“What were you, Harken?”
“…what, like in a cosmic sense? Probably a dog or something.”
“Must you always be an asshole?”
“No, it's a choice.”
They'd been stuck at the same posting for three days now, and random acts of violence were becoming more and more appealing. A trashed-out storefront, it bore the distinction of being across the street from a hidden Church meeting point. It was also supposed to be the place where they were getting “back up”, owing to the new crackdown procedures in place. So far, neither Agents nor Churchgoers had shown. Unable to call in until reinforcements or Church subjects were five days overdue, Harken and Kramer had taken to annoying each other to pass the time. That is to say, more than normal.
“Seriously, tell me.”
“Why do you of all people care about this? I'm an Agent, a faceless cog in a faceless machine.”
“Tell me, or I'll break something that's recently healed.”
“…Fine…ok, OK! Back up, Jesus.”
Kramer slipped away with feline suppleness, keeping low on the roof line. Technically, they were observing the business across the street, but had all but given up on any real action. Still, it didn't pay to be caught napping. Harken sighed, hunkering down lower on the low roof ledge and glaring over at Kramer's self-satisfied smirk.
“You know, it's not fair that you have zero issue with causal bodily harm, and I can't even threaten you with anything really.”
“Life sucks. Dish.”
Harken threw up his hands in exasperation, shaking his head and sighing deeply, resigned to defeat.
“I was in the army for, like, two years. Some personality profile said I had 'high moral flexibility', so I got bounced to Intelligence and…what?”
“Sorry, just trying to imagine you in camo and combat boots” Kramer grinned, smothering a laugh.
“ANYWAY. I think they were happy to shift me off. I'm not great in direct combat anyway…did a lot of interrogation stuff, which I am varying degrees of proud and ashamed of. The CIA came knocking one day, promised all the James Bond shit. I turned them down…I know a bullshit sell when I hear one. It just kinda…stuck, though. Couple months later, we had a interrogation get out of hand. Way out of hand…new kid, got a little over-patriotic and electrocuted someone suspected of terrorism. Not normally a issue…but as it turns out, he was innocent, and his dad was a major player in OPEC. Suddenly the CIA didn't look like such a bad option.”
Harken lit a cigarette, leaning back and avoiding Kramer's fixed stare with practiced ease. He continued to smoke in silence just long enough to annoy Kramer without causing bodily retribution.
“So they shoved me off to the CIA and glossed things over to make me look dead. Or incarcerated…you know, I really never checked which they said. Anyway, I did most of the same stuff as I did with the army, but with a bigger budget and almost zero oversight. It was fun sometimes, but more often than not it was paper pushing. Spies spying on spies for information nobody really needed. Enough to make me nostalgic for live fire exercises. Almost. Started drinking more, not bad, just more often than normal.”
“That's to say there was a time you didn't drink?” Kramer's face was as expressive as a Moi.
“Well…yes, actually. We were all fresh-faced kids, once, if only for a little while.” He grinned, pointing with the burning end of his cigarette. “Even you. I know, I know, the church takes Crusaders at a young age…but you played hopscotch and slept without nightmares once.”
“We're talking about you, not me, you weaselly sociopath.”
“Indeed we were.” He grinned, taking a deep drag. “I did well and got in trouble in about even measure. Ended up with a team following a lead on some kind of suspected Russian bio-weapon. Expected to follow ghosts for weeks, then end up staking out a hotel for a while and go home empty, but ended up on a farm out west, looking at a hell-iguana in an acid bath, surrounded by 'CIA' agents from some other department. The other fellows swallowed their crap, but I wouldn't release the site. Actually held a guy at gunpoint for a bit.”
Harken sighed, remember the total lack of concern on the Agent's face, even with a gun jammed in it. “It all felt rotten, and I had to have a commander expressly tell me it was above my pay grade and to STAND DOWN before I let it go. Even then, I tried to log a complaint…which got me yet another reprimand. I kept seeing that big…thing, in the tank. It was watching me, somehow. I could…feel it. I got stunningly drunk, told my CO to fuck a goat, pissed in someone's roses, and fell asleep on the lawn in front of my apartment. At some point, I crawled inside.”
