December 19th, 2015, Site-19
“There’s something off about you, Lee. Don’t think I don’t notice.”
“There’s always something off about me by your standards.”
“You’ve been seeing someone. You’re happier. A little calmer, too.”
Adam Leeward stood up from his chair. Agent Ketson’s office decorations were headache-inducing, the silver and gold of the picture frames by the window reflecting the setting sun straight into his eyes. He squinted. Ketson had a picture framed of the two of them standing together in one of the containment wings. He didn’t remember having that taken. “I have to go.”
“Duty calls?” He looked at his watch. “It’s seven PM.”
“You know how it is.”
“Your skip isn’t sick again, is she?”
He frowned. “I don’t remember telling you that she was sick.” God, that fucking light…
“Heard it from Rogers and the others. Sorry.”
“Mmm.” He didn’t make any move toward the door.
“Was it… contagious? Because you look sick. Like, weirdly pale.”
“I can’t give the details. She’s fine now.”
“You’re not fine.”
Leeward found himself standing behind Ketson, by the windowsill. He wasn’t sure when he had walked over there. He didn’t care either. “When was this taken?” He eyed the picture of the two of them.
“When you moved from Site-11. When we met.”
Leeward held the frame closer, staring into the image of his own, younger eyes. He didn’t look like the same person. “Okay.”
“You know you can call me if you need me, right?” Ketson added nervously, watching him walk to the door. He opened his mouth once more, but didn’t say anything.
“Oh. Yeah.” He waited for a few seconds, staring blankly at the fuzzy sunset glow backlighting Ketson’s slouched body, before turning and walking out.
“Is it you?”
“Why are you here so late?”
Leeward fumbled with his keycard. His hands were jittering. The lights in this wing were too bright. “I have to talk to you. Can I come in?”
Listen to her voice, he reminded himself as he slid the door open and then closed. Every few seconds, remind yourself that she speaks.
Except she didn’t. Not as she sat down at the table by the kitchenette area and not as she frowned concernedly at him, her hands clasped in front of the collar of her gray-and-yellow jumpsuit. He felt panic rising in him. He should leave. This wasn’t her, this wasn’t her, this wasn’t-
“Are you sick?”
He felt himself snap back to reality. “I- not from you, if that's what you mean, no, you weren’t contagious.”
“What’s wrong? You’re not leaving, right? I don’t want to be with anyone else-”
He felt bile rise in his throat at the sound of her saying that. The lights were too bright. His hands shook. He felt sweat creeping down his chest, soaking into the buttons and collar of his shirt. When he spoke, his voice didn’t sound like his own. “W-what do you mean by that?” he said a little too forcefully.
She recoiled, eyes widened. “I- I don’t… trust anyone else, is all. I don’t like the guards or your assistant or especially the doctor and if anyone else had come in here just now like you did I would have just shut myself in the bathroom.”
He stared through her.
“Why are you leaving?” She was shaking too. It was already sixty-five degrees and the tone of the fluorescent lighting was dropping it by ten more. "Are you leaving?"
Just say it. Just say it. Force the words out of your mouth. “I- was transferred to another project,” he blurted out. He cursed himself. That wasn’t it. That wasn’t it because she deserved the truth. That wasn’t it because it felt wrong to tell the truth. “…and I can’t stay on two projects at once.” He swallowed. He hadn’t looked at her in several seconds. Each second was a year. He stared into the table. It was blindingly white. He felt a headache and tears coming on simultaneously.
“So I have to go,” he continued, standing on unsteady feet, “and the Foundation thanks you for your continued cooperation.”
When she didn’t respond, he wondered if it was really her, if she was still there or if she'd already faded out of existence the second she was out of his line of sight. But his headache weighed more heavily on him than his thoughts ever could, and the slam of the steel door was a heavier sound than her sobs ever could be. He walked out and down the hallway without looking back.
December 21st, 2015, Site-19
Leeward walked over, hands trembling. He slid the printed document onto the older man's desk and took a seat across from him.
