Welcome To The Foundation
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1. Secure

Over a decade ago, an amateur photographer named Iris Thompson was abducted by a nameless organization that most referred to as The Foundation. She was taken because she could perform a small wonder. Because she was abnormal. Because she did not fit into the way reality was supposed to be.

She was barely a teenager when they took her. Naive and bad at keeping secrets. She'd been traumatized by witnessing the murder of her boyfriend in real time through a photograph, then intimidated by lawyers and police officers who told her (falsely) that she was looking at death row unless she told them everything she knew. So she told them everything. No one believed her, except the nodding psychiatrist who had told her it was… Stress. Worry. Or guilt. Could it be guilt?

She didn't have time to find out.

Her parents were told she was killed by an escaping prisoner. A tragic accident that could have been prevented with better funding. They lost their daughter and were given a cause and a crusade and a mission — to make sure that this never happened to anyone else's child ever again.

In reality, they were given a story. A lie. A photograph of a corpse and a coffin with the correct moral heft.

And so her life in the real world ended. Iris Thompson was examined, assigned a containment cell and a designation. A number selected explicitly at random, one of many others in The Foundation's vast database. Iris Thompson was dead. Now, there was only SCP-105.

The Foundation was used to containing people, especially children who hadn't disbelieved their own abilities yet, in the strange, endless, labyrinthine prison of tunnels, bases, and bureaucracy. Secure, Contain, Protect. Preserve normalcy at any cost.

Imprisoning a young woman was trivial compared to what the Foundation was prepared to do, was doing, had already done. Not a single member of the Foundation — from the lowest peon to the highest echelon of the organization — lost sleep over carrying out the containment of SCP-105.

Over a decade ago, give or take a reality reset or two, a promising biomechanics researcher named Jacqueline Johnson was recruited by a nameless organization that most referred to as The Foundation.

Traditional practice was not to reveal much of anything to new Foundation doctors until they'd proven themselves on low-level tasks, handled just-barely-classified anomalies that were little more than a causal step away from established science. A meteorite emitting unusually patterned radiation. A medicine with statistically unlikely side effects. A snail making chemically improbable acid.

But the Foundation researchers who recruited Jackie were impatient. They invited her for an interview at a prestigious (and fictional) pharmaceutical company, one of the Foundation's many ghostly visages. They asked her to sit. They blacked out the cameras and locked the doors, without a care for how it looked — three white men and a white woman in stiff suits locking a black woman in a small, windowless room — and set an apple on the table in front of her.

"Don't eat it," the woman said.

They stood watching Jackie as Jackie watched the apple, baffled, more than a little worried.

The apple slowly decayed, as if time were sped up around it. The skin wrinkled. Bruises blotched. A bright smell of rot as it crumpled in on itself and became swarmed with maggots, spawned from nowhere as if by spontaneous combustion.

The woman gathered up the rotted apple with protective gloves and stowed it away in a heavy black box on wheels.

"How?" Jackie asked.

"Join the Foundation," one of the men said. "And help us find out."

Decades ago, a nameless witch sought out the nameless organization that the Serpent's Hand referred to as The Jailors.

She arrived at one of the largest, most secret Foundation enclaves in the middle of the night, falling through a wispy fold in the fabric of space, hunched over as if wounded. Her hands crackled with lightning.

"I have a message!" she shouted, hoping they heard before she was killed.

She lowered her hands and dropped to her knees. Security surrounded her, weapons raised, fingers nervous.

She could only speak and hope they could hear her. Could do something. "I come from the Serpent's Hand," the witch said. "I am… defecting. I must deliver a message to the O5 Council. Please. Please."

She closed her eyes and collapsed to the ground.

The witch did not wake up for the next seven days. By the time she did, she was secured in a containment cell deep underground, and her existence was temporarily classified at Level 5. She was not given a number, at least not yet. She had a visitor, just one, who was not a member of the O5 Council. They talked, and the witch delivered her message. The visitor left.

They left her in the cell for a long, long time.

2. Contain

Iris Thompson blinked at the sunlight. It had been several years since she'd seen a sun lit sky for more than a few minutes at a time. The light was overpowering, and she kept finding herself looking at her shoes, squinting every time she had to look up.

The agents thought she was shy. Half of them were ecstatic to see her — Are you kidding me? I'll take a sweet kid over that crazy-ass Sumerian sword fucker — and the other half were ashamed or angry — What the hell are we doing? Weaponizing a little girl? Is she even fourteen?

