacular 'anthro porn' comes from 'anthropomorphic', from the Greek root 'anthro-' denoting gender neutral human characteristics. It should say 'gynomorphic', from the Greek 'gyno-', relating to that associated with women."
"And is that significant?"
"Of course! I'm not gay or anything!"
Dr. Segerstrom's thin veneer of professionalism began to crack around her eyebrows and the corners of her mouth. "I see. I'm going to have to ask you a few more questions, of course."
Thirty minutes later, Research Assistant Connor Graves exited Dr. Segerstrom's office with his position intact. Andrea left her office for lunch, checking her PDA. There was one more small work-related task she would have to complete over lunch.
Many considered Overwatch HQ to be the heart of the Foundation. Andrea thought that title belonged to each and every Foundation site cafeteria on Earth. Loose lips may free skips, but a skilled Foundation ear can glean just as much from what's left out of the gossip as what's in it.
Site-33 was, like most Site cafeterias and non-anomalous high schools, separated into cliques based specialty or interest. Biologists there, linguists here, MTFers in the corner. However, because this was Site-33, the mental health (hah!) specialists took up half the cafeteria. The shrink bloc was further subdivided, as psychiatrists regarded their psychologist counterparts as touchy-feely hippie types, while psychologists derided their physician colleagues as soulless pill dispensers. Nothing too different from the outside world.
Andrea was looking for a spot where one could hold a reasonably intimate conversation without being too isolated. She settled for row of seats on the fringe of one of the Psychiatrist tables, towards the first Psychologist table. Perfect. The presence of others would be comforting, but they wouldn't be disturbed. Andrea scanned the room for the lost little figure with the short, halo-like afro framing her face. Finally, she found it. "Dr. Baxter! There's a seat right here. Why don't you join me?"
The nervous young woman smiled at Andrea as she skittered to the table, her blush mercifully hidden by her dark brown complexion. "Thank you so much, Dr…Segerstrom?"
"Yes, but please call me Andrea."
"Then call me Alex! Thanks for inviting me over."
"Oh, don't mention it. I was just as lost as you during my first couple of weeks. Now, you said you wanted to talk to me sometime. About what, exactly?"
Dr. Baxter fiddled with her napkin. "Well, I guess I want to know what to expect."
"You've completed your orientations, haven't you?"
Alex snorted. "Actually, Dr. Segerstrom, I'd like to know what actually goes on around here."
Andrea laughed. "You're a bit more wary than most new hires, aren't you?" Alex cracked a smile as Andrea continued. "Well, congratulations. As a Site-33 psychiatrist, you're privy to the most disturbing secrets of the Special Containment Procedures Foundation."
Alex's eyebrows shot up. "Really? So what does SCP-"
"No, no, not those kinds of secrets. I mean really disturbing."
Andrea opened her mouth, then paused. She was a very self-aware woman with an in-depth knowledge of her strengths and flaws. One of her failings was that she was both an indefatigable gossip and intensely secretive. Andrea loved to dish out little tidbits of information, making her listener work for the whole story. That way, she could prolong the thrill of sharing a juicy bit of knowledge while remaining as aloof and mysterious as she chose to be. Now, Andrea knew that she'd be a spectacular failure as psychiatrist if she couldn't exert a fantastic amount of control over her more destructive urges. But, she reasoned, there wasn't that much harm to be done in indulging just this once. Besides, the kid was going to have to learn sooner or later. "Let me give you a case study. Bet you haven't heard one of those in a while."
Alex laughed. "Go ahead."
"John Doe. Late twenties. Research Assistant, transferred here within the past few months. Sought out psychiatric evaluation after colleague found pornographic images featuring various anomalies in his possession and threatened to publicize them."
Alex's eyes got wide. "You've got to be kidding me."
"I am not. I was bound to run into it sooner or later. Dr. Macmillan's written a fantastic paper on paraphilias of the anomalous. Give it a read, it's fascinating. Anyway, the patient showed no other psychiatric abnormalities. I've found him completely able to fulfill his duties and sent him on his merry way."
Alex's eyebrows shot up. "Really? You just…let him go? No mandatory follow-up?"
"Other than the required yearly mental checkup? No. His paraphilia wasn't ego-dystonic, but I recommended he see me again if that changes."
Andrea smiled indulgently. "At the risk of sounding old before my time, you kids don't learn the things you need to learn in med school. It's easy to say we're non-judgmental healers and scientists until you come up against something that you, personally have an objection to. Well, Alex, you get over it eventually."
"So this man is still in the Foundation dreaming of the type of erotic ecstasy only an eldritch abomination can bring?"
"Yes. I should mention that this particular research assistant is particularly gifted, even among such a well-educated and professional group. The man's a positive asset to the Foundation, and his…proclivities…do not get in the way of him doing his job."
Alex shrugged. "I suppose."
"Not to mention that his paraphilia is relatively mild. Even if he was the foulest rapist to walk the Earth, the Foundation still might not discharge him if he was useful enough," Andrea said with a dark smile. "If you are important enough, certain indulgences may be granted to you. Sometimes horrible perversions are an asset for containment."
