Dr. Ersen sat on the tram, idly flipping between pages on his laptop, not really reading anything. The shuttle whirred softly, the lights of the tunnel slashing past windows that really had no reason to exist on a purely underground vehicle. He wondered what the tram was powered by: it was incredibly fast, though he couldn't say exactly how much so. It was taking him from Vancouver to a site he was pretty certain was under the Northern Canadian Rockies, coming up from somewhere South of Seattle; the trip took less than an hour from his end. In the corner of the hushed, fluorescent-lit car, another commuter sat with his head leaning against the window, a visible trickle of drool running out the corner of his mouth. Two Agents, Turing and Ueno, sat near the front, laughing together softly. Ersen wondered idly if Ueno had asked Turing out yet, and if he ever would. That took his thoughts somewhere he'd been trying to avoid, and Ersen stared at his laptop futilely for a few more minutes.
The tram came to a scheduled stop. A Foundation squad, clad in nondescript grey security uniforms without any identifying labels, silently checked every member of the tram and all the compartments. One of them ran a small, humming sensor of some kind around the chassis. Ersen blinked involuntarily as one of the squad members flashed a camera-like device in his face without comment. After a moment, the sergeant in charge of the squad nodded, and gave the order to clear the tram.
Commuting was a nuisance. Ersen was almost looking forward to living on-site. In the long run it would be a good change. He wouldn't have to keep track of a 'real life' name and a 'Foundation' name. Plus, he'd get to work with some of the potentially infectious SCPs; it had a higher risk factor, but it was more in line with his training and interest. He pushed down a morbid thought, mentally laughing at himself for being "emo". Maybe he'd meet a girl he didn't have to lie to, living on-site. The thought didn't seem right, at the moment, but the scientist in his head drily pointed out that he'd get used to it.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the tram slid to a halt at the site. Ersen left with the other commuters, submitted his laptop bag for the daily security check, and submitted himself for the daily strip-search and shower. Cleaned and freshly re-clothed in a Foundation uniform and lab coat, his personal effects save his laptop stowed in his locker, he mused for a little while on how normal the idea of getting stripped and probed every morning had become.
A few minutes later, coffee in hand, he flopped down his office chair. He took a moment to stare blankly at a face-down photo frame and shove it further back across his desk before checking his mail. His email account had several messages, mostly cruft about various research seminars he didn't really care about. There was an anonymous note from administration; he had to go for an interview about on-site habitation in… he checked his desk clock. Five minutes ago.
As he rushed to the meeting room, cursing Agents and their lack of other priorities, his coffee sloshing painfully over his hand, Ersen decided today was another shitty fucking day.
It wasn't until he'd closed the door on the 'meeting room' that he realised what kind of a meeting this was. One wall of the small white cubicle was a one-way mirror, reinforced with a semitransparent mesh of some plasticky stuff. SCP-protected, even. That was probably because of the stone carving sitting on the table in the middle of the room. Ersen looked around for a moment, unsure if he should sit at the table.
"Have a seat, Doctor. The face is quite harmless unless provoked." The voice, distorted by some kind of software, came from all directions. Ersen noted he could not actually identify where the door he'd come in from was. In the bright ambient light of the room, even the walls, floor, and ceiling were difficult to recognise. He found his eyes adjusting to the glare until it felt like all he could see was the chair, the table and carving, and the mirror. He wished this was an unfamiliar sensation.
"What's the occasion for all the pomp," Ersen inquired, keeping his voice as steady as possible. "I thought this was about getting an apartment." He wasn't frightened, really, just annoyed. For the last few weeks he'd managed to lose himself in his research, and something in his gut told him he wasn't going to be allowed to shove his memories away for this.
"Living on-site comprises more than a simple apartment, Doctor Ersen, and we need to check for that. More to the point, however, your supervisors have requested a performance evaluation in light of recent events in your life." The voice was so dry it could have been a computer. For all Ersen knew, it was.
"Oh for fuck's sake. It's trivial. My work's been fine since… that. I've nearly cracked that fingernail SCP. Surely my work speaks for itself."
"Doctor, please examine the SCP in front of you." Ersen did. It was a face with a sunburst effect around it, carved into some kind of stone, marble maybe. Looked Italian, and old. It had a wide, gaping mouth; Ersen was pretty sure he could see flecks of blood around it. "You're right handed, yes? Please place your left hand inside the mouth of the SCP."
Ersen hesitated. He was pretty confident there was no reason for them to try to trick him. He really had been doing good work, and he didn't think he'd stepped on anyone's toes. Sighing, he complied. The face didn't react.
"You are presently compelled to tell the truth. Should you attempt dishonesty, the SCP in front of you will remove your hand. At any point you may remove your hand without harm. However, be aware that this will reflect on your performance report."
Great. A hand-chopping lie detector. Where the hell did they get this stuff? At least that mind-reading camera didn't dismember you. Ersen blinked once, slowly, then nodded. "I will tell you the truth, then." After saying it, he panicked for a moment, wondering if the thing was meta enough to punish possible abstractions like that, but nothing happened. Good.
There followed a dry battery of tests much like he'd expect from a normal lie detector. When were you born, where do you live, what's your office number; nothing interesting. Finally they got to the meat of the interview. Ersen's hand was tingling from the awkward position he was holding it in.
"How long have you worked for the Foundation?"
"Good question, Voice. I suppose in practice, probably over fifteen years. I didn't realise I was doing SCP-related research when I worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans during my postgraduate work. I've been an active Foundation researcher for eleven years, though. Put me through med school."
"What is your security clearance?"
"Do you have any family outside the site?"