All of them were nervous, though.

They were escorting her to Site-17's mess hall. Another SCP was waiting to meet her.

"Don't worry," Agent Hardwick (who she'd only just met) told her. He was speaking to her like she might have had difficulty understanding words. Over-enunciating. "He won't hurt you. He won't hurt anyone we don't tell him to."

Iris tried to speak, then coughed to clear her throat. She had been conditioned to silence by the general neglect of Foundation custody. "Has he hurt people before?" she asked.

Agent Violete (also only just met) laughed, sharply. "Oh, yes. God yes. Thousands. Thousands just that we know about."

Hardwick frowned. "Hey. She's just a kid —"

"She's an SCP," Violette said, talking over Hardwick. "Just like Able. If everything goes according to plan, then before you know it… Well…"

Violette gave Hardwick a meaningful look. Hardwick looked away.

"Ignore them, One-Oh-Five." A third agent, Weber, met once before. Smiling, friendly. Gun holstered this time. "You got a chance here. A chance most SCPs never get. A chance to serve humanity. To protect normalcy. To defend the world as a real part of the Foundation. If I were in your position… I'd do anything for that chance. Anything at all."

Iris stared at her shoes.

In the Site-17 mess hall, a small crowd of agents were gathered around a far table. They parted as Iris' guards approached, giving space.

Iris stopped, stock-still, a few paces away.

A man sat, hunched over in a bright blue plastic chair that looked completely wrong beneath him. Tall, muscular, hungry-lean. He was shirtless — his body covered in jagged red tattoos. The air seemed to ripple around him, as if with a furnace's heat — her imagination, surely. He seemed like nothing human. Yet he seemed like everything human.

This was him — the man, the monster, the SCP, that they'd told her about — SCP-076-2, "Able" — the one who (supposedly) needed to approve her joining Mobile Task Force Omega-7, the one who, perversely, might decide whether she got to have a life outside her containment cell.

The Foundation's prized weapon.

She knew immediately that he would not like her, that she would be nothing before him, that she would wither under his gaze and turn to ash and dust. Even an ordinary man would never respect a barely-teenage girl, and Able was something more even than a man — something beyond her —

Something inside her rebelled against that. She remembered what Weber said. "Anything at all."

The tattooed man glanced her way, and his gaze fixed on her. The way his face moved was unnerving — smooth, fluid, predatory, then suddenly stopping, too quickly for a human — startling enough that at first she didn't understand the expression on his face.

Interest. Curiosity.

No. More than that. Recognition.

She didn't understand it then, but later, she would realize what she had seen: A monster looking at her, and believing he saw a kindred spirit.

Researcher Jacqueline Johnson sat in the waiting room, and amused herself by reading Foundation intake brochures. She'd been working at the Foundation for a few years, now, long enough to know this wasn't a room you expected to find newbies hanging out in. She wondered why they left them all here.

While the rest of mankind dwells in the light, we must stand in the darkness to fight it, contain it, and shield it from the eyes of the public, so that others may live in a sane and normal world.

"Can you believe all that shit?" her companion asked.

She'd introduced herself as Agatha. She was here to see the legendary Professor Crow, same as Jackie was. She'd let Jackie cut in line ahead of her — insisted, really — a kind enough gesture that Jackie was inclined to indulge her, even though she was clearly a little shitfaced.

"What shit?" Jackie asked.

"All that." Agatha waved in the direction of the brochure. "The threefold mission. Secure, contain, protect." She picked up a brochure of her own. "Such a load of self-serving bullcrap."

Jackie laughed, nervously. It was technically treason, what Agatha was saying. She'd never heard of anyone getting disciplined for talking like this — but she'd also never really heard anyone going this far, not so directly, not in a the waiting room of a Foundation luminary like Professor Crow.

Agatha read her facial expression. "Relax," she said. "You're safe here. Kain doesn't give a fuck. He's one of the good ones."

Jackie shrugged. "I still don't agree," she said.

"Agree with what?"

"That it's a load of bullcrap."

Agatha grinned, the corners of her eyes crinkling up in genuine mirth. "A true believer, huh? That's sweet. You'll get there." She lifted the brochure again. Read from it. "The Foundation operates to maintain normalcy, so that the worldwide civilian population can live and go on with their daily lives without fear, mistrust, or doubt in their personal beliefs…" She let the brochure drop. "Don't you ever think the world could stand to doubt their personal beliefs a little? Just a little?"

