The messenger walked swiftly down the corridors of Storage Site-23. Ten minutes had already passed since the event, and that was eleven minutes too many. Something like this should have been anticipated, but the ever-expanding object had been shipped off to its new location a week after growth started. No second thoughts, just a quick change in containment procedures and a quicker shipping.
He stepped into the office of the Site Director, who already had a dozen different reports before him and sat in deep thought. Blinking slowly, he looked up as the messenger closed the door behind him and stepped up to the desk. As the Director straightened his back, he said, "Agent Winthrop, report."
"Sir. In light of the unexplained growth of SCP-113 one week ago, a jet left Storage Site-23 approximately four hours ago, with the intended destination being Site-24, due to their expertise in the area. The jet…"
"Please, Winthrop," sighed the Director, rubbing his forehead. "If the reports I've received are correct, time is of the essence. Speak simply."
"My apologizes, sir," stumbled Agent Winthrop. "I just thought…"
"The point, Winthrop, the point."
"Yes sir. After flying for roughly two hours, the jet came under attack by an as-of-now unknown individual or organization. From what we can gather, someone from in the Site had let slip certain details of the transport, and the attackers figured it out from there. We lost three men today." Agent Winthrop bowed his head out of respect.
"Do we know what sort of weapon was used?"
"No, sir," said Winthrop, snapping back to attention. "There are suspicions of a ballistic missile, but we have no way of confirming it. All we know for certain is that they were capable of attacking a plane flying above 10,000 feet, and that the weapon was designed for maximum fallout."
The Director waited for a moment before signaling Winthrop to continue. Already, plans were forming in his head regarding how to stop any damage.
"Given the immense size of SCP-113 at the time of departure and the rate at which it was growing, a simple missile strike would have spread it out over approximately 2,000 square miles. However, given the type of missile our attackers were using, we estimate the damage area to cover around 85% of the planet's landmass. It's a confusing yet fascinating weapon, all things considered, sir…" Agent Winthrop trailed off at the last sentence, feeling ashamed of what he had said.
The Director continued to think, his brow furrowing as he eliminated unlikely options. As Agent Winthrop opened his mouth to ask a question, the Director snapped, "Keep talking. What kind of damage reports are we looking at?"
"Well, sir, even with SCP-113 diluted as it is, it's still potent enough to change the gender of anyone who comes into contact with it, regardless of whether they're inside or out. Even microscopic pieces can trigger the process. We haven't conducted enough tests to be certain, but it's very likely a few hundred people will die from the shock alone." He paused and shuffled his feet. "There's also the, erm… other matter…"
"Which one?" asked the Director under his breath.
"To be honest, there's no… feasible way for a human male to carry children, sir. Our current numbers around showing something on the order of 150 million women pregnant on the planet at this time. If we can't get to them quick enough, there are going to be internal… complications. The sex change will more than likely… kill them and the… children… sir." Agent Winthrop's face took on an ashen look as he spoke. "And of course, there are dozens of smaller issues that we don't have time to list right now…"
Grunting, the Director raised himself out of his chair, and walked around to Winthrop. Looking closely over the Agent, he said "Listen carefully, now, Winthrop. I do believe that I have a plan that can reduce the damage. Not prevent it, but reduce it. This plan could very well work, if we act fast. Human lives will be lost, yes, but there is nothing we can do about that. Before we can make this work, there is one thing I need to know. How much time do we have?"
"Sir, current ETA before first effects is five minutes."
A silence settled over the room as the Director took in this last statement. Agent Winthrop grew increasingly nervous as he watched the Director just stand there, staring off into space. He reached out a hand to help his boss, but only grasped air. Walking slowly, the director sat back down, and folded his hands before him.
"Agent Winthrop," he said slowly, avoiding eye contact. "I suggest you find yourself a change in underclothing."
Stumbling over himself, Winthrop managed to sputter, "B-but, sir! We have an immense catastrophe staring us in the face! Millions are about to die! How is it that you can joke at a time like this? Didn't you have a plan?"
Solemnly pushing himself back in the chair, the Director sighed and looked straight at the Agent. "Winthrop. How long have you worked for the Foundation? Three years, I think it is?" A nod confirmed this speculation. "Then allow me to explain something to you about this organization. We're not perfect."
"I already know that…" began Winthrop, but he was cut off by a wave of the hand.
"What you know is that even when we make mistakes, even when containment procedures are broken, even when some horrible creature is discovered and goes on a killing spree, what you know is this. Most of the time, we can still make a happy ending. The Foundation has enough experienced and talented people on hand to deflect the majority of the problems that come our way, and maintain the semblance of peace.
"However, for all the good we do, we are not infallible. Every once in a very, very long while, we are going to come up against a problem that has no solution. We are not gods. We cannot do everything. We cannot save an entire planet within five minutes. At times like this, all we are capable of doing is letting things happen, clean up afterwards, and yes, joke a little. At times like this, we are powerless."
Still willing to fight, Winthrop said, "Sir, we have to do something. Anything."
"James, what do you propose we do?"
The Agent waved his hands for a few moments, desperately trying to think of something to do, some way to save the lives of millions and be a hero. But nothing came to him, and, slowly but surely, he ceased moving, and simply looked dejected. Noticing that the conversation was ending, the Director scribbled out a message on a piece of paper. "Give this to the rest of your men. It's instructions for damage control. And James? I am so terribly sorry."
Taking the message, Agent Winthrop left the room and closed the door, leaving the Director to lean back in his chair, sigh, and wait for the inevitable stinging.