"Just my wi—" Ersen stopped, realising he'd almost lost his hand. "My ex-wife. I was divorced last week. Jesus. Are you trying to make me an amputee?"
"Oh, Doctor, calm down. I'm sure the SCP would have understood your mistake." The voice had a touch of amusement that faded almost instantly. "What was the nature of your relationship to your wife, before the divorce?"
"What the fuck, Voice? It was a marriage, what do you think?"
"Please answer the question."
"I was married to her. I saw her most evenings after work. She thought I still worked for the hospital. Couple of months ago, she found out I didn't. I guess the Foundation didn't want to spend the cash to maintain my cover story." Ersen almost spit the words. "Or maybe their story just wasn't good enough. She thought I was using the job to cover an affair. My supervisors refused clearance to inform her of what my real work was, so she divorced me. It sucked. I have a diary if you want to read the names of all the girls I like out loud in front of class, too." That one was carefully chosen: he really did have a diary.
"That won't be necessary, Doctor. How do you feel about your divorce?"
Ersen snarled quickly at the mirror. "Have you ever been married, Voice?"
"Please stick to the topic at hand, Doctor."
"Fuck you. I'm angry. When I entered the Foundation, I was led to understand it would have my back. There was a cover established for me at my old job. I could come and go from work at normal hours. Aside from a few twitches, there wasn't supposed to be anything different. I mean, sure, I'm autopsying the creature from the black fucking lagoon, but that's the only difference, right? I've toed the line, I've done my bit, I haven't acted on my concerns about this job, and as soon as I need help from the Foundation, it bails on me. How the fuck do you think I feel?"
"Please elaborate on what you said about 'acting on concerns'."
Ersen knew that would come up, but he didn't care anymore. Maybe they'd terminate him, maybe they'd dose him with Class A's until he forgot how to piss and turn him out on the street, it really didn't matter. "Take a wild stab. I took the Hippocratic oath, you cocksucker. You think I'm happy putting D-classes into a sealed room with something that's going to make… make jam out of their bones or something?" He was running out of clever phrases, that was bad. He tried to cool down. "I do what I have to because I know the Foundation's goals are vital to the survival of humanity. Not because I like what the Foundation does."
The Voice was silent for a moment. Ersen imagined a faceless interrogator in the dark room on the other side of the mirror, quietly flipping through his files, making notes. Circling decisions. Finally it spoke again.
"Would you consider it accurate to say you hate the Foundation?"
It was Ersen's turn to be silent for a moment. Finally, he shrugged. "Yes, I think I would. I hate it, and what it has made me into."
"Under what situation do you see yourself betraying the Foundation?" That was it. Not 'would you', but 'when would you'. Ersen wondered who'd carry out the termination. Maybe they'd feed him to that chocolate fountain… he'd been wondering what that thing tasted like.
"If I was offered a position by a similar group, capable of carrying out the same work but without the violence and sacrifice, I'd betray the Foundation in a heartbeat."
"Would you betray the Foundation if it meant getting your ex-wife back?"
Ersen frowned, thinking. They'd blindsided him a bit, he hadn't really expected that, but now he realised he should have. "No, I don't think I would." Admitting it out loud left him with a dry taste in his mouth and a strange feeling in his gut, like his organs were falling off a precipice. The Voice was silent for what seemed like a long time, although it may only have been a few seconds.
"Doctor, are you aware that your ex-wife was interrogated by Foundation agents one month prior to the events leading to your divorce?"
That was a surprise. Yes, he was. He remembered her coming home, fuzzy on how she'd spent her day. Needlemarks in her neck and arms. A migraine for two days. Other side effects: dizziness, cramps, consistent with repeated dosage of class-A amnesiacs in combination with Formula 3614-10, a truth serum he'd helped design. Of course he was aware.
"Under interrogation, your wife was informed of your employment. Would you like to know how she responded?"
"You asswipe. You fucking asswipe. You fuck…" Ersen took his hand out of the SCP and stood up, looking for the concealed door. Some perverse part of his brain decided to focus on his hand being on pins-and-needles from the SCP's mouth.
"Doctor, this interrogation is not over."
"Yes, it is. What else do you want from me? You ruined my marriage, and you already know I'm not going to spill your secrets. Terminate me, pump me full of amnesiacs, I don't care. We're done."
"Doctor," the Voice, irritatingly, just sounded faintly amused again. "I apologise for any misunderstanding. I had meant to offer you that information as a reward. The Foundation is willing, in light of this interview, to approve your request to live on-site. In addition, you will be promoted to probationary level 4 authorisation and given command of a small research group, under monitoring for future permanent promotion to level four."
Ersen stopped, glaring at the mirror. "I don't know who you are, but you're an ass."
"Dislike of Foundation supervisors is considered a tradition of the organisation."
"Do I want to know what she said?"
"I honestly don't know, Doctor."
"Under interrogation, your wife was disturbed and frightened by your employment. It was clear you had maintained complete secrecy; she had absolutely no idea what you really did. Despite the administration of amnesiacs, she remained disconcerted. We believe this caused her prying into your work; although your cover was perfectly secure, she continued to pry in an obsessive manner. In order to preserve Foundation security and your ex-wife's mental health, we created a secondary cover, that you were cheating on her. Since discovering this, her mental health has returned to normal and she has shown no further obsession with uncovering your secrets."
Ersen mulled silently over the news. Finally, wordlessly, he kicked the area where he was sure the door was. It swung open. On the other side, the hallway looked dark compared to the interrogation room. The Voice didn't try to stop him.
Waiting on his computer was a memo with his new office number and a list of researchers under him. He didn't pack much.