He fidgeted. “I-I’m not… in…”
“You are not in ‘trouble,’ Doctor Leeward." He almost smirked. "It is a biologically human female with human behaviors and a human personality, and you are a heterosexual human male assigned to take care of it. There is nothing wrong with natural impulse so long as you possess the self-awareness to prevent yourself from acting upon it."
Leeward bit his lip at the assumption that he was straight, but he didn't say anything.
"Mmm." John Blanchard’s office window faced the side of the building that was usually in shadow. There were no vibrant tones in this room. Brown and gray. His eyes and his mind felt softer as the environment felt softer, and his headache lessened. This was a dull room for a dull man.
"…There is, however, a problem."
His pulse quickened.
"Your desktop computer's files. You know Site intranet allows access to automatically search for concerning key phrases in documents."
Blanchard's mouth became a straight line as he clicked around on his laptop for several seconds before spinning it around to present the monitor to Leeward. "So what, may I ask, is this?"
His chest felt like it was going to burst. "…It's complicated."
"Mmm. Good answer. It seems you're too little, too late with this situation, Leeward."
"That is, if this implies what it seems to imply. We'll see what we have on our hands when the test results return." He turned the laptop back around to face himself. “In the meantime, go get some rest. I’ll email you the remaining paperwork. Answer within forty-eight hours. We'll be transferring you to another Site."
He nodded and stood, almost falling down. His knees were wobblier than usual, and his vision felt as though it was lagging.
"I'll be transferring with you in a few months. It's time for a change."
He nodded. Outside, in the bright hallway lighting, his headache throbbed.
November 3rd, 2016, Site-81
Leeward felt as though the door to his quarters was made of a thin foam, as if simply bumping into it or walking past it too quickly could break the veil and send its delicate form crumbling in on itself in light, airy clumps. He didn’t expect himself to go so far as to grab its handle, but surprisingly, it did not topple.
“I’m back,” he narrated aloud as he closed the door and leant on it. “I’m sorry. I had a long day.”
The woman in front of him nodded and smiled, extending her arms and enveloping him in her grasp. He sighed when he felt her clothes tugging on his, and in less than a second he hated himself all over again for ever doubting that she was anything other than real.
“I’m working on our plan,” he said, leading her over to the bed and placing a hand on her stomach. “How long do we have? Seven months? Eight months? Ten months?” Time didn't matter to him anymore. Time and love weren't related, he reasoned; love was the linear one, and time, on the other hand, was an intricate web of mistakes and windfalls and everything in between.
She smiled. Looking at the details of her face hurt his mind, but it was the only way to talk to her. He looked downward. It didn't bother him. She wasn’t normal, that much he could reason, but he wasn’t about to stop loving her because of it. “But we should get out in time to, you know, get set up. Start a life.”
He wished the lights were yellow and not white. His eyes hurt. Something had hurt him once, and he couldn’t remember what. He could feel it. He had lost something, he recalled, and he started to see it in her.
He looked away from her face. “I’m nauseous,” his tongue lied for him as he laid himself down with his eyes closed. He felt heavy, as if every muscle in his body wanted nothing other than to rest but his head and his heart were pulling him in the opposite direction, against gravity, ripping at his flesh and threatening to tear him inside-out. What was this? Was this what anguish was supposed to feel like? How was he supposed to contain it?
He felt slender hands untying his bowtie from around his neck, unbuttoning his shirt. She wanted his clothes off. “I don’t feel well enough for that, I think,” he laughed. It echoed around the room for a little too long, but eventually absorbed into the walls. Silence rang in his ears. What was her name again?
Her name was Aline, he recalled as he finished unbuttoning his shirt and then his pants for her. She was from Idaho, or maybe it was Oregon. She had turned herself in when her mother passed away, he remembered from the history section of her SCP document. He hoped he was remembering it right. He’d written it, after all.
