Rising and Falling
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“Hey Lin, congrats on the promotion.”

Site Director Lin Liu continued looking out over the balcony. “Yep.”

“Yep?”

“Thank you, sorry. I’m… I’m just a bit fed up right now.”

“Fed up with what? The meeting? It’s over now, I’m sure you could just go.”

“No, I’m fed up with everything! This meeting, this job, all of it!” Lin hung her head in her hands for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you, Connor.”

“It’s quite alright, I can’t imagine the stress you’re going through.”

“But it’s not just the stress, that’s the worst part! It’s the hopelessness for the future. Like, what’s the point of it all?”

“What’s the point of what we are doing? Our job is incredibly important, we’re protecting humanity daily from anomalous threats.”

“But what’s the endgame? Are we just going to keep containing anomalies until we mess up and lose everything? It’s like we’re just treating the symptoms while we watch the universe slowly die.

“Well, I mean, technically, we won’t be able to stop the eventual heat–”

“Oh fuck off with that.”

“No, I mean… listen. Sure, someday all of this will be gone. Civilization, normal life, maybe even existence as a whole. But that’s going to happen whether or not we do anything. Why not try to better the lives of people in the here and now? That’s all we’re doing, isn’t it? Dying in the shadows so the world can live in the light, and all that.”

“But are we even helping anyone? Really? No one remembers our assistance, and half the time we’re just cleaning up people we couldn’t save and amnesticizing the ones we did. From their point of view, nothing in their lives have changed at all. They just didn’t happen to be killed by a shapeshifting demon hell-bent on blowing up the city’s church last Tuesday.”

“Well, that’s still helping them, isn’t it? They’re alive thanks to us.”

“I’m sure some of them would have preferred to be dead.”

“Lin,” Connor sighed.

“Oh don’t you ‘Lin’ me. Do you know how fucked up this job is? The kind of shit I’ve had to go through? Hell, last month I lost my brother to an infovore, now I can’t even remember his name! It’s no surprise I want to put myself out of my misery.”

The two stood there, wordless. Lin silently wept.

“Lin, I know I’m not an easy person to talk to about this. I’m not great with understanding, and I can’t really empathize with you. But you’re my friend, and I want to help you get through this.”

“How are you going to do that, Connor?” Lin sniffled. “I can’t see anyone about this, especially since I’m a Site Director. Do you think they’ll allow some mentally ill researcher to lead an entire site?”

“Come on, you know they won’t punish you for something like that. You’re a hard worker, but there’s nothing wrong with seeking some help every now and then.”

“That’s funny, you almost made sense there for a moment. But honestly, I don’t think any amount of therapy will help with what I’m going through. And don’t even get me started with the cesspool of unethical shit I have to wade around in every day.”

“We have a whole committee for that, that’s not something you need to worry about.”

“Not something I need to worry about, huh? Of course, how could I have been so dull? There’s nothing at all wrong about imprisoning a young girl who was born with ethereal wings, despite the fact that we could easily neutralize all anomalous properties of her and reincorporate her into normal life.”

“That’s not really a fair comparison, though. The vast majority of anomalies don’t have an easy resolution to their properties, and most that do have some qualifier or conditioner that makes either the execution too infeasible or the attempt too risky. Sure, every now and then we come across a questionable decision, but is it really unethical to play it safe and keep doing what we know works?”

“But it doesn’t always work, that’s the problem! Have you ever wondered how many innocent lives were ruined because of a direct decision on our part? How many people we’ve destroyed out of some desperate attempt to retain this fictional notion of normality?”

“Oh, here we go again with this. We can’t treat all anomalous humanoids like people, because that’s not what the anomalies are. And normalcy is-”

“And the term humanoids, that’s incredibly demeaning! Just call them what they are in most cases, anomalous humans. No need for the ‘-oid’ suffix. They are people, just like you and me. And many of them don’t deserve to be locked up in this place.”

“Like I was saying, normalcy is vital to modern civilization. Imagine how quickly society would crumble if it wasn’t for the preservation of normality, the bedrock of reality, the Foundation. I honestly have no idea how you managed to climb the ranks this far with these radical ideas of yours.”

“Because who else is going to do something about it? Who is going to put in all of the work and effort and heartbreak into standing up for what’s right?” Tears were streaming down her face as her voice grew louder. “I’ve been trying as hard as I can, but it’s not working! Nothing I do ever works! Everything just remains the same shitty hellscape it’s always been and I can’t even tell anyone about it! No one shares my views on this, especially not you. That’s why I can’t go to a therapist, the Foundation would disown me if they ever found out about this.”

“You really think they don’t already know?”

“I… well… they would have done it already if they did!”

“No they wouldn’t, the Ethics Committee would have stopped them. You haven’t done anything that’s not allowed; you’ve only ever worked within the scope of your title.”

Lin stared at Connor for a beat, before turning away and staring at the horizon, her eyes still wet.

“Lin, just… trust me on this. Come see the site counselor. Just talk to her about whatever you want. Don’t feel like you have to talk about any of this, or that you have to see her again afterwards. Try it once and see where to go from there.”

“Would that really do anything, though?”

“It did for me." He paused. "After that containment breach two years ago, I… I fell into a rough spot.”

“Oh.” Lin turned to face him. “I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t know, I… I should have helped.”

“I never told anyone. But after suffering for a couple of months I took a trip down to the counselor’s office during lunch one day. Then I went back the next week, and the next one, and next thing you know it became a regular occurrence. It helped me, it really did. I only wished I went sooner, which is why I’m asking you now.

“Please, Lin. Just try it. If it goes terribly feel free to call me an idiot. But I want to help you through this, and since I can’t do it myself, I’m directing you to someone who can.”

They stood in silence. Lin slowly turned and hugged Connor.



After their embrace, Connor motioned towards the exit. “Ready to go?”

“No, I just… wanted to say goodbye.”

“I can still walk with you to your car, we don’t have to split right now.”

“No, I mean… goodbye.”

Connor stared at her. “What do you mean ‘goodbye’?”

“Please don’t make me say it, this is already hard enough.”

“Lin.” He paused, carefully choosing his words. “Whatever it is you are about to do, I would suggest you delay doing it until you’ve had enough time to think about it.”

“I’ve already thought about it long enough, Connor.”

“Please don’t do this, Lin. I told you, there are people you can go to, people who’ll listen.”

“But that won’t change anything, will it? It’ll all be pointless in the end.”

“It doesn’t have to be.”

“I’ve decided, Connor. You can’t change my mind.”

“Calm down, Lin, do you hear what you’re saying?”

“I’m calm, Connor. That’s why I’m doing it. This isn’t driven by passion or frustration. This is something I’ve accepted. I’m perfectly tranquil.”

Connor stared at Lin, his eyes begging her to stay.

“Please don’t go.”

“Please don’t stop me.”

Lin moved out of Connor’s reach and climbed the balcony railing. Turning to look at Connor one last time, she flashed him a smile, and jumped, landing on the asphalt below with a sickening crunch.

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