The director of Site-81 was far away from the confines of the Foundation, in a cottage nestled in the Rockies. He sat on the back porch, enjoying the brisk morning air. He took a deep breath, and then another, and smiled as he considered how much more pleasant breathing was here than in the long corridors and dark rooms below the lake. He loved Site-81; there was no doubt there. But Site-81 was old, built seemingly eons ago. It was an incredible place to do research, and to contain anomalous entities, but it gave no consideration to comfort.
All of that, though, was in the distance of his mind. The doctor sipped from a cup of coffee and idly played with the IV in his arm. Karlyle was reading a book gifted to him by an old friend, one now long retired from the Foundation. They had met when they were young men, come together when they were forced to dissolve their connections with the outside world. Once, they might have said they loved each other, in their own way.
When the time came for the other man to leave the Foundation, he had given Karlyle the book and a promise— for them to meet up after Aktus finally retired and move to Italy together. They had always loved Italy. Karlyle had smiled, taken the book, and made the promise.
"But who knows, Karlyle," Oliver had said, "maybe you'll be here forever, grinding away in that lab until the sun goes out. Lord know you haven't aged in nearly thirty years."
Karlyle had laughed, and told his friend to wait for him. After Oliver Rights had left the Foundation he moved to Minneapolis, where he was born. He died one night, twenty three years later, when a power outage from a snowstorm darkened his home and he froze next to an empty wood stove. He was 87 years old.
That same night, Karlyle approved an order to upgrade a dangerous SCP to the Keter-class, with restrictions. He did not hear about Oliver's passing until later. He had not thought of it since until he grabbed this book on the way out of town.
His eyes had hung on the handwritten inscription just inside the cover. To my dearest friend, with love. He read the book.
He continued reading well into the late morning, when he began considering lunch. He stood up, walking slowly and carefully towards the doorway, and entered. He left the book on the table next to his chair outside.
The old doctor stretched briefly and then began to make a sandwich. Turkey on rye, standard fare back at work. Old habits die hard, but at least here he could offer himself a slice of cheddar to go with it.
His hand reached for the refrigerator, and stopped when he noticed the man standing in the corner of the room.
"Ah," Karlyle said slowly as he pulled the refrigerator open. "So good of you to join me. Early though, for me to be going back? It has only been two days, I feel."
The man stood quietly, unmoving. Karlyle glanced around as he closed the door, realizing then that there were many other men and women in his cottage, pressed up against the walls. Some wore suits, other plainclothes. Some carried weapons. They all stood silent, staring straight ahead. The old man shook his head and laughed. "The formalities are unnecessary, I think. There are none here but me and you."
They all left the room then, save for one.
"Ah, there we go." Karlyle moved into the living room and sat down on a plush sofa. His IV was still in his arm, connected to a bag that hung on a metal rack and followed him wherever he went. It rolled across the hardwood and sat next to him when he did, quietly watching the whole scene. "Come and have a seat, Joshua. I am sure this is not going to be quick."
The man slid effortlessly across the floor, silently. He moved towards a chair and then was seated in it, his eyes pressed on Karlyle from across the room. The old doctor continued to eat his sandwich.
"So," he said, in between bites, "what is somebody like you doing all the way out here with somebody like me? And with an entourage, no less." He licked his lips carefully. "They cannot send somebody who is less of a big fish, for an old man like Aktus?" He laughed.
The other man did not move. ""I am not here for who you are. I am here for who you were.""
Karlyle paused long enough to swallow, and then continued into his meal. "All that is, Joshua, is another way of saying that I am not the man I used to be. You know it, and these old bones know it." He took another bite. "I think you will have better luck elsewhere, friend."
The uncomfortable silence was broken by the sound of a bird chirping outside. Karlyle thought to look towards the sound, but knew better than to take the man out of his sight.
"It is not the youth of that man I am looking for, Jean," the man said, "nor his aptitude with a weapon."
Karlyle shrugged, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. "Then why are you here?"
