Harken watched the rain sheet the windows, leaning his head on the cool glass in the hopes it would make his headache go away. Down the hall, a couple was fighting, the rise and fall of argument punctuated by the occasional thud of either a slap or a door slamming. The sound of traffic was at least muffled by the rain, and the Agent sighed at the thought of actually being able to get some sleep.
The safe house was a pit. A cruddy apartment in a small, broken-down town, and they'd been lucky to score even this. The official reason was overextended resources due to the crisis, but Harken was reasonably sure if one of the 05s had been forced out this way, they'd have found a hotel room somewhere. He had to admit it made a kind of grim sense. Why spend the good stuff on a two-time traitor and a washed-out screw up?
At least it beat sleeping in the car.
A sharp knock on the door made Harken reflexively look to the bedroom doorway and the dimly lit bed beyond. Kramer, normally a hair-trigger, was comatose. She'd burned out on the last mission and would be mostly useless until tomorrow while she recuperated. Harken pushed off the glass, drawing his gun as he walked to the door. He ducked behind the wall for cover, swallowed, and opened the door quickly.
The Agent outside fell back a step with a start, nearly dropping the file folder clenched in his hand. Harken sighed, holstering his gun and pushing the door open all the way. “Jesus, Scud, identify yourself next time! I could have shot you.”
“Yeah right, Harken. I've seen your range scores. The day you manage to shoot me is the day I retire," Scud laughed.
"What the hell are you doing here, anyway?"
"Message from the top," Scud said. "Didn't trust it to anything but hand delivery."
"Give it here." Harken took the folder from the younger Agent, let out a low "hm" as he saw the stamp on the cover of the manila folder. "Well, come on inside. You might as well have a cup of coffee before you go."
Agent Scud chuckled, following him in and shutting the door. He put his soaked overcoat over a chair as Harken moved quietly into the tiny kitchen. "Where's Kramer?”
Harken waved to the bedroom. “She's in there… fuck, don't go in there, you moron! The hell is wrong with you?”
Scud stepped away from the bedroom door, grinning. “Hey, I'm just interested, you know.”
“I swear to god, if you do the 'are all her parts in tune?' gag, I will beat you to death with this coffee pot," Harken said. He poured two mugs of lukewarm coffee and handed one to Agent Scud.
Scud laughed, shaking his head. “Naw, already got my jollies out. Just curious. What's her deal, anyway? I've never really heard much about her, besides jokes and the whole supersoldier bit.”
Harken stared, then shook his head. “Supersoldier, huh? She's not a supersoldier, she's a…” He paused, put an ear to the door. The only sound was the low buzzing noise of Kramer's cybernetic components undergoing their usual regenerative cycle.
Harken leaned in, lowering his voice. “Ok, here's the deal. She's not a supersoldier, or a war machine, or anything like that… not exactly. She grew up in the Church of The Broken God. Her parents were supposed to be some big so-and-sos in their clergy. They did things to her. I don't really know what: she doesn't talk about it much, but whatever it was, she almost died a few times. She lost her right eye, most of her right hand, her ears and most of her teeth.”
“You're bullshitting me.” Scud said, a nervous laugh in his voice.
Harken sipped his coffee, staring into the oily liquid. “No bullshit. Most likely they were coaching her to become a Crusader: one of their "holy knights of the machine." Or maybe they were just seeing what they could do. Anyway, they changed her body chemistry, did stuff to her brain to make her totally compliant and loyal to the higher ups in the Church.. It was working great until some goons hired by Marshall, Carter and Dark raided them. One of their members wanted some 'relic' they had in the basement, so they hired out some people to go and trash them.”
“It was a nightmare, from what she said.” Harken continued. "You know how she's all cold as ice and stuff? Well, even she gets the shakes talking about that night. They came right in the middle of a service. Shot some people, rounded up everyone else, all black masks and guns. They stole a bunch of stuff out of the vault, then lit the place on fire. She saw her parents, dead and bleeding on the steps to the podium. She never saw who shot them.” He looked up, catching Scud's eyes. “She did see them get stacked up like cordwood near the door to make it look like they died trying to escape. Saw them start to burn as they dragged her out.”
Scud stared in silence. Harken lit another cigarette. “Kramer was…twelve, maybe thirteen? Barely a kid, but she saw the writing on the wall, did what she needed to do to survive. The mercs found her hiding in the sacristy. They almost put a bullet in her head, but then she told them she knew where the good stuff was, and how to get past the locks and traps and other shit like that. Mercs decided to take her back with them. They got a bonus for bringing her in."
"MC&D loved her, it was like getting a blank check for them. They started adding things. Subdermal armour, ocular implants, amputated and replaced her legs below the knee, tweaked organs, a real overhaul. They made it so she could change her facial bone structure at will. It apparently feels like having a truck run over your face. She had to practice twice daily."
