Two Weeks Ago…
In an unnamed garage in a facility that didn't exist, a dog was trying to repair a hydraulic servo.
He raised his paw and tapped away on the specially built keyboard that he'd had put together for him back when his lab was bigger and better stocked. The robotic arms reassembled the servo and plugged it into the pump.
The process was slow. So damned slow. The dog remembered a time, less than a decade ago, when he'd been the head of a major Foundation department. Back then, Research and Development had been the most exciting place to be in the Foundation. A whirlwind of discovery, and he had been the eye of the storm: one of the bright stars of the Foundation, a researcher filled with such vibrant energy that not even being involuntarily transformed into a dog could keep him down.
Nine years ago, everyone in the Foundation had known his code name: "Kain Pathos Crow".
Nine years ago…
He stretched his legs out, whimpering at the pain in his hips. "Arthritis," his vet had told him. "I'll try glucosamine injections, and painkillers if it gets too bad, but it's a problem not uncommon to the breed." He tapped a button. The needle on the gauge went up. It hovered around the line that he knew was red.
There was a sudden crack, and the buzzing of an alert siren. A spray of hydraulic fluid spurted from the servo's joint and splattered against the far wall of the garage.
The dog growled angrily at the keyboard and smacked his paw against a big yellow button. The pressure went back down. The spray of hydraulic fluid ceased.
"Still trying to get that old thing fixed up?" a smarmy voice asked.
A man was walking into the room, carrying a watermelon in a neat little carrying bag made of braided nylon ropes. The dog was surprised. He didn't often get unannounced visitors. Maybe Dr. Mann and Agent Lament again, proposing to drag him along on yet another ill-conceived mission… no. It didn't smell like either of them.
Then the dog saw that the visitor had a huge, Cheshire Cat grin, and his eyes hurt to look at, and his nose was too big for his ugly face.
"Clef," Professor Kain Pathos Crow said.
"Crow." Dr. Alto Clef put the melon down on a nearby table, ruthlessly clearing it of its clutter of wires and transistors with a sweep of his arm. "Do you still have that neat laser cutter thing?" he asked. "Would be easier to slice this with than a knife."
"Put it on the work table over there," Professor Crow said. "I'll set up the cutter."
Clef complied as Kain rummaged through a big pile of miscellaneous gadgets, before finally finding what he was looking for: a big grey box with a DANGER: LASER sticker haphazardly plastered onto the side. "Would you mind attaching it to the robot arm for me?" Kain asked. "I'd do it myself, but, you know. No thumbs."
"No problem," Clef said. "Power plugs in here?"
"Yeah," Kain said. "You'll want to get some duct-tape to attach it a bit more firmly. The bayonet mount broke a while back, and I haven't had the time to repair it."
"Haven't had the time, or haven't had the inclination?" Clef asked. He dug at the open end of the roll of duct tape a bit until it came loose, then began to wrap it tightly around where the laser cutter attached to the robot arm. "Doesn't really seem like the kind of thing that would have stopped you in the past."
"I had an entire department in the past. These days I have to do everything myself," Kain said. He was also permitted the assistance of a few robotic devices, which he was grateful for — it got more and more awkward to deal with the few assistants he had sometimes, especially when the ones who'd become used to his unusual appearance got rotated out.
He slid his paw along the oversized touchpad, maneuvering the crosshairs over the image of the watermelon, then began programming in the motion commands to the robot arm. "It could be worse," he admitted. "I could be in a kennel. Or in a shelter, waiting to be put down."
"They'd never do that. Not to one of the Foundation's heroes."
"Hah. Heroes," Kain said bitterly. "Not many of those left in the Foundation these days."
"Not as many psychopaths either," Clef pointed out. "And you can read a containment report without slogging through pages of useless commentary from every single member of the peanut gallery who thought they had something to say." He stepped back from the table and picked up a pair of darkened goggles. One of the lenses was slightly cracked.
"That's something, at least," Kain admitted. "Hand me that hood over there."