“I woke up to some guy sitting on my goddamn side table, smoking. Even better, I was naked at the time, so the first bit was me just flailing around, trying to figure out what in the skippy fuck had happened. He started talking before I calmed down, so I missed some of the first bit. He told me about what I'd seen the day before…about what it could do, and had done. He told me about how I could go on trying to ignore it, push it away…or try to understand what was really going on.”
Harken chuckled, shaking his head. “Honestly, I don't remember all of what he said…but what sold me was the honesty of it. For one of the first goddamn times, I was being told the nasty shit right along with the good. No gilding the lily, no idealized pitch…I was impressed. Plus, I figured that just going back to life after my little bender might not be great, so…I signed up. Went through admissions for about six months, doing tests and evaluations, getting told by large men with guns how serious everything was…so pretty standard for my life thus far.”
He stopped, looking over to Kramer, her face still a calculated blank, watching like a predatory bird. He lit a fresh cigarette off his old one, rubbing his head.
“Hey, come to think of it, did you ever go through admissions?”
“No. I'm not filed as an Agent. Different protocols.”
“Oh…well, yeah. So…ahh…yeah, that's my story.”
“No it's not.”
“What…oh. Listen, I've told you that bit already, it's not-”
“No, you haven't.”
“Yes I goddamn have, Kramer!”
“You've paraphrased at best. You're the intelligence man, don't you feel full operations knowledge is critical to any mission?”
“…absolutely fuck you.”
“Duly noted. Squeal.”
Harken sighed heavily, closing his eyes and rubbing them with his free hand. “I got lumped in with a three man team, Agents Billik, Hon, and Fourteen. We did pretty well, Billik and Hon were the muscle, Fourteen was the tech agent, and I handled intel and the 'spy shit', as Hon would say. We didn't do a lot of direct SCP-related stuff…went after groups and people mostly, but we did our share.” He laughed, smoke clouding around him. “Jesus, went after a new skip once with a eval team…Fourteen was normally this badass chick, all brass and nails, but it turned out this thing had an attractive effect with insects and such…we all woke up to her shrieking, run out to find her up on a chair, in a sea of caterpillars…oh god…” He started laughing hard, half-choking on smoke, coughing and doubling up even as he giggled.
“I mean, I know it was dangerous, and we ended up losing one of the recovery guys, but god, Fourteen up on that chair, squealing and hopping from foot to foot, going 'getthemawaygetthemawaygetthemaway'…it was great. She was pretty pissed at us for a while, but I think she came to see the funny in it eventually. It was great.” The laughter trailed off in to silence. The quiet stretched out slowly, the odd sound of a far-off car or wind barely filling it. Harken sighed deeply, staring at his shoes.
“We were on our way back from a recon mission that turned up nothing. Had a report of a SCP escape during transport. It'd gotten loose and was inside a hospital. MTF teams were en-route, but all available Agents were ordered to report to help contain fallout and such. Morons we were, we responded even when they said it was SCP-106. This was shortly after they grabbed it the first time, didn't fully understand it…makes sense now why it ran for a hospital. Anyway, we responded, secured the outside, which wasn't hard because everyone was…gone. That black shit was all over the lower doors. Heh…ended up busting open a window rather then get near it, said we'd write it up as 'tactical entry' in the report.”