“So she worked for richie-rich for a while, lots of combat stuff, and some… ” Harken coughed, checking the dim bedroom again. “… well. She's never been hard on the eyes, you know, and you know what they say: if it exists, someone will want to fuck it. Sometimes she mixed the two. A few very rich blokes who somehow pissed off MC&D got a razor in the neck while they were on the fly. Anyway, she did that for a while, then bumped into The Foundation during a breach event. She shot her handlers and turned herself over to the recovery Agents.”
Harken laughed, shaking his head. “Those assholes came home feeling like they won the Super Bowl. Promotions all around. Almost lost her right off the bat: she had a stroke when they started to question her, some failsafe the richies had put in her brain. They got her working again, pumped her for information. After they squeezed her, they really didn't know what to do. Eggheads talked about listing her under SCP, and they had a cell ready for her, nice and warm. Wrote up containment procedures and everything. Then Dr. Gears submitted a report, saying how her system was 'inefficient,' and 'had room for improvement.' Motherfucker."
Scud started nodding quickly, tapping the table. “Shit, I remember that!" the younger Agent interjected. "They were all worked up, brain-machine interface research or something. They kept feeding her to 212, then working on her in the lab, crossing her with every mechanical or cybernetic SCP they could think of.” He rubbed his face, trying to remember. “God, how many times did they do that?”
“Twelve. They fed her to 212 twelve times. Not counting all the 'regular' surgery stuff they did as well. 212 did less and less every time. Finally, it wouldn't trigger anymore. It… it didn't see her as human. She had a bit of a breakdown when that happened. It took God knows how many sessions with Glass before she stabilized from her suicidal tendencies. After that, there wasn't much more to do. They'd hit the limit with what they could do with her. We kept thinking they'd end up just dissecting her. Maybe they would have. But then that whole thing with Able went pear-shaped.”
"Able?" Scud asked.
"Remember Pandora's Box? Mobile Task Force Omega Seven? Remember how they kept talking about how they were going to use SCPs to fight SCPs?"
"I remember it went completely to shit. The idea was fucking stupid," Scud said.
"No, it wasn't. The idea was solid. They just chose the wrong SCP to do it with."
Scud sipped his coffee in silence as Harken opened the file folder, leafing through the contents and nodding at what he found there. Scud cleared his throat. “So. Where did you figure in?”
Harken gave a short, bitter laugh as he carefully examined one of the photos, holding it up to the light to get a better look. “Me? They found me in a bottle at the Site 17 training center. Mental health restriction. My team got carved up by 106. I was the only survivor. I kinda snapped after that, worthless in the field, but I know the spy game inside and out. Some personality profile system decided my skillset meshed well with Kramer. Myself, I think they just wanted to pair her up with someone who wouldn't be missed. Not that they use us much. Maybe the whole Able thing spooked them, but until Site 17 got hit, we weren't doing any work at all. Now, of course, we're busy busy busy.”
Scud grinned, rising from his chair and pulling on his still damp coat. “Well, you're doing good work. Word on the street is you've got MC&D running scared. Keep it up.”
"No problem. Be seeing you."
Harken nodded, leaning back in his chair as Scud walked to the door. He coughed. “Hey, Scud?”
“How long you been on the take?”
Scud stopped, one hand on the doorknob, half turning to Harken.
“There's a secured message on the sheet," Harken said. He held up one of the photos, revealing a series of small pinholes punched through the eight by ten glossy. "How many of our agents did you sell out since you started taking money from Marshall, Carter and Dark?”
“Oh come on,” Scud laughed, “you're pulling my-”
Even silenced, Harken's pistol sounded like a firecracker in the still apartment. A gout of blood sprayed from Scud's back. He croaked, falling to the floor, his own pistol falling from nerveless fingers and clattering against the stained hardwood floor. "You were right about one thing," Harken said. "The day I shot you was the day you retired."
A semi-truck driving by drowned out the next four shots Harken fired into Scud's chest. "Well, I guess that's done wi—"
The bedroom door came off its hinges as Kramer smashed through it like a freight train. She had her sidearm in both hands, eyes glowing as they scanned for threats, her bare musculature twitching and soaked with synthetic adrenaline. “W't the f'k is goin' on?!” she shouted, in a voice still fuzzy with sleep.
Harken chuckled, wiping off his gun. “You've never been a morning person. Relax, it was just Scud. He turned traitor a while ago, and they were waiting for a good time to bump him, so they sent him to us.”
Kramer nodded, visibly relaxing, her snarled and sweaty hair turning her hyperaggressive pose into a caricature. “I heard you two talking. What was it?”
Harken looked at her, then to Scud. "He's dead. What does it matter now?”
She nodded absently, already stumbling back to bed.
They left Scud there when they rolled out the next day. A little surprise for the next team.