"Not if there's panic in the streets," Jackie said.

"Nothing ever got changed without a little panic in the streets. Civil rights, gay rights, the right of women to vote —"

Jackie found herself suddenly pissed. All three of those applied to her. She wondered if Agatha knew, somehow — but Agatha hadn't seemed to recognize who Jackie was —

"That's not the same," Jackie said. "We're protecting humanity. It's not just panic in the street. It's things like 173. It's that ink bottle that could destroy the world. It's the people-eating monsters —"

Agatha was chuckling, which pissed her off even more. "Ah, yes, people-eating monsters. World-ending threats. It's funny how 'people-eating monsters' and 'world-ending threats' so often turn into moral carte blanche to do anything, in the name of containment. Literally anything at all."

"I don't know what you're getting at," Jackie said.

"What's your clearance level?" Agatha asked. "Two? Three? How many SCPs have they thrown at you?"

Jackie didn't answer.

"How many of the things you've contained — that you personally know really, truly, exist for sure, seen 'em with your own two eyes, not just a file marked 'Keter' — how many of those are really people-eating monsters? And how many of them really threaten anything at all?"

Under Agatha's intense stare, Jackie couldn't tell if she was being messed with. Agatha was clearly highly-ranked. Confident enough in her status to say these things to a researcher she didn't even know. Could she really mean everything she was saying? Was this a test? A trap?

The door swung open. "Dr. Rights, Professor Crow will see you now."

Jackie felt a moment of stunned recognition. Agatha. Dr. Agatha Rights. Rights was nearly as legendary in Foundation circles as Crow — no wonder she'd felt she could say anything she wanted —

Agatha's face lit up. "Gracie! Wonderful to see you. I was just making innocent conversation with Junior Researcher Johnson here."

Gracie looked disapproving. "You're drunk, Agatha."

"These days, Gracie? You may as well say I'm awake." She waved the brochure at Jackie. "This one's ahead of me. Go on, Dr. Johnson, dear." Agatha winked. "I'm just here to gossip with someone who'll let me scratch their ears, anyhow."

Gracie showed Jackie to an elevator that took her up into a spacious office. She was greeted, there, by a German Shepherd wearing glasses and a nice suit.

She'd been told what to expect from the professor codenamed Kain Pathos Crow. That he was one of the Foundation's best and brightest. Creator of the Olympia Project. Head of Research and Development, Foundation-wide. And, of course, that he'd been the victim of a tragic and very odd accident that had turned him into a dog.

It was one thing to be told this, and another to see it. The German Shepherd that was Professor Crow wagged his tail, seeing her, and trotted across the room from a doggie bed to a huge desk and jumped into the custom-made chair, and… sat.

"Doctor Johnson, I presume?"

It took her a moment to consciously process that the words had come from the dog's mouth.

"Don't be nervous," Professor Crow said. "Sit down, please."

She sat.

They talked. He already knew why she was here.

Jackie knew Professor Crow could be cold, cold as hell. She'd read what he'd done in research logs. But as she sat there across from him, across from the perked ears and bespectacled snout, she couldn't picture those actions in the hands (paws?) of the man who sat across from her.

Before she could speak, he did.

"I know about the cancer," he said. "And I know that it's terminal."

Jackie felt the world drop out from under her, felt her stomach twist, felt her head ache. She knew it had been a long shot, but she'd expected to at least be able to argue her side of things.

"As you know," he continued, "Project Rhodes is supposed to call for only healthy test subjects."

"Yes, yes Professor," she replied, looking down at her hands, at the omnipresent tremor in her ring and middle fingers.

She wanted to press on with the conversation. Press through it. Get this rejection over with, so she could move on to the next. God. Project Rhodes, the descendant of Olympia. Where Professor Crow would attempt to transform human beings into something else, something possibly spectacular. Something that didn't need to worry about Stage 4 glioblastomas. It was for people who wanted to step ahead. Not a pity project for terminally ill, mid-level researchers.

"But… given the circumstances, I don't really mind," he said.

She looked up at him slowly.

"I've been on the other side of this desk a few times. Been told there was nothing you could do. Been set aside, pitied, and left to die," he continued. "There will be a lot of additional time spent, studying you and your condition as things progress, but —"

"I'm in?" She didn't realize she'd spoken until he bared his teeth in a painfully canine smile.

"You're in," he said. "And, if at all possible, I'll make sure you live."

