It was a simple, plain-looking door with the words "Archival Storage" on a faded plastic plate next to it. Some wag had put up a hand-written sign reading "FreeBay" underneath it, aping the logo of a famous online auction house. Even that sign had turned sepia with age, its corners curled and its ink bleached by the light.
She knocked on the door, and was greeted with a pleasant, "Come in!" in a voice with an odd accent she couldn't place. The door stuck a bit, and she had to give it a solid thump before it opened.
Sitting cross-legged atop a steel desk was a tall man with olive skin and short, curly black hair. An ancient symbol that looked like it could have been made with a reed stylus on clay glowed faintly on his brow. His hands shone like polished steel, and thousands of tiny, intricately interlocking servos were visible through the gaps at the joints.
She gulped in surprise. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered. "I must have the wrong roo-"
"Please, do not worry," SCP-073 said. He unfolded himself from his sitting position, flowing off the desk with a dancer's grace. "You are looking for something." It was not a question.
"Um… yeah," she said. She held a slip of paper to the man, upon which was written a hastily scrawled list of items. "I'm new here, and there's nothing in my office. I was told that this would be faster than going through Requisitions…"
"And who was it who told you this?" Cain asked. He raised a hand interrupting her answer. "No, do not tell me," he continued, "but in the future, I would not trust that person without reservation, if they sent you here without telling you what this place is."
"That figures," she said sourly.
Cain smiled and inclined his head politely. "If you would give me a moment?" He took a pair of black leather gloves from his pocket and slipped them on over his metallic hands. His shirt, she noticed, had the characteristic sheen of cheap polyester, in contrast to the fine cut and tailoring of his suit.
Cain smiled again. "My unique condition prevents me from wearing any cloth made from cotton or linen," he said, "and wool shirts tend to be less than comfortable." He clasped his hands behind his back and led the way through a sliding glass door and into the dimly lit warehouse beyond. The air here was cool and dry, and smelled oddly metallic. "A useful side effect of my condition," Cain said. "It inhibits the growth of microorganisms in this place, preserving the contents."
"What… exactly is this place?" she asked suspiciously.
"Officially, it is called Archival Storage. As you can see, the staff has their own name for it. The things stored here were previously used by Foundation personnel, but were sent here after they were no longer needed."
"Because they died," she said, as understanding dawned.
"… or retired. Or simply did not need them any longer," Cain said gently. "Not everything here is stained with blood."
He flipped a switch, and the lights activated throughout the warehouse. She gasped as the size of this place was finally made evident to her. Rows upon rows of desks, chairs, lamps, and cabinets. Some of them in good condition, others damaged and battered. Many bearing reddish-brown stains that spoke volumes about the circumstances in which their prior owners had… ceased ownership.
"The first item on your list is a desk," Cain said. "I believe that this one will suffice." He stopped in front of a wide desk with crawling ivy patterns carved over the front and side panels. The wood appeared to be in good condition, and she did not immediately see any suspicious-looking stains or claw marks.
Cain took a thin yellow plastic tag from the pocket of his coat and affixed it to the desk, scrawling a few letters on it with a Sharpie. "So that the movers will know where to take it," he said, doing the same for a couple of lamps and an office chair.
From there, they moved on to an aisle labeled "Office Supplies." Cain picked up a yellow plastic crate and handed it to her, filled it with a variety of paraphernelia essential for any office worker: stapler, tape dispenser, desk blotter, pen holder, inbox, outbox, letter holder.
"You will have to speak to Patrick Gephardt for your computer," Cain said, as they walked past an aisle filled with battered old CRT monitors and televisions. "And your rubber stamps you will have to get through Requisitions. The only ones I have are not in workable condition." He demonstrated by passing her a self-inking stamp labeled "ORIGINAL." The lettering was worn smooth, and the swivel had snapped. "Likewise, your papers, pens, and other such supplies."
"Doesn't the Foundation ever throw anything away?" she asked, awestruck. She lifted the stapler out of her crate. A couple of stickers depicting gold stars and cartoon characters had been affixed to it at some point, but they had mostly rubbed off over time, leaving behind a faint residue of stickiness.
"We do sometimes," Cain answered. "But not often." He gave her a wry smile. "It is, after all, our organization's purpose to collect things."
It didn't take long to collect everything on her list. She was walking out with her arms full of office supplies when she noticed the snake. It was looped over a large piece of driftwood, and regarded her balefully through lidless eyes.
It wasn't the only living thing here, she realized, as she put down the crate and walked down the darkened aisle. Under a heat lamp, a bearded lizard rested atop a piece of broken slate. A box turtle swam in a tank that was green with algae. "Pets?" she asked.