…No, that couldn’t be right. Aline wasn't here. He’d left her. She had nothing, he reminded himself, and in a few brief seconds his mind dredged up a sound he tried every day so desperately to bury. He felt the memory of it surge up through the marrow of his bones and skull and into his mind, and in his pain he remembered why he craved silence every night. Her stare digging at the back of his head as he turned from her. Her last sob as he had closed the door.
He felt confusion and discomfort return to his chest and head in a flood of emotion, distracting him from any pleasure he may have gotten from her stroking his face and sliding herself down onto his cock. He started crying, his mind disconnected from his body and his body continuing to move regardless. He couldn’t tell if she cared - or even noticed - his detachment as he monotonously thrusted into her, the soft flesh his mind told him he was stroking against feeling more like rough, calloused skin. He bit back another sob and closed his eyes, finding that the mental image of her face was more in her likeness than she was. After several moments, he felt wetness leaking down between his legs, and he wasn't sure if it meant he'd come, he was bleeding, he was sweating, or all three. When he looked up at her face, he saw nothing but an incomprehensible conglomeration of everyone he’d ever loved. He jolted and threw her off, but his hands passed through thin air.
He found himself standing in front of his bathroom mirror, leaning on the counter. When he looked at himself, he saw a tired thing with wild eyes and sweaty hair, clothes hanging off its wiry frame, dick hanging limply out of his pants and as blue and sickly with pallor as his cheeks and hands and heart. He saw a shell of a person, as if he was looking at a photograph from years ago that held none of his current self; this thing in the mirror wasn’t him, and that thing in the bedroom wasn't Aline.
He removed his phone from his pocket and dialed Blanchard’s number.
“After all this time, hmm. I’ll have it interviewed.”
“I don’t know how she got to my room, I don’t know why I fucking- fucked- her- if it was even her, I- my head-”
Blanchard silenced him with a hand as he sat back down at his desk chair. “I’ll have it taken care of. Wait here until the guards escort you to the medical wing.”
It was night outside. He wished he could smell it. The window was nothing but a black rectangle with the tiniest specks of light along the perimeter fence visible in the distance. Suddenly Blanchard’s office seemed a little too fluorescent contrasted with the darkness outside. It still looked the same as his old one. The pain in his skull, behind his eyes, pulsed again. Leeward put his head in his hands and leaned on the desk. When the guards showed up, he barely bothered to walk.
November 5th, 2016, Site-19
“…Is it you?”
“My name is Agent Lockwood. I’m here to ask you a few questions.” Lockwood thought she heard a stifled cry through the door, or maybe it was a gasp. “I need to open the door if you do not respond.” She didn’t wait very long before doing so.
“What do you need?” Aline backed nervously toward the table.
“To ask you a few questions.” She took a chair.
Lockwood clapped a clipboard down onto the table. “What is your relationship with Adam Leeward?”
“Your containment specialist, Adam Leeward. Did he have sexual or romantic relations with you during his six-month assignment to your project?” She clicked her pen and made sure the recorder was visible on the table.
Her face contorted in pain. "It's been months and months." Her voice cracked.
"I am referencing the time from July to December, 2015."
Aline almost laughed, but it came out as a sob. “No…?”
“Why the hesitation?” Lockwood didn’t break her gaze.
“Um… because that- question came out of nowhere, I guess? I mean, what else do you want me to say-”
“If necessary, additional means of gaining information will be used. Speak the truth.”
Aline glowered. “I liked him." She sniffed. She didn't care if this woman saw her upset. "Liking each other is against the rules. We never spoke of it. Sometimes I wondered if it really was mutual or if he just had more of a heart than the rest of you do."
"…We never touched each other. And he never came back.”
“Mmm. Did you love him?”
She bit her tongue and inhaled, trying to let anger replace depression in her mind. “No, I don’t have Stockholm Syndrome. Are we done here?” she snapped, tensing.
“No, we’re not. Has Adam Leeward ever amnesticized you?”
She thought for a moment, trying to remember what that meant. “No…?” She paused. "How would I even know if he had?"
