"Ah, Dimaccio," said Dr. Alto Clef, Director, Training and Development, Combined Mobile Task Forces, SCP Foundation.
"Clef," said Paul Dimaccio. "This is the rook." He motioned to the woman at his left.
"Ah," said Probationary Field Specialist Jane Weiss, Somewhat Nervous Brand-New Member, MTF Theta-90. "Um."
"Oh, knock it off, Weiss." Dimaccio rolled his eyes. "Who do you think he is, Lucifer?"
"Ms. Weiss." Clef's tone was as neutral as the room's décor. "I wish these idiot stories would just quit circulating. For the six-hundred and sixty-sixth time" — Clef allowed himself a brief smile — "I am not Satan."
Weiss blinked. She didn't feel particularly convinced.
"However." Clef motioned for Dimaccio and Weiss to sit. "I am a devil for punctuality, so I would appreciate Theta-90's timely arrival for future meetings. It's like dealing with those clowns from the Eee-Woo sometimes. And I mean, literal clowns, as of last week. But I digress. I believe all of us are present?"
They were. Around the extraordinarily large black marble table sat commanders, team leaders or other senior members of every single permanent Mobile Task Force currently active, plus a few non-MTF units to boot. Even those MTFs deployed in the field had at least one delegate present. It was an impressive sight, thought Weiss.
"Okay." Clef pushed a button. "Let's get started."
"Fuck." Clef frowned. He pushed the button again, rather harder. Nothing continued to happen. "Shit."
Agent Jackson of MTF-Zeta-5 ("Networkers") cleared his throat. "Sir, I—"
"Shut up, Jackson," Clef said, without looking. He was squatting, peering into the recesses under his podium. "Ah, there we go." A pop-buzz of suddenly powered speakers and a sudden illumination of a projector screen. The illumination resolved itself into the words "SCP Foundation Mobile Task Force Directorate: Semi-Annual Training Meeting" rendered in tasteful blue text on a pale yellow background.
"Um. Sir." Weiss looked out of the corner of her eyes at Dimaccio while whispering. "Why is there, uh…"
"A PowerPoint presentation? What did you expect, Weiss? How did you think these things go?"
"I had imagined something a little more exciting, sir."
"You'll be lucky, Ms. Weiss." The searchlight of Clef's sudden gaze made Weiss intensely uncomfortable. "We're all slaves to Microsoft just like everyone else. Well, before we bought them, of course. Now." The searchlight swept the room. "I only have a few slides this time."
"Thank heaven for small mercies," someone muttered.
"Watch it, Mackenzie. As I was saying. I only have a few slides this time because this meeting, if you will all recall, was intended to summarize our progress towards the goals we outlined at the start of the year." Clef paused. "And from what I can tell…"
He clicked a button. The screen switched to the second slide, which, in bold underlined red text on a black background, said: "We Haven't Done Shit."
There was a certain amount of uncomfortable shifting in seats.
Clef pointed to the slide. "Seriously. This is getting fucking stupid. We outlined four major goals for every single unit to concentrate on in their training programs this year. Dimaccio!"
"Last in, first question. What was the first goal?"
"Increase containment-to-casualty ratio by at least 20%."
"Indeed it was." Click. A slide filled with depressing statistics popped up. "And CON2CAS has, indeed, increased! By… two percent." Clef held up two fingers. "This is for those of you what can't count good. Two fucking percent. I know we've had some bad recoveries this year so far but these casualty rates are just bullshit. And look at how many are from operatives trying to save their buddies! I want you to focus on getting your MTFs' priorities in order. Containment, Team, Self does not mean Containment Gets Ruined Because I Help My Special Friends At Expense Of Self! Containment first." Clef suddenly pointed. "Doctors Boyd!"
"Yessir!" The Boyd siblings, temporarily representing MTF Omicron-64 ("Food Standards"), did their best rabbits-in-headlights act.
"Second goal. Any time you like."
"Um," said the male half of the pair. "Uh, take at least—"
The female Boyd sibling frowned at her brother, holding up a hand to silence him. "That's not it. It's, uh, to measurably increase operative scores in secondary-role assessments."
"Which hasn't happened. Has it, Ms. Boyd?"
"I, uh, I don't know, sir."
"You can just say 'no,' Ms. Boyd. Context should give you a little clue there. Secondary-role scores have decreased over the last half a year. I know some of the reasons" — another click, another slide — "but it's just not good enough."
At least he's not going to ask me, thought Weiss.
"What was the third goal?"
"I, uh, I don't know, sir."
"And why not?"
"Because, uh, this is my first Foundation-wide MTF training meeting, sir."
Weiss remained silent. Clef remained silent. It would have been very tense indeed if everyone had remained silent. Fortunately, there was a delegate from RCT-Δt present.
"Well, you could have come to us, and… ah." Researcher Kitterman trailed off as the searchlight found him but, to his credit, retained his composure. Several other delegates glanced at him strangely.
"I know you think Delta-T has the magical answer to everything, Kitterman, but I have a message from the future for you." Clef paused for just over eleven seconds. "It doesn't." Clef turned back to Weiss. "The reason you don't know is that Task Force Commander Dimaccio" — pivoting again — "hasn't told you about it. Why not, Dimaccio?"
Dimaccio indicated Weiss. "Probationary Specialist. She isn't supposed to be doing that yet. And we weren't going to talk about it until a full year had passed, per the last meeting."
"Dimaccio." Clef's mouth twitched; it looked a bit like a smile might look after being put through the garbage disposal. "Why do you have to spoil my fun?"
"I'm known for it."
"Yes, you are, you miserable bastard. Fourth goal. Green!"
Agent Green straightened slightly. "The fourth goal was to reduce collateral damage by, if I can quote exactly, "a fucking ton" as compared to last year's performance, sir."
"Yes! Yes it was. And despite the sterling efforts of people like yourself — no, I really mean it, there was comparatively little in your last outing, considering — that hasn't happened, either." Click. "Look at this."
They looked at it. Nobody said anything for a few seconds.
Clef slowly turned back to Green.
"Agent Green. Would you mind explaining to the class why my carefully prepared final slide has been replaced by…" Clef mimed squinting at the slide, "by a gigantic, childishly drawn, flashing cock-and-balls that appears to float out of the screen and would, if not for the cognitomemetic safeguards in place in this room, be inducing us all to believe that everyone in the room was actually a giant, crude phallus?"
"No, just you," muttered Mackenzie.
"You're fucking hysterical, Mackenzie. Agent Green?"
Green sighed. "I'll look into it, sir."
"You do that, Green. I know those people like to target you in particular but when their little vendetta messes up hours of work on my goddamned presentations, I tend to take it personally." The speakers popped again, and the image on the screen faded away. "Okay. Break for lunch. If you can drag yourself from the delicacies of the Site cafeteria, be back here by half past one. That's 1330 to you, Theta-90, if you'd be so kind. And Weiss?"
"There's never a third item in these lists. We pull that to see how all you greenhorns deal with it."
"Oh." Weiss noticed a few of the faces around the giant table smirking as they got up to leave.
"Don't sweat it. You didn't fuck it up too badly. By the way: your name. Whyss or Vice?"
"Whyss it is, then. Now go away."
Weiss opened her mouth to correct Dr. Clef, thought better of it, closed her mouth, and went to lunch.