He swallowed hard, eyes fixed on his shoes. “We weren't the first team there. Found two of them still mobile, trying to get the hell out…it took them in front of us, yanked them in to a wall, grinning at us the whole fucking time. It…grabbed in to their flesh like how you'd grab a pile of dirty laundry, just…sank in. That black shit started spreading, and…yeah. We tried to fall back, or get out, but it wouldn't…let us. Kept herding us deeper, driving us…Hon lost a foot, Billik got his liver punctured…just kept picking at us. It…we…lost Billik in Surgery. It'd made a…thing…out of the tools, and Billik went to look. It…it pulled him in to it, rubbing him on it, mumbling something while Billik's face went to shreds, everything just…ripping and…it pulled him in, eventually. I say he was dead when it did. We…tried to get out again, but it kept pushing and pushing. Ended up in the natal unit, and…we…”
His voice faltered, and he put a hand to his head, gently, a tiny tremor in his fingers. Kramer watched, silent and still as a gargoyle. Harken's hand curled, nails pushing against his skull, holding for a few seconds, twitching, before he lowered it again, eyes returning fixedly to his shoes.
“It was bad. We tried to make a breakout, just flailing, really, and it grabbed Fourteen, yanked her back to…yeah. Me and Hon, we started trying to get the hell loose, just taking curves at random, running and running. You know how they say 106 isn't sapient? Bullshit. At the very least, it's a good mimic…it…kept singing. 'My Bonnie Lies Over The Sea' of all things…and just that line, over and over, in that grating, bubbly voice. We hit the main admittance hall, I mean we SAW the doors…and then we heard Fourteen.”
“She came around a corner behind us…maybe thirty yards? She…she was a wreck, had bits missing, something wrong with her jaw…but she was limping, trying to scream after us. We froze, looking, and we saw that thing slipping out of the ceiling behind her. It just…fell, landed in a heap, then stood up and started to go for her. She screamed and screamed, begging us…Hon ran, tried to grab her, pull her along, but it…lunged. It grabbed both of them, and started sliding in to the floor, that black stuff seeping and spreading everywhere, in the floor…in to them. It started touching them, not rough, just…gentle, teasing, even as they screamed, and fought, sinking in to the black floor.”
He paused, taking a deep, slow drag. “I heard them dying.”
“I…I froze. They were holding out to me, begging. It had them, grinning at me, just…flat, dead…like looking at a painting. I ran. I ran, and I got out a little bit before the MTF teams rolled in. They didn't find anyone, got the old man recovered…I went before a oversight board. They said I acted in service to mission integrity, that I was at least able to report, probably saved some lives, blah fucking blah blah BLAH. Requested time off, got it, and stayed blind drunk for about…two weeks? Maybe three? Came back, got a bunch of evaluations, kept drinking, got in trouble, didn't really care. Kept getting shifted deeper and deeper until I ended up at the training center. Left me there to rot, until they needed someone to deal with your barrel of laughs.”
Kramer watched in silence, finally speaking, eyes still intent and fixed. “It wasn't your fault, you did-”
Harken's eyes widened, wheeling over and glaring, mouth fixed in a line of fury. “FUCK YOU. No, no, you shut the fuck up right fucking now. I've heard that bullshit from everyone, ever, and it's just that, bullshit. I don't need fucking platitude from you, fuck you. You wanted to fucking know, you just HAD to fucking pry, so there it is. I'm not asking for your 'interpretations' or 'solace', or any other bullshit tripe that people swallow to feel fucking great about their fucked decisions. I let my friends die so I could live. End of story, no frosted coating, no 'yes, but' feel-good after-school-special lesson at the end. Drop it.”
He was almost panting, looming up over Kramer's hunched form, heedless of the amounts of death contained in that unstable package. He sat again, heavily, flicking his cigarette off the roof in disgust. Kramer stayed fixed, perhaps a bit more curled up, more tightly compacted in to her corner. Harken's departing rage seemed to waft off him like heat. She blinked slowly, a tiny click coming from somewhere in her sockets.
“I notice your childhood didn't make it in to that story.”
“Wow. Really? What the hell, wanna hear about me fucking my cousins, or my mom trying to shoot my dad, first?”
“Yeah, you're right, got a goddamn mission to do.”
The silence yawned open like the space of a broken tooth.