Clef picked up the hood and draped it over Kain's head, carefully arranging the darkened glass lenses over the dog's eyes. The Professor tapped a couple more keys on the laser, watched the simulation play out, then hit the big red button.
There was a whirring sound, and the smell of ozone, and a bright blue flash from the work bench. When their vision cleared, the watermelon had been sliced into six even pieces.
"Heh. Looks like it still works just fine," Clef said.
"Is that supposed to be a metaphor?" Kain asked.
"If you choose to take it that way, yeah." Clef picked up one of the watermelon wedges and laid the other one down in the cracked ceramic dish by Kain's cushion bed. The grey-muzzled Golden Retriever lay down on the cushion and took a bite of the sweet, juicy red melon. The two old friends sat in silence for a while, enjoying their snack in companionable silence.
"Still trying to get the old girl working?" Clef asked, gesturing to the hulking behemoth that lay in pieces all around the garage.
"Primary servo in the right hip keeps failing under pressure," Kain said. "If I had the budget I'd have the entire thing re-milled. If I had permission, I'd recreate the original recipe through 914. As it is, I'm trying different welds and patches. None of them seem to hold." He took a big bite of his watermelon, crunching away as he chewed the crisp red fruit.
"Might want to double down on that," Clef said. "Some big, powerful people might come by asking you to get it working again."
Kain stopped eating. He stared intently at Clef, who was spitting his watermelon seeds into a rusty coffee can. "All right, you conniving old fuck," the dog growled. "What do you know that you're not telling me?"
Clef tossed his watermelon rind back onto the work table and brought two fresh wedges of melon over for him and the Professor. "There was an incident yesterday," Clef said. "A Code Tempest Twilight at Site-17. An unknown outside force assaulted the facility. There were casualties and several containment breaches. One of those breaches was SCP-105."
"Iris, huh? So Dantensen finally got his wish, may he rest in peace," Crow said sadly. "I don't think anyone will chase her, given that they've got her camera locked away inside a vault."
"105 didn't run," Clef said. "She picked up a sidearm off of a dead agent's corpse and helped Site Security to fend off the attackers."
"Iris? Picked up a gun and fought back? That shy little girl?"
"She's not a shy little girl any more, Crow," Clef said. "Nine years will change you. Nine years locked up in a cell will change you a lot more. But the important thing is that, even without her camera, 105 was a useful and capable asset. She was loyal to her jailers, even when she had every chance to bug out. So now the higher-ups are starting to get ideas. And some of them are pointing out that we've been falling behind in our efforts, and we've got an entire stockpile of assets sitting around not being utilized. And then eventually one of them will remember a little experiment that we tried under General Bowe that we've kept shuttered for nine years as the worst idea the Foundation ever had…"
"Pandora's Box," Kain said.
"Bingo," Clef said. "And then they're going to come to the surviving old fucks who did it the first time and ask us to do it again. The question now becomes, what do we say to them?"
"Taking a dump on their shoes would seem an appropriate response," Kain pointed out. "They tossed us out into the cold."
"Did they?" Clef asked. "If they were going to toss us out into the cold, they would have given us the Kondraki or Dantensen treatment." He smiled viciously. "We were mothballed, Crow. Like old battleships. Turned into museum pieces, but kept intact in case they ever needed us to go to war again. But unlike old battleships, we can choose whether or not we want to be reactivated or not."
The two old friends continued to munch their watermelon in thoughtful silence.
"… fuck em," Kain said at last.
"Yeah. Fuck them right up the ass," Clef agreed.
"We did what they wanted to once. Followed orders like good soldiers. What did it get us?"
"Nothing at all," Clef agreed. "They used us like snot rags and tossed us in the trash."
"There's no way I'm getting involved with their politicking and scheming again," Kain said.
"I'm done killing," Clef said coldly. "There's enough blood on my hands without adding more."
"So we're gonna say no," Kain said.
"We're gonna say no," Clef agreed.
Clef fiddled with his half-eaten watermelon slice for a moment. Professor Kain stared intently at the green-and-yellow patterns on its rind.