Jackie left Professor Crow's office, wiping her face. She found herself thinking, whatever Rights had said, that the Foundation couldn't be nearly so bad if it employed someone as odd and kind as Professor Crow.

As she left the office, she didn't see Rights in the waiting room, a fact that didn't dawn on her until much, much later.

They sent Dr. Gears and Agent Troy Lament to assess the witch.

There was a deliberate symmetry here — two Foundation agents with false names sent to assess a Type Blue (if you used GOC-speak to avoid the eye-rolling words "mage" or "witch") who had forgotten her own name. Brain damage. Self-inflicted, magically no less, to allow her to (attempt to) defect to the Foundation without betraying her friends and family in the Hand.

Both Gears and Lament knew her real name (they'd been given her full files, and the Foundation could be relied on to find things like this out), but they were not allowed to tell her.

The witch's containment cell was deep underground, as far away from the sky as possible. Far away from anything a magician could harm. Gears and Lament were led through a labyrinth of tunnels and elevators, going down, down, down.

Lament hadn't seen Gears in a while. He was just back from another stint babysitting another one of the Foundation's bad ideas — Dr. Everett Mann — and Gears was his usual reticent self. But the memories had been getting worse. Since everything that had happened. Everything that hadn't happened.

Lament and Gears were one of the only two members of the Foundation who were being allowed to retain memories from Incident Zero. Competing sets of memories from competing timelines. Lament was allowed to keep the memories as a "test", to quote the old, cold men the O5s had sent to 'interview' him. So both Gears and Lament remembered working together for anywhere between a year and over two decades.

Unfortunately, between the two of them, only Gears was cleared to officially know about Incident Zero. So they couldn't talk about it. At all.

Not that Lament had asked. He'd learned that lesson a long time ago.

When they finally reached the witch's cell, Lament felt a little let down. Maybe it was cruel to have that reaction, but after all that buildup, here was nothing more than an androgynous person chained up in a dark cell, dirty, unwashed, pathetic.

She looked a lot like other Type Blues he'd seen imprisoned by the Foundation. The ability to speak a word and twist the world was impressive, in theory. Until they locked you up in a cell without any of your wands or fairy chains and drugged you until you couldn't tell up from down. At that point, a Witch or Mage or Magician could pass for any denizen of your average mental hospital.

But with all the drama of getting here, he'd expected more. Instead, he just felt sorry for her. He kept the reaction carefully at a distance, as always. Pity was the most dangerous weapon a humanoid SCP had.

Gears turned on a recorder wired to his jacket. Standard procedure. "Subject is using an anomalous technique to maintain mental stability during solitary confinement," he said. "Proceeding as planned."

Lament took his cue. He opened the case he'd brought with him and took out the syringe full of opaque gray liquid. He approached the witch — cautiously, as always. She didn't give any signal that she'd noticed him. Didn't do anything but slightly rock back and forth, mumbling to herself, a strange blank look in her eyes. She still didn't react when he took her arm, pressed the needle beneath her flesh, or injected the syringe's contents into her blood.

And then, as if in a horror movie, the witch jerked her head up and locked her eyes with his.

Lament remembered little after that.

He came back to himself on the way back up through the labyrinth. He groaned.

"Have you recovered to acceptable condition, Agent?" Gears' voice startled him.

Lament rubbed his head. "What happened? Did she…" He felt like an idiot saying the words. "…cast a spell on me?"


"What?" Then he realized. The timing… when things got foggy… there was one other explanation. The obvious one. "They shot me full of amnestics after I made my report."

It wasn't a question, but Gears treated it like one. "That is correct, Agent. You were not cleared to know all the information that the subject imparted."

God dammit. Lament hated amnestics. Hated them. Refused them every time he was given a choice. Obviously, in this case, he wasn't given a choice.

"What did I recommend?" Lament asked, standing up and leaning against the wall. His mouth didn't taste metallic, like it normally did after the drugs, which he found odd. "If I'm cleared to know that."

"You recommended that they not release the subject from containment and that they not enter the subject into Foundation employment," Gears said.

"Oh." A beat. Foundation employment? He couldn't have heard correctly. "Employment? For the witch?" He meant to say Type Blue — or better, the subject — always be professional in front of Gears — but his head was pounding too hard to concentrate on decorum. They must have laced the amnestic batch with something really hefty this time.

"That is correct, Agent." Gears indicated the file folder in Lament's hand. He hadn't even noticed he was holding it, and he squeezed the folder to make sure it was real. "You have been provided with a redacted version of the contents of our interview, including our assessments and the official response to them."