"Humor me. I am very old."
The other man stood. "Twenty-five entities contained within two years. Extensive knowledge of behaviours and anomalous traits of many more. Ability to manipulate situations concerning anomalous entities in order to facilitate containment. Understanding of the—" he paused, "potential, of entities. The reason you joined the Classification Committee. The reason they made you its head. The reason Site 81 has gone without breach in your tenure there."
Karlyle nodded and snapped up the final piece of his sandwich. "These things you say, they are true. I will not deny facts. But yet, I am an old man, Joshua. Certainly my edges have worn dull. Certainly they are looking for one other than myself."
"They are not."
"And if I refuse? I am content in my work, I enjoy what I do. I have put those things behind me, Joshua. I am a man of science, as I have always been. What if I do not want to abandon that, as well?"
"This is an old debt, Jean. It is one you knew would come due in time. The years have gone by and age has overtaken all but a select few. Illness has ruined many, and yet some persist. Have you forgotten why that is?"
Karlyle darkened. "No. I have not forgotten."
Joshua moved towards the door. "Then I will alert the Council to your decision. Unfortunately, this is the end of your vacation. Your treatment can continue at our secure facility."
"You think an old man is a flight risk?"
"No," Joshua said, "I think you are."
A handful of agents appeared then, gathering up Karlyle's belongings and moving them outside. The doctor was shuffled from the living room to the front door, and escorted to the waiting vehicle. As he went to step inside, he stopped, and turned to face Joshua. "Is it worth it?"
"Who can say?" Joshua said, closing the door after him. "In the face of mountains, you are only a man, Jean. You can decide for yourself when it is over."
The car moved away from the cottage and began its long trek down the mountain. Joshua stayed a moment more, long enough to do a last search through the cottage, and then he too was gone.
An open book lay on a table on the back porch, unnoticed. A token of love between two who had once dared to dream about a life together. The dreams had become broken and the memories lost, but the book had remained, a testament to what is required.
That night, it rained.
The door to the containment cell slid open slowly, and a woman entered first. Zena knew this one, her doctor, the one who talked to her when she was sad. She did not recognize the man behind her, the one in the white coat with the dark glasses and shiny head. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. He didn't look that scary.
"Zena," her doctor said, "this is Dr. Aktus. He's here to ask you some questions, and then we're going to have you do some stuff, ok?"
The little girl nodded, and sat upright. Dr. Jora moved to the corner of the room, and Dr. Aktus stepped forward and sat down on a chair in front of Zena. He extended his hand, and she shook it.
"Hello Zena, my name is Karlyle." He smiled at her again. "You may call me whatever you want."
Zena thought on it, and then perked up. "I can call you Karl?"
Karlyle laughed. "Karl is just fine." He pulled a red ball from his coat pocket, and held it in front of Zena. "Zena, Dr. Wensley tells me you are very special. I think that is very interesting, and I am curious to know how special you are." He tossed the ball and caught it. "Can you make this ball blue?"
He handed Zena the ball. The little girl took it, looked at it intently, shook it a few times, and then drooped. "I can't really do anything unless I'm told."
Karlyle nodded. "That is quite alright. Zena, please make this ball blue."
The little girl's eyes twitched slightly, and she squeezed the ball in her hand. When she let go of it, it was purple. She coughed, and then gave it to Aktus, eyes downcast.
Karlyle smiled. "No need to be ashamed, my dear," he said, taking the ball. "You did wonderfully."
She looked up. "But it isn't blue."
The doctor cocked his head. "Is it not? It looks plenty blue to me. You see, different words, they have different meanings depending on where you are from. For me, I see blue here. My people would call this blue."
Zena squinted. "I… this is blue?"
Karlyle nodded. "As sure as my name is Dr. Aktus. Now, make this blue ball purple for me."
Zena stared at the ball again, and then squeezed it. When she let it go, it was green. She looked up at Karlyle, inquisitively. The old man smiled.
"Good, Zena," he said, nodding slowly. "Very good."