Doctor Avery Solace woke up, got dressed, and pretended not to notice the black, slime-coated humanoid in the shadowy corner of their room.
Doctor Avery Solace used to work under the memetics department before the accidents.
The entity only began to speak once the psychologist had begun collecting their stationery and papers for the coming day. The warbled voice of Agent Troy Lament, corrupted to become as slimy as his flesh, echoed off the plain white walls.
The paperwork still calls them a 'he'. Those who know them know better.
"Hey Avery. Morning Joke? A neutron walked into a bar and asked, 'How much for a drink?' The bartender replied, 'For you, no charge.'"
Dr. Solace likes to believe that this Lament is a hallucination.
Dr. Solace paused. They turned to stare at Lament, so shadowy that it was hard to tell him apart from the darkness he thrived in. Perhaps there was no difference. Their eyes narrowed, then they nodded and mumbled in response. "…Yes. You're right. I should have some water with my Advil today."
A hallucination brought on by loneliness and appearing only when they're alone.
"I used to work under a man with your sense of humor, Avery. A guy people like to call Dr. Gears. You've probably heard of him."
They can't be sure when they first met the real Lament.
"Thank you. I appreciate being compared with someone so well-respected at Site-19."
They can't be sure of anything since the accidents.
The force of Lament shaking his head splattered black ichor against a wall. The pattern reminded them of an inkblot.
The first order of the day was meeting a new patient, a man by the label of Mr. Laugh.
In a dream, Avery is as they used to be.
Hardworking. Earnest. Prone to anger at small annoyances.
The interview room was organized differently than most. It consisted of two couches and a coffee table laden with snacks, sweets, and soft beverages. A tape recorder for later transcription lay in the middle of the coffee table. Mr. Laugh had already seated himself on a couch, nervously sipping soda. Dr. Solace sat on the other couch to give the man some space.
Mr. Laugh looked up at his doctor, then at his doctor's identification. He arched a brow.
Dr. Solace doodled on their clipboard as they spoke. "Hello, Mr. Laugh. Are you alright with that designation, or would you prefer your number? Perhaps another name? I know my nametag says Dr. Solace—but you can call me Avery if you desire it."
"…You're supposed to be wearing your… your…" Mr. Laugh stopped drinking his soda, downcast, waiting for the laughter. It was expected; everything he did struck people as funny. Even his pain. There was a moment of silence. Another. He looked up after a solid minute of quiet.
He stared. Laughed with relief. Within the first fifteen minutes, he was curled against the doctor's side. Within twenty, he had settled on Avery's lap, swaddled in their arms. He had never known an interaction so painless. A touch so sympathetic.
He tried to express this, but all he could do was weep.
It wasn't unusual to need several introductory sessions per patient.
For the three hours of the assessment session, Dr. Solace accomplished nothing that would make it on the books. A second session would need to be scheduled.
In that dream a man leans against a white hallway,
puffing on a cigarette that produces purple smoke.
Dr. Solace broke out into laughter during lunchtime, loud enough to receive strange looks from the next table over. Doctor Mark Kiryu, sitting in front of them, tilted his head. "What's so funny? Avery?"
Most people avoid Avery. They're a reminder of what happens when you fuck up.
They snickered for a few minutes longer before responding. "Someone told me a joke earlier this morning. I just got it now." Their smile faded, returning to their typical neutral expression.
"It must've been a funny joke, then."
Mark stays around though.
"…No. A jellyfish could have made that joke."
Mark's a good friend.
Dr. Kiryu tilted his head the other way. "Okay, I'll bite. Why jellyfish?"
"Jellyfish. They have no brains. They're also slimy, I think. Ichor-like."
He paused in his eating, then shook his head. "What're you working on, now? We got a lizard in our labs the other day. It's for Riven. It might cheer him up a little."
"…Someone sad, Dr. Kiryu."
"We went over this yesterday, Avery; I prefer to be called Mark. They're always sad, aren't they? Your patients?"
"Yes. Mark. Always." Dr. Solace stared into the remainder of their coffee. "The lizard. Tell me about it."
The man is familiar, but Avery can't place him.
He leans against the wall as if his thin body could dent it.