"Do you recall any abnormal testing procedures carried out without the presence of at least one additional staff member?"
Lockwood scribbled something on the paper. “Kay. Secondly, when is the last time you left this room?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Nowhere.”
Lockwood raised an eyebrow.
"I haven't gone anywhere, I mean. Except when the doctor takes me down the hall to the lab."
“What? What the fuck do you want me to say?”
“Remain calm or I’ll have the guards restrain you.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s within my rights to sit still and argue with you, bitch,” she muttered, clenching her fingers. “I haven’t gone any-fucking-where. I sit here and do nothing for months, for years pretty soon here. And I've never once hurt anyone or been anything but compliant. Bring in your fucking gadgets and gizmos and lie detectors if you’re so inclined, but I have no idea what you’re on about and I want you out of my room.”
“You were in Adam Leeward’s employee quarters between the hours of eight PM and nine PM on November 3rd, no? And potentially multiple times other than that?”
“What the hell- I was right here! Check your damn hallway cameras! I’ve been sitting on my ass doing jack-shit! I don't even know where Adam is! I haven't seen him in a year!”
Lockwood paused and set the clipboard back down on the table. “What was the last thing Leeward said to you?”
She looked down, face twitching. “That he was transferring to a different project and wouldn’t be back,” she murmured.
“Okay. Do you have additional anomalous effects outside of those documented which you are withholding from our knowledge?”
“Have you tampered with the Scranton Reality Anchors?”
“No. For fuck’s sake, I don’t even know where they are.”
“Very well. This interview is concluded.” She stood up and pushed the chair under the table, scraping it against the concrete. “Agents Farris and Williamson are stationed outside your door. Inform them if you need anything.”
Aline almost responded with a retort, but decided against it. She didn’t move from her seat until long after the door was closed.
November 6th, 2016, Site-81
”…stationed outside your door. Inform them if you need anything.”
Blanchard clicked the recorder off and slid it across the desk. “She was being honest?”
“She has no reason to lie. She’s been cooperative since the start, we all know that.”
Blanchard fiddled with the end of a piece of paper sitting on his desk. “She sounded hostile.”
“Standoffish, sure, but no physical hostility or verbal threats.”
“So you think Leeward’s lying?” Blanchard asked, more to test Lockwood than to see if she knew an answer.
“I don’t see why he would. I don’t know him that well, but if he turned himself in to you all those months ago about being attracted to her, and he hasn't mentioned her since, he doesn’t seem like the type to-”
“I can’t talk personally about him.” He waved his hand. “No, he’s sick.”
“I mean there’s something wrong with him. He’s physically sick, I mean. I’ve been scouring security feeds and reports filed under his name in the database, but he hasn’t been around anything anomalous that could lead to him acting like this. The hallucinations he described – if we’re going to go with it not being real, that is – are extremely uncharacteristic of anything in his medical records." He absentmindedly straightened a stack on his papers and took a beat. "And he’s confused to begin with. He thinks he’s been seeing someone every night for the past ten months. He thinks that damn skip is pregnant, for fuck’s sake, but at the same time she’s not pregnant, we tested that over and over and over again ever since we found his stupid kid's book, and- hell, Lock, they haven’t even had sex in the first place. None of it adds up.”
“Wait, Leeward thinks he’s been dating-” She cringed at that word. “-seeing her for… ten months, is it?”
"He’s not talking anything sensible. He seems to be under the impression that the person he sees is a different person every night or week or whatever the timeframe is, and just hasn’t noticed because of… whatever reason.”
Lockwood frowned. “Uh…”
“Yes, so whoever he’s seeing isn’t a 'someone' at all, it's some sort of hallucination. We inferred that. But he's not prone to hallucinations, naturally, psychologically. You know how rigorous Foundation psych testing is. We would have caught an issue that big years ago, when he was first hired.”
“…So if you know that, why’d I have to interview-”
“Because we can’t be sure it’s not some extension of her anomalous effects. That’s the only anomaly Leeward worked with before we transferred him to his paperwork job, after all.”