What the hell. An official assessment this quick meant a foregone conclusion. "So what did they decide? About the Type Blue?"

Somehow, even before Gears responded, he knew the answer. The pit in his stomach told him.

And told him that he'd be involved, whether he liked it or not.

They did let the witch out. They entered her in as a new Foundation researcher, classified her background Level 4. Gave her a labcoat, just the right amount of amnestics, and an assignment to work on low-level esoteric anomalies. And they gave her a Foundation code-name. Perhaps because they found her irritating, perhaps because they simply didn't care, the name sounded even less reasonable than usual. 'Tilda David Moose.' Lament had remarked once to Sophia that they should have called her something more convincing, like 'Janet Ethos Malkovitch.' Then Kain could have a friend.

Lament, for his part, tried to be rid of her. Found all kinds of more important things to do. Working for Gears provided an endless font of jobs no one else wanted to take. He took more and more of them. He'd already been doing that anyway, for his own reasons. (If he was lucky, reasons he actually remembered.)

But they kept assigning her to work with him. She was odd, at best. Neurotic. Melodramatic. A certain desperation underpinning her every move. A need to prove herself to two camps.

She kept coming to him with questions, plans, problems. Lament liked solving problems, and he quickly realized she had a shark's sense for people like him. Bleeding hearts in the water. And the higher-ups assigned Moose some really juicy problems, watching as she screwed up, screwed up again, and finally succeeded, more often than not with Lament's reluctant help.

Finally, Moose was assigned to SCP-003. Months later, she was instrumental in stopping a containment breach by 003 — a potentially apocalyptic event, triggered by, of all people, O5-10. She was there for the hearings that removed Ten from the Council. A ringside seat. Worth more than your entire life.

The credibility boost shot her up through the ranks. K-Class scenario researcher — her dream position (and an exceptionally strange level of trust for an ex-Hand Type Blue). Lead researcher on SCP-1000 — then SCP-1985 — then Assistant Director at Site-19. As Lament watched it happen — watched as it was allowed to happen — a literal secret witch gathering influence and political power — he found himself wondering. Was this some new strategy of containment? Or what had been omitted from the files, that he hadn't been allowed to remember?

He wanted to keep his distance. Moose still irritated him, and he still found her overly dramatic and a little pitiful. Always, she had that chip on her shoulder, that paranoia, that edge of passionate resentment. The scars of containment, and whatever secrets she kept from everyone, whatever secrets had led to one O5 or another adopting her as their newest chess piece. Or maybe she'd always been like this, even in the Hand.

He didn't wonder what her secrets were. He knew it had something to do with the O5 Council, some dirty secret or another, something related to her obsession with the many possible ends of the world. He was entirely positive that knowing would help him not even a little bit, and equally positive that the knowledge would make his life measurably worse.

Either way, Moose was clearly dangerous. And she kept making enemies. The last thing Lament wanted was enemies.

Yet as Lament found himself with more and more new responsibilities and political power of his own (absolutely none of which he wanted), he found that — entirely against his will — he and Moose had somehow become friends.

So instead, he waited for the next shoe to drop.

3. Protect

Everyone knew the story of Omega-7, which is to say, the story of Able. How the military arm of the Foundation, in their arrogance, led by a general named Bowe who you couldn't say no to, weaponized one of the most dangerous humanoid SCPs in the Foundation's containment.

How they denied that anything would go wrong — that Able could be trusted, even after the collateral damages began stacking up, even after his boredom and bloodlust started becoming less and less easy to sate, even after his suspicious role with Incident Zero and the thing-that-no-one-was-supposed-to-know-about called the Bloom / the Thorn / the Memory…

How they kept using him, how they said it was for the Foundation's protection, how they toyed with the idea of an official Thaumiel classification, right up until the point where the man (the monster) ripped off his collar and forced the destruction of Containment Area-25, ending so many Foundation lives that the real number was never declassified.

Not everyone knew the story of Omega-7, which is to say, the story of Iris.

They forgot about the girl, the Safe-class SCP, the girl who'd cleverly won her way onto Omega-7 (impressing a monster who was, for everyone else, infinitely hard to impress), who'd pretended to lose her powers to escape from the Foundation (to escape being forced to become an assassin), who'd been released and then brought back in, who'd been put back into standard containment because she was now considered a flight risk (but at least they weren't trying to make her kill people through photographs, she'd thought in relief — though she'd miss the sun, miss her friends), and who was no longer a member of Omega-7 by the time Able tore off his collar.

