It was a rather late night in the Site-19 cafeteria. Though the Foundation never slept, most of its workers did. The majority of the site staff was either back at their homes, or in on-site housing facilities. Of course, there was still a night shift, but it was a skeleton crew compared to the regular day shift. It was just security and custodial staff, with the odd researcher or two who ended up on a doctor’s bad side. The cafeteria itself was run by a single galley chef, whose only job at this hour was to cater to anybody craving a midnight snack.
However, tonight was different. In the far corner of the room sat four individuals, laughing (well, three of them, anyway) and drinking. Yes, alcohol was strictly prohibited on-site for a variety of reasons. However, it was a rule that was widely ignored for a variety of reasons. Besides, it wasn’t as if there was anybody around to call them out on it.
“Congratulations, Dr. Ryan.” Agent Williams smiled as he took a sip of cheap beer. The young agent was leaning back in his chair as if he didn't have a care in the world. “As of two minutes ago, you are officially no longer in the employ of the Foundation.”
“Good to know.” Dr. Adrian Ryan yawned. Already pushing sixty, Dr. Ryan was in no condition to stay up late, much less keep up with the everyday demands of Foundation employment. “After having to deal with XK end-of-the-world scenarios every other day, it’s nice to know that it’s officially somebody else’s problem.”
“And as per standard operating procedure, you’ll have to submit to one last search in order to ensure you’re not bringing any of your research or any materials that can be traced back to the Foundation,” Agent Richards said in a business-like manner, the harsh stare of her purple eyes contrasting sharply with her pale white skin.
“Ah, there you go, spoiling the mood again.” MTF Sergeant Ronald Paccone laughed. He was a grizzled old veteran with unshaven stubble on his chin and hair that was already beginning to grey. “Give the guy a break, he’s finally moving on in life.”
As with everything in existence, all good things had to come to an end. For Dr. Ryan, after thirty years of groundbreaking research, averting the apocalypse, and witnessing things no human can truly comprehend, he was finally going to leave it all behind.
“So, I’m curious.” Williams leaned forward in his seat. “What exactly are you planning to do now?”
“Oh, I'll probably go into teaching.” Ryan grinned. “With the references and job history the Foundation set me up with, I’m already getting quite a few offers.”
“That’s good to hear.” Williams nodded.
“Now that I think about it, what are you three planning to do?” Ryan asked curiously. “I know of several colleagues who are in teaching and research positions now, but I never heard of any Agents or MTF operatives retiring.”
Paccone’s smile instantly wore away. Williams' remained, but it was obvious that it had lost its warmth and friendliness. Richards, however, kept her usual stoic and cold demeanor.
“Did I say something wrong?” Ryan was confused.
“Well Doctor, it’s an issue that those in our circles never quite want to talk about.” Williams sighed. “Especially people like us. Do you have any family?”
“Why, yes. My wife, three kids, and I have grandchildren on the way.”
“And I suppose you’re going to spend your newfound free time with them?”
“Of course,” Ryan said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“See, there’s the difference that lies between you and us,” Williams explained. “You have the luxury of having a life outside of the Foundation, something to go back to when you decide to call it quits. However, we’re not quite so fortunate.”
“Well, let me explain.” Williams took one last swig from his cup. “First off, there are the doctors, the researchers, and the support staff. People like you. You’re the kind of people the Foundation will try and recruit, because it needs you. Now, 90% of you will accept out of a variety of reasons. Maybe for the money, maybe because of a genuine interest in what you study, or maybe for the chance to make that one discovery that will redefine the concept of human existence. Either way, you have choices, options. Most of the time, you’re already settled, have a family, and have a regular job at some university or research firm. Sure, some doctors are required to cut ties with their families, but they’re more the exception than the rule. Most of these guys work their eight hour shifts and then head straight home. They go to church on Sundays, walk their dogs, and curse at the morning commute. In other words, they have lives outside the Foundation.
“However, some Agents and MTFs like us are in the Foundation because honestly, we have no other alternative. Do you know why we’re called ‘lifers’?”