“Oh. But she said it’s… not. Her. She doesn't even think about Leeward.”
"…Oh, she thinks about him. I promise you that."
Lockwood cocked her head.
“We’ll see if it is or not.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Lee’s in the medical ward now with people talking to him. I’ll update you in twelve hours.”
“Okay, let’s start from the top again. Did you or did you not have sexual relations with SCP-”
“No! I fucking submitted that damn statement to Blanchard back in 2015 so that this exact thing wouldn’t happen!” Leeward gestured to his surroundings. The lighting was the worst he’d ever experienced in the entire Site, and the white, borderline-reflective hospital bedding didn’t help. “I did not!”
“Very well, very well. Have you been exposed to any anomalous items other than the aforementioned humanoid?”
“Not that I know of,” he groaned. "All I do now is file paper-"
“Very well, and what are your symptoms other than… confusion, memory loss, paranoia, headaches, excessive perspiration, and body tremors?”
“Oh, that’s it,” he said almost sarcastically.
“Okay. Can you tell me more about the pregnancy?”
“Aline is pregnant. Mistakes happen.”
The interviewer frowned. “Beg your pardon?”
“Earlier you said that-”
He slammed his fist on the bedding. “Look, there’s Aline, okay, the skip down there at 19 in containment crying her eyes out because I told her I wasn’t coming back, and then there’s this- thing. This person that’s always in my room at night and when I see them I just- remember them!"
"I just- I see them as someone I've been with, someone I was with, someone I've always wanted to be with, all of the above and it just- feels- I just don't question it! It feels normal, unless I think about it too hard, and when I think about it, when I think about it too hard, I get a headache! I’m not a fucking psychologist, alright, all I do is white-collar bullshit and at this point I don’t know if it’s a hallucination because I get no sleep and always have a headache or it’s something anomalous that we don’t know about, so as soon as I realized that something wasn’t right, I immediately told Blanchard and now we’re here! I feel barely conscious when I’m around her and I-”
“Around who?” The interviewer leaned forward.
“Aline, fucking damn it!”
“Sir, calm down.”
Leeward realized he was gripping the bedsheets with a force that was turning his knuckles white. He noticed Blanchard was standing by the door.
“Who are you referring to?” the interviewer added.
“Whoever it is in my room that’s always waiting for me to come home.”
“Ah, okay. And you sometimes perceive the anomaly in your quarters as the SCP object you were once assigned to, because you’re attracted to it. Were once attracted to it. And this is in reference to the report filed in December 2015 and your subsequent transfer to this Site.”
“Which is why I told Blanchard to take me off the project, yes. I’m not trying to break rules. I never tried to break rules. I haven’t broken rules. I can’t help that-”
“That aspect of the situation isn’t necessary to discuss at this time,” Blanchard interrupted, stepping in and sitting at the foot of Leeward’s bed. “That’s done and gone. We just need to figure out what it is doing this to you so that we can put a stop to it and prevent it from affecting other people – that is, if it hasn’t already.”
“Okay,” he muttered.
“Just stay here and stay calm. I’ll do the asking-around, get all the departments in on your symptoms and see if anyone has a lead. Okay?”
He nodded. He didn’t bother arguing about privacy; it didn’t exist here anyway, no matter what lies the security department made up.
“I’ll be back in several hours.”
“Okay.” He didn’t watch him walk out, instead focusing on the framed picture Agent Ketson had left by his bedside. It was an old print of the two of them standing in a containment wing together. He didn’t remember having it taken.
“Sometimes I wish you had my job, Blanch,” the Cognitohazards & Infohazards Department director told him as he took a seat at their desk.
“Because it’s a pain in the ass?” he said only half-jokingly.
They shrugged. “That, and you’d be good at it.”
He didn’t know what to say to that. “What do you have?”
“Well, the memetics team found a concerning image - a gift from the Are We Cool Yet punks - in the break room.”
“Always something. What’s that have to do with this?”
