As he placed the last of his possessions in a box, an elderly man with a walnut cane gave one last look around the room. His name was Dr. Zachary Johnson and the office he had worked in for the last 35 years was now empty, save for the furniture he had been given by the Foundation. It had been a good run while it had lasted. He had been the primary investigator on six items and had been a major contributor to at least twelve others. But alas, it was time to retire, and with a melancholy smile Dr. Johnson turned off the lights in his little sandbox and stepped out into the adjoining lab.
As soon as he had entered, Johnson’s ears were immediately treated to frantic mumbling, the source being a man at a desk in the corner rapidly sifting through paperwork. This man's name was Jacob Conwell, and he had been Johnson’s assistant for the last three years. Johnson quietly chuckled to himself as the man shuffled and reshuffled through stacks of papers, his ramblings becoming more and more disjointed as time went on. Eventually, Johnson gave a small cough, Conwell freezing and looking up from his paperwork only to have his face drain of color when he saw Johnson’s smiling face.
“Dr. Johnson, I’m sorry to say that I won’t have those last few files ready in time. I’m still waiting on Clayton to email me that transcript, and…” Conwell nervously sputtered his words, stopping only when Johnson held up his hand for silence.
“It’s quite all right.” Johnson said with a smile. He then walked over to the desk and quickly glanced over several folders that had already been neatly set aside. “Everything else is squared away though, I hope?”
“Of course,” Johnson’s assistant replied with a nod.
“Excellent.” Johnson then looked around the room. He chuckled to himself as he made a circular gesture with his cane. “I’ve been informed that they are handing the lab over to you for continued research on 1360-1. Looks like you’re king of the castle now.” Johnson watched as Conwell frowned.
“So I was told…”
“You’ve done a good job so far,” Johnson said as he patted his assistant on the shoulder, “and like I said, I imagine you’ll continue to do a good job in the future. I’ve taught you everything I know and given enough time I imagine you’ll be able to get 1360 talking again. I don’t think there is anyone more suited to the job.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that Dr. Johnson.” Conwell held out his hand, which Johnson shook enthusiastically.
“It was a pleasure to work for you.”
Johnson nodded in agreement. He was going to miss his lab, almost as much as would miss working with his assistants. Johnson then glanced at his watch and made a gesture towards the door.
“Shall we head to the party then?”
“I think I safely speak for everyone here when I say that we appreciate your service to the Foundation, Dr. Johnson, and that Site-19 will not be the same without you.”
The lunchroom filled with applause as Dr. Gregg Collins finished his speech. Shortly thereafter the numerous personnel who had come for the cake and refreshments returned to their individual conversations. Every now and then one would of them would come up and congratulate him on his retirement, but for the most part, Johnson idled away at his own table with Conwell as he casually listened in on the chat that filled the room.
Truth be told, most of the individuals that Johnson had considered his friends had long vanished from the Foundation, either dead, retired or both. Now Site-19 was filled with new faces, and Johnson couldn’t help but chuckle to himself for how old it made him feel.
“Something funny?” Collins asked as he approached the table and took a seat.
“The day finally came,” Johnson replied. “I honestly thought I would have been killed long ago.”
“We certainly had our close calls,” Collins said with a grin, “I hate to see you go. We had so many adventures.”
Johnson had worked with Collins on five collaborated projects. To his knowledge, those objects that were not being reassigned to his assistant were to be assigned to him.
“You’ll have plenty of tales of your own by the time you retire,” Johnson smirked. “Exciting ones too, considering how you won’t have me around to pull your ass out of the fire.” The two men laughed quietly, but before long fell silent.
“Is Freemont going to play ball?” Collins asked. His expression had become solemn.
“She is.” Johnson said with a sad sigh. “I had to call in every favor I had left, but I’ve been allowed one last ten minute ‘psychological health’ visit. You’ll look after him when I’m gone won’t you?”
“Of course.” Collins nodded in agreement. He then gave a quick look around. Now that the cake and refreshments were gone the party was already starting to wind down. “I don’t think you’re needed here any longer if you’d like to get that out of the way.”
Johnson gave a small smile and nodded. Without another word the two men shook hands and Johnson departed.
Site-19 humanoid containment cells were not known for their comfort, especially the one in which Dr. Harold Thompson was contained. Four gray walls, a cot, a sink, a toilet, and the knowledge that someone was watching you from the other side of a one-way mirror embedded in the wall by the door. Harold looked himself over in this mirror as he sat on the cot. The dark rings around his eyes suggested he had not slept for several years.
“Dr. Thompson, please put your gloves back on and remain on the cot,” said the voice of a security agent over the intercom. Harold looked down at his now upturned hands. Following the accidental release and inhalation of an unknown particulate from an experimental object Harold had been working on, any time he touched living biological tissue caused it to turn into solid marble. Reluctantly, Harold hid his deadly mitts in a pair of leather gloves he had been given. Shortly thereafter, the cell door opened and an elderly man with a walnut cane slowly entered. As he took a seat at Harold’s desk and turned with a small smile.
“It’s been a while, Zach.”
“It sure has,” Johnson agreed, watching as Harold looked nervously at the one-way mirror and then back to him. Johnson gave a sad nod. Dr. Freemont, the researcher in charge of Harold’s object file, was watching their every move.
“How’s your new assistant treating you?” Harold inquired. Before he had been given his own assignments, Harold had worked with Dr. Johnson for close to five years. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
“Well, he’s not you and he’s a bit of a pest at times, but he gets the job done at the end of the day,” Johnson replied.
“Ah,” Harold mumbled. A silence fell over the room. “I heard they threw you a great retirement party. I wish I could have been there.”
“I do too.” Johnson’s smile began to fade. He then turned his attention to several photographs that lined the top shelf of the book case, each depicting the same woman and boy at various ages before ending with a picture of the boy’s wedding day. “Lisa says that Jack and Elizabeth are trying to have a baby.”
“Is that so?” Harold said softly. Johnson knew he had always wanted to be a grandfather. “I’m sure Lisa will make a fantastic grandmother.”
“She still misses you terribly, you know?” Johnson added. “Jack too. Every time I see them the conversation always ends up on you.”
Harold didn’t respond, but rather gave a small melancholy smile as he gazed at the floor.
“You’ll still keep an eye on them, won’t you?” He asked.
“As often as I can.” Johnson replied. “I’ve had Collins promise to relay any new photos to you.”
Harold nodded in appreciation. The two men once again fell silent. Before long Johnson stood and made his way towards the door.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years, Zach. I’d hug you if I could.” Harold stood. His smile morphed into a small regretful frown.
“I appreciate that,” Johnson said and smiled.
Quietly Johnson exited, turning to give a small nod on his way out the door. Without another word Dr. Johnson grabbed his box of personal items and left Site-19 forever.