"… they're gonna use her against you," Kain said at last.
"And they're going to offer you the one thing that you can't say no to," Clef pointed out.
"In the end, it doesn't matter what we want," Kain said. "Those puppeteers have us on their strings, and we'll do as they wish." He nudged his empty watermelon rind away from himself with his grey-muzzled nose.
Clef took one huge bite of his melon. His grin turned positively sharklike. "Then we'd better milk them for all we can get in the process," Clef said, spewing bits of melon and juice from his half-full mouth.
When his vet came to see him days later, the dog was refitting a hydraulic servo back into a gigantic egg-shaped robot.
"Hello, Professor," the man said. He was a balding white man in his fifties or sixties, wearing a lab coat and carrying a medical bag.
"Hi, Cog," Kain said.
"How are you feeling today?" Gears asked. He opened up his bag and began laying out his instruments and supplies on the table. His tone was flat, his voice expressionless. In others, his mannerisms would have seemed cold.
Kain knew better. Gears was not a veterinarian by trade. But after Kain had been confined to this facility, Gears had one day announced that he had studied and achieved competency in the field of veterinary medicine, and asked to be assigned as Kain's personal physician. Administration had said yes.
It wasn't often that someone like Gears did something touching.
The golden retriever climbed carefully onto the low table. Gears began his examination: weight, measurements, a stethoscope to the heart and lungs. Taking pulse. Checking for swelling in lymph nodes. Palpitating the abdomen for tumors or abnormalities. Teeth and claws. Paws and limbs. "Slight deterioration in the hips," Gears murmured. "The glucosamine seems to be having an effect. Will try upping the dosage." He examined Kain's face closely. "A few more grey hairs around the muzzle."
"In other words, not too bad for a fifteen year-old dog, but pretty shitty for a thirty-five year-old man," Kain said.
"Indeed," Gears said calmly. He put down his stethoscope and picked up a scaling tool. "Some development of calculus around the gumline," he said. "Surprising."
"My tooth-brushing robot broke down. I've been using denti-sticks," Kain said.
"I'd suggest getting it repaired," Gears said. "In the meantime, I'll do a teeth cleaning."
It was a long and boring process as Gears carefully scraped the plaque build up along Kain's teeth. He was just finishing up with the molars when another figure entered. Kain wasn't surprised. He'd been expecting this visitor for a long time.
The intruder was a black woman of medium height in a pinstripe suit. Her hair was curly, and her mouth was smiling. "Professor Crow, I presume," she said. "Dr. Gears. I am O5-10."
"Nome you're ghnot," Kain said, his words mumbled around Gears' dental equipment.
The woman gave him an odd look.
"Thorry." He waited for Gears to extract his cleaning tools from his mouth. "But no. You don't smell like an O5. They all have… well. You don't smell like one."
"… good to know," the woman said. "You are, of course, correct. I am not, in fact, O5-10. I am, in truth, her decoy. I am called 'Salt.' This is, of course, classified at the highest level. I do not need to tell you the consequences if you breathe a word of this to anyone, I trust?"
"Yeah, sure," Kain said.
"Excellent," Salt said. "In that case, I would like to direct you to begin research into the issue of the anomalous scent that surrounds members of the O5 Council. Provided, of course, that you can do so in between your other projects." She extended a large stack of papers to the golden retriever.
"Cog?" Kain asked.
"Of course." Dr. Gears picked up the stack of papers and helped Kain to arrange them into a machine that looked like a cross between a music stand and a microfiche reader. It hummed and crunched and whirred and then began to project images of the pages onto a screen big enough for his tired old dog's eyes to read them clearly.
It was all there. The Egg Walker. The Power Suit. The Sonic Pulse Cannon. The Heat-Seeking Atomic Disruptor. The Harmonic Dispersion Wand.
And one more.
Project Olympia. Its shuttering had been the biggest heartbreak of all.
Hot damn, Kain thought, his tail wagging unconsciously. We're back in business.