Their next task was to find an anomaly that had broken out of containment. The Foundation had narrowed it down to a small town. Dr. Solace's job was to find the anomaly based on its behavior, interviewing each male person that matched the description.
They despised these tasks most of all. The interview rooms were always macgyvered. Insecure. The agents were just as haphazard. Most personnel out on these jobs were either people who had forgotten, or had wanted to forget. It only served to remind Dr. Solace how much they would like to forget, as well. But the amnestics didn't take. Then they didn't take again.
That was the worst part of the accident. Everyone else had forgotten or died.
"Please give me your name."
Dr. Solace looked to the agent beside them. The agent paused for a moment. "The guy said Dave." They nodded. The next man was brought in. It had been hours. It felt like days.
"Please give me your name."
The agent scratched his head. "Uhm. Joe something. I didn't quite get the last name."
Dr. Solace stood and walked over to the anomaly. The man stood from his chair and began to back up. They stopped. Slowly so as not to startle, they extended their right hand. "I'm-"
Avery never gets angry at their patients, regardless of any trouble caused.
Joe raised his arm in a fist, then slammed it down on the offered forearm. They winced, then pulled their arm back to rub at the bruising flesh. "Calm down, sir. I'm not going to ignore you."
The agent didn't react, as it should be.
Most of the people are just scared, hurt, or alone.
"You… What? How?" he sputtered. The anger drained from his face like thick honey from a bottle.
It's something Avery can empathize with.
Dr. Solace tried to show confidence in their smile. "I'm Avery. Please give me your name, then come back with me. If you cooperate, we can get to know each other. I can explain when we get back why I don't ignore you. It's not a nice story, but I think neither will yours be."
Avery asks 'who are you?'
and receives the response '████ ████ ████'
When Dr. Solace was done with their day, most of the site had already gone to sleep. They were halfway there themselves but needed to get back to their assigned room. It didn't help that the half-lit halls took a few seconds of walking to recognize movement and fully illuminate.
In each moment before their movements were picked up, they could see their dark companion dance from shadow to shadow.
Avery is never sure how this Lament speaks.
"I do not know what to make of that… Please explain."
But if it's a delusion, what does it matter?
Dr. Solace had to pause and take a deep breath before continuing.
At some point, they could swear Lament had begun to reach out from the darkness to pat their shoulder. Even if he wasn't real, the goosebumps were no illusion.
The hallway with their room was already lit when they turned into it. The janitor was there, cursing as she scrubbed at a particular spot on the floor. She looked up at Dr. Solace, then down at their clothing. "Hey! Watch where you've stepped. I've spent the past 15 minutes getting that black shit off this floor. I don't need you mucking it up again."
Avery liked to believe that he was just a delusion.
Dr. Solace followed her gaze. There, on their left shoe. A splash of sticky, inky darkness. Like a clumsy painter. They stared for several minutes, then looked back up to the woman. "…E-excuse me. The time. Could you give that to me? The time. I don't know it."
You can work around your own delusions.
"Yeah. Hold on." She checked her phone. "One-oh-eight in the morning. Late night, huh."
They checked their phone to confirm the time.
"T-than… T-thank. You. Yes. A late night. Good… Good sleep? Night. G-good Night."
Avery doesn't understand the words.
'What? I didn't catch that.'
Doctor Avery Solace entered their room, undressed, and pretended not to notice the black, slime-coated humanoid in the center of their unlit room.
The entity only began to speak once the psychologist had begun to climb into bed. The warbled voice of Lament, corrupted to become as slimy as his flesh, echoed off unseen walls.
"Avery. Skipping a dose again tonight? You must like me around. I hope the other docs don't get jelly."
Avery won't get the joke until breakfast the next morning.
"…I'm not that bad. I'm their only test subject for these things anyways. I'm not a guinea pig… And the medication doesn't make you go away. So it doesn't work."
"Well, you can't say you're not a lab rat."
They end up almost choking on their bagel.
Dr. Solace turned away from the direction of the voice. Tried to get some sleep. The last thing they felt was someone tucking them in.
The man shakes his head, drops his cigarette.
Scuffs it out. Turns away.