“Because no matter how you put it, we’re stuck in the Foundation.” Williams glanced at Richards and Paccone. “We don’t have families, or rather, we don’t care about them or are forced to leave them behind. Agent Richards here, before she was recruited, lost her whole family after a nasty little run in with a certain SCP.”
For a brief second, Agent Richards looked away and Ryan thought that he could see a hint of sadness and pain in her expression. However, the moment passed as quickly as it appeared.
"Sergeant Paccone here joined up in the days where it was SOP to fake the deaths of MTF recruits, for secrecy reasons. Well, we don't do that nearly as often these days for obvious reasons. He had to leave behind wife and kid, who even now think he's buried in Arlington with a silver star and the posthumous rank of Major. Remember that crazy Russian guy?"
"I think he was Ukrainian… or Chechen," Paccone said glumly.
"Whatever. Either way, he was a goddamn ticking time bomb. It's not a good idea to recruit a guy with so much personal baggage and cut off the remaining contact he has with the outside. It's just not good business."
"Good to know you think I'm going to snap and kill everybody in the room at any time," Paccone joked.
"Ah no, that's probably something Richards would do," Williams deadpanned, earning a glare from Richards.
"Just because I actually take my job seriously and understand the stakes of failure doesn't make me mentally unstable," Richards coolly replied.
"Oh?" Williams continued, “On that note, even if Richards does retire, where will she go? Who will take her in? The only people she knows outside the Foundation are a bunch of distant cousins who’ve never even heard of her before. Not to mention, she’s the only person I know of that actually volunteers for Keter duty. She doesn’t even take Class As for SCP-231, and that is just fucked up. Hey Richards, how many times have you pulled 231 duty? Five, six times?”
“Eight,” Richards replied humorlessly.
“Can you honestly believe that a person like Agent Richards can just reintegrate into society like that?”
Mouth gaping, Ryan could only manage to shake his head.
“Of course not. She may as well be a D-Class in terms with how she would fit in society.”
“Thanks for the comparison,” Richards remarked sarcastically.
“Not to mention,” Paccone added, “the skills we know and are recruited for can’t be transferred to civilian life so easily. You worked on stuff like SCP-514 and SCP-204. I’m guessing you’re going into a biology-related field?”
“That’s right,” Ryan blinked.
“Yeah, well, what’s an old guy like me going to do? I’ve been in the combat business for twenty five years now, fifteen in the Marines and ten in the Foundation. I’m too old to reenlist into any other armed service or law enforcement agency. My only useful job skill is knowing how to kill a man 72 different ways unarmed and clearing an apartment block with an empty M16. Do you think there’s anywhere out there that will provide me with a good, honest lifestyle?
“As I see it, there’s only three ways out of the Foundation for people like us. We’ll either take the red pill and live a life of blissful ignorance, die in a ditch alone, or go out in a blaze of glory. There’s no Foundation Retirement Home for us. As for me, well, I’m not getting any younger. My physical abilities aren’t getting any better with age, and I’m going to have to face that dilemma sooner or later.”
“We’re also the ones that get stuck doing the Foundation’s dirty work,” Williams added. “Do you honestly think that the O5s will let us just waltz out? We’re the military elite with in-depth knowledge of all of the Foundation’s covert military operations. It’s either a Class A amnesiac or a bullet to the head, depending on which is more convenient.”
“Bullets are cheaper,” Richards coldly remarked.
“She should know.” Paccone laughed. “She’s the Foundation’s unofficial retirement policy.”
“Is… is there any hope for you?” Ryan gaped.
“Well…” Williams frowned. “All three of us have our reasons for staying in the Foundation, and we’ve paid the price. Oh yes, there are some gems of hope scattered here and there among our younger members. Maybe they won’t repeat the same mistakes we did.”
“Well, here’s to them, then.” Ryan raised his glass, now suddenly a bit more subdued.
“Have a happy retirement, Dr. Ryan.” Williams smiled and raised his glass as well. “I hope you never see any of us again.”