“We’re still figuring that out. But in preliminary tests and interviews, we’re getting signs that it’s definitely a cognitohazard involving- I don’t know to phrase it, but sexuality is pretty heavily involved.”
He grimaced. “What, you think it's related? Do you want me to ask Leeward if he’s seen it?”
“We don’t know which parts to redact to make it safe to view yet. Hell, I’m not allowed to look at it, even. It’s already fucking up three people from the break room and two of my level 2 researchers.”
“Yes, shit.” They ran a hand through their hair. “Nonetheless, we’re drafting an SCP document now. We’ll let you know.”
"Days. Weeks. This may not even be the right lead."
"It really has to take that long?"
"There's nothing we can do but try, Blanchard. If you shoot a few dozen D-classes our way, I won't complain. Anything to speed it up."
December 1st, 2016, Site-81
"I just want to thank you again for visiting me. You're a- you mean a lot to me."
"I care about you, Lee." Ketson gripped his hand and leaned further toward his bed. "I'm so sorry this happened to you."
"They'll figure it out," he muttered, shaking his head. "And someone's always had worse."
Ketson chuckled. "You want me to move to 81?" He rubbed his palm with a thumb. Leeward wasn't sure how it felt.
"If you want."
"Do you want me to?"
He turned his head to the side and looked into Ketson's eyes. For the first time in a while, he didn't feel pain behind his retinas or in his skull. "If you want."
Ketson smiled and patted his shoulder, standing up. "I'll be back in a few hours."
Several seconds after he left, Leeward heard a knock beside the door. Blanchard walked in. "Hey."
"Didn't want to interrupt you two. Are you alright to talk?"
He sat up and straightened his hospital gown. He wasn't sure why he was still here, come to think of it. Maybe he was sick and didn't know it. Or maybe they just didn't want him going anywhere. "Yeah."
"Okay." He sat down in the chair to the left of the bed, clipboard in hand. "We've got a strong lead on what happened. You're going to need to be amnesticized if we want to have a shot at getting you out of this."
He snorted. "Well, I can't complain about that."
"Oh? I thought you'd be opposed."
He felt memories and emotions swelling back up inside him. "It's for the best." He gulped, hands tensing. "Right?"
"…Yes. It is."
December 3rd, 2016, Site-81
"You sure I can't take it orally?"
"No. It's Class-D. Sorry."
Leeward grimaced as he felt the needle puncture his vein. He'd never done this before. He wondered if it felt as disturbing as the field agents all claimed it did.
"…Wasn't told, no."
"It'll be fine. Lockwood applied as its cont-"
Leeward tried to focus on the voices by the door instead of the sensation of freezing fluid pumping into him, but the doctor attending to him talked over them.
"This has to be done multiple times over a four-day period. It's uncomfortable, but not painful. Expect some confusion for the next four days, but know that you'll regain your standard cognitive function within seven days, and will likely not remember most of this procedure."
He tried to nod, but wasn't sure if he did. His head felt heavy against the pillow.
"There's a chance you'll be unconscious for most of the duration of the procedure," they said conversationally, "and it's common to slip in and out of consciousness as well."
"Are you comfortable?"
"Yes." He wasn't. He felt like he was going to vomit up the entire volume of the blood in his veins.
"Ring your bell if you need anything. We will never be further away than the adjacent room at all hours."
Leeward closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
When next he opened them, he couldn't tell if he was conscious or not. When the doctors gently jostled him and he swiveled his head upward to see Ketson and Blanchard staring at him in their typical blank fashion from the bedside, he blinked once.
"Are you awake?" Ketson said with a slight smile.
They chuckled. "You don't have to be certain. You just have to be alive."
And as he stood and dressed and drank and walked and talked and slept, for days and weeks and months and years on end, he never once stopped repeating that to himself.
And hundreds of miles away, under dozens of meters of concrete and fear and people and paint and paperwork, a young woman wonders if she exists in the memory of the only person she ever loved.