"Left behind by their owners," Cain said. "The dogs go to the kennels. The cats are usually adopted by others. These…" he shrugged, "were considered less desirable."
She ran her hand along the cages and aquariums, then paused in front of a thin plastic box filled with wood-and-glass frames. One of them held a variety of colorful snail shells. Another a series of pressed flowers. She lifted up one that had nine butterflies pinned to cardboard, with the common and scientific names neatly printed in a precise hand. There was a slip of paper affixed to the side.
Kondraki, butterfly collection, 1 of 3.
She put the frame down and wiped her hands off on her skirt. "Personal effects?" she asked.
"Yes," Cain said softly. "Sometimes, family members or friends come by to collect them. Most of the time, however, they end up here."
There were other aisles, with other contents. In one, a bin full of watches, all of them stopped, most of them tagged with their former owner's name. In another bin, dozens upon dozens of wallets, with their cash, IDs, and credit cards left untouched. Hundreds of coffee cups, some of them with cartoons that had never existed. One shelf contained nothing but phones, ranging from old rotary-dial models, to unwieldy "brick" cellulars, all the way through modern smart phones (each one with a small plastic tag).
One aisle contained a variety of liquor bottles, ranging from rotgut whiskey to Napoleon brandy. They were grouped under small, handwritten tags with labels like, SCP-682 is Terminated, or 1148's Purpose is Understood. "Willed by Foundation personnel to those who would come after them," Cain explained, "only to be opened in the event that the requested milestone is reached."
The largest collection of bottles had a shelf to itself, labeled simply Quiet Days.
There was one aisle labeled "D-Class." It contained mostly toothbrushes, half-empty tubes of toothpaste, and electric razors. Also hundreds of orange jumpsuits, neatly folded and stacked… when their physical condition would allow.
The last aisle was the smallest, but it was also the most unusual. A stack of Norman Rockwell prints. Desk toys, including hula girls, bobbleheads, and little ceramic dinosaurs. A few golden Buddhas and lucky cats. Some jewelry boxes, including at least one engagement ring. And a very small box of baby clothes that she hoped the owners had simply outgrown…
At the end of the last aisle was a door, which led to a library. At one end were the novels, nonfiction, and textbooks. About halfway down, they gave way to notebooks, binders, and lab books. Then came stacks of letters, each stack neatly bound together, with a familiar plastic tag affixed. All of the bookshelves had glass covers on them. "In case I make a mistake," Cain said. "I try to be careful, but one unprotected touch could destroy them."
At the far end of the library was a shelf with dozens of photo albums. On a nearby table, an album in the process of being filled. A shoebox of photographs, depicting a smiling, bald-headed man with a brutish but friendly face, often standing next to a bunch of other people wearing familiar uniforms. M. Lombardi, a small banner at the top of the page read. Here, In This World, He Changed His Life
"You do all of this?" she asked.
"It helps to pass the time," Cain said. "Especially these days, when my services are less in demand." He ran a gloved finger along the spine of one of the photo albums, sniffed with displeasure as he rubbed the dust off of his fingertips. "The Foundation has no monuments and no memorials. These are often all that remains of a friend, a lover, or a partner."
They left the library, and she picked up her crate of office supplies, and somberly carried them out of the warehouse and into the front office, whereupon Cain flipped the switch that turned the lights out. She lingered in the doorway, holding her crate of mismatched tchotchkes, shifting her weight from foot to foot, unsure what to say.
"There are three types of people who come here," Cain said, interrupting her awkward silence. "The first type rummage through the stacks, find something that makes them pause, then they leave, often empty-handed. The second type come full-knowing that they are looting the dead. Those I turn away before they can enter."
"And the third?" she asks.
"Come to remember," Cain said. "Sometimes they go to a specific point in the warehouse, find a certain object, and linger there for a long time. Most often, they go to the library, find a certain photo album, and flip through the pages until they find one they are looking for. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they laugh. But they all remember."
She swallowed back the lump in her throat.
Cain gave her a gentle smile and returned to his seat, cross-legged atop the steel desk. "I will have your things delivered by tomorrow morning," he said. "Have a good day, Miss."
And with that dismissal, she left, closing the door behind her, and the hollow sound of its closing was like a mausoleum clanging shut.
It was later, when she was putting her things into her newly-delivered desk, that she discovered that all of the previous owners had carved their names onto the inside of the top drawer. Davidson. Kingsport. Iceberg.
She froze, feeling the same sense of solemn silence that had overcome her in the warehouse. It would be two full weeks before she had the courage to carve her own name into the wood. That night, as she lay in bed, she wondered who would use the desk next, once her time with it had ended.