Dr. Baxter's face suddenly looked very drawn. Andrea leaned forward. "That's your first hard lesson, Alex. The Foundation needs competence more than it needs virtue. You, just like every bright-eyed hopeful in here, came to this site in the middle of Cousinhump, USA because you wanted to be with the superheroes saving the world. Well, put up the capes and eye masks because you won't be needing them here."
Alex began fiddling with her napkin, working it into a felted wad. "So…we're…I mean, if those people get certain immunities…"
Andrea had to keep herself from rolling her eyes by reminding herself that her fellow women learned from experience that the institutions they stood for would not stand for them. "Don't worry about that, Alex. You're among one of the most talented members of an already indispensable class. The last thing the Foundation needs is for its best and brightest defecting to the GOC or CI because it can't keep its other members in check. No, there are other allowances. But you'll learn all about that later."
The cafeteria continued to bubble with lively chatter and acerbic scientific arguments, but the two women were silent together.
Andrea broke the silence. "Jack Doe, also in his late 20s. Ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation after concern was raised over Doe's behaviors outside of his work. Surveillance of Doe's personal life revealed financial problems, excessive gambling, and his most recent routine neurological tests revealed structures and dopamine levels consistent with addiction. Subject was obstinate and showed an acute lack of insight into his condition. Doe's security clearance was subsequently revoked and he is being remanded to Level 0 Maintenance duties."
"It's…very strange. I know that's probably the wisest option to take, but compared with the earlier case file, it just seems…excessive."
Andrea shook her head. "Once again, you're not really thinking like an impartial scientist yet. Why are you so much more uncomfortable with a minor sexual deviation than a condition which is known to affect judgment? You still haven't learned to think like a doctor. It takes time, but if it's meant to be, you'll get used to it."
"I just don't get it." Alex motioned to the busy cafeteria. "We're scientists! We're specialists! We're all the best minds humanity has to offer. How can people like Jack Doe slip through the cracks? You'd think the Foundation was run by complete idiots, playing with skips and hiring psychopaths for laughs."
"Not idiots, Alex. Just people."
Alex fidgeted uncomfortably as Andrea went on resignedly. "Just people. People who pursue things that will ruin them just because they feel like it, people with unimaginably fragile grips on reality, people who are so unpredictably affected by the sort of trauma that's par for the course here that we never know for sure when Researcher Doe is going to snap and take half the site with him. That's the Foundation's most awful secret, Dr. Baxter, that we're all far closer to utter collapse than we dare to admit because the Foundation is made up of people."
Andrea leaned back and continued pensively. "When Jack Doe, the one with the gambling problem was hired, he was completely stable. Cleanest bill of psychiatric health I've ever seen. My colleagues will say that he was a time bomb, but I don't think that's it."
"What do you think happened?"
"Do you really want to know?"
Alex paused before replying, indecisively, "Yes."
"It's working here that did it. We've got so many anomalies that we might as well start referring to 'the friendly suggestions of physics'. Everyone reacts to trauma and extreme chronic stress in different ways, and some people develop defense mechanisms that can end the world as we know it."
"And we can't really tell in advance who those people are going to be, can we?" whispered Alex.
Andrea leaned forward with a sardonic smile. "Oh, we can to some extent. That battery of tests they put you through wasn't for the pleasure of the examiners. But despite our best efforts, some people just slip through the cracks. My esteemed colleagues believe that's a failing of our methods and that we just need bigger and better tests. Me, I think doing what we do here will cause some of the most stable people in the world to snap, and no test will tell you who. All you can do is stay vigilant and hope that you're not one of those people." She stood up to throw away her leftovers and looked back for a parting remark. "I hope you understand just how important your job is now. Psychiatrists are the immune system of the Foundation. We secure the unstable. We contain the effects of their symptoms on the workplace. And we protect the asylum from being taken over by the patients." Andrea grabbed Alex's trash as Alex stared in shock at the table. "Welcome to your first day on the job. It's not too late to hand in your resignation," said Dr. Segerstrom as she walked away.
Alex looked around the cafeteria with a new sense of vigilance. The high pitched, almost hysterical giggle of a research assistant, a dulled affect of a MTF captain, the silent weeping of a security guard. Panic welled in Dr. Baxter's chest. Reflexively, she began tapping a structured, exacting fifteen-beat rhythm on the table with her left pointer fingernail. The panic flowed out of her chest and through her arm, dripped out of her fingernail like a medicine dropper, and expelled itself onto the table. As she calmed down, Dr. Baxter continued to tap, ritualistically, robotically, precisely. Nothing bad would happen, as long as she continued to tap. The tapping would save everyone. The tapping would jar loose the unstable elements of the site and restore the Foundation. A tapping a day keeps the nutjobs at bay.
The friendly din of the Site 33 cafeteria continued, and the tapping went unheard, unseen.