Few of them saw the girl who heard about Able's breach, when she heard about the ongoing slaughter of everyone she knew and loved (unfortunately, mostly all on-site as active-duty members of Omega-7), when she begged, begged to be allowed to intervene, to protect her friends, to reach through a photograph and wrap a garrote around 076-2's neck, to make the kind of kill she'd run from the Foundation to avoid, not understanding that it was already too late.

No one saw the girl who cried her eyes out for weeks afterward, months, even years, alone in a containment cell, expecting (even though it wasn't true) that she would never see the sun again.

In time, she would make new friends. They tried to assign her friendlier guards and researchers at Site-17. They even allowed personnel to call her by her real name. An attempt to maintain her mental stability, a well-meaning researcher told her. But nothing else changed, for a long time.

They kept SCP-105 in that containment cell for nine years.

Professor Crow was as good as his word. Jacqueline Johnson survived the Rhodes transformation procedures, from the surgeries to the radiation to the implantation of anomalies she couldn't even name. Her cancer was transformed, strand by strand, into a machine in the back of her head and spine, a strange machine that would (soon) work miracles. Crow oversaw most of the procedures himself, his soulful eyes and wagging tail the last thing Jackie saw when she fell asleep and the first thing she saw when she woke up.

In fact, Jackie was one of only a few subjects who survived the Rhodes Project at all. Crow, eyes shining, told her in private that he was proud of her. And she was grateful. More grateful than words could say.

Not only did she survive, but her transformation worked. The first test run sent her to a world that had suffered a scorched-earth apocalypse. The sight should have been grim. But she was so happy that she danced on the (literally) charred ground, her new metallic form leaving deep footprints in the ash as her team cheered. Kain actually barked, then apologized, laughing.

They labeled her K-Class Scenario Research Device R-21. And promoted her to Field Researcher.

Time passed. The work was grim, as she'd known it would be, but Jackie kept her spirits up. She was alive, and among friends.

One expedition, she lost contact with base halfway through the mission. A system failure she'd never experienced before. She kept sending messages at regular intervals, as she'd been trained to —

"Base? This is Field Researcher Johnson. Base, do you copy?"

She was used to being called back manually, a remote command sent to order her systems to teleport her back to the Earth she called home. She wanted for the command.

But it never came.

Eventually, growing more concerned, Jackie picked a fight with an otherworldly monster, and got herself killed. Which, exactly as programmed, sent her back to Earth.

She arrived in Los Angeles, California. In front of bystanders. Not the first time it had happened, but unusual. Her implants had "soft" protection against that. Once she arrived, the implants lit up, sending messages back and forth that she couldn't completely understand, distracting her as she bolted, running away from the shocked witnesses to her arrival from thin air.

This was the first sign that something had gone wrong.

She waited two days, in hiding, growing ever more hungry, lonely, anxious. She was used to spending months in apocalyptic worlds, but never without the constant stream of voices in her ear.

She kept sending messages.

"Base, this is Field Researcher Johnson, again. Base, if you can read me, say something. Base, please respond."

Nothing but dead air.

Not knowing what else to do, she checked herself into a hospital, knowing that the Foundation would find her out once the doctors saw what she was.

When the Foundation agents finally arrived, they came in force, storming the hospital with guns and batons, and they did not know who she was. They took her prisoner — following the procedures she'd known about, in her time as Researcher — and put her in a containment cell.

When they discovered what she was, they did not treat her like a researcher. Field Researcher Jacqueline Johnson did not exist. Professor Kain Pathos Crow had never created Project Rhodes, and in fact they would not tell her if Crow was even still alive. Certainly, he was not relevant, not the way she remembered him. After the failure of Omega-7, playing with anomalous fire had fallen out of favor, along with the researchers who were best at that. Certainly, there was no room for a researcher trapped in the shape of a dog. Let alone an anomalous woman who apparently came from a timeline that had been rewritten while she'd been away.

However bad Kain had it, she had it worse. This was how the Foundation worked. If you were an anomaly, and they didn't know you, or — worse — if they knew you no longer, you weren't a person. You were a thing, something they were protecting the world from. They could do anything they wanted to you. And they did.

Jacqueline Johnson was classified as SCP-1985.

Tilda Moose knocked on the door to the Site-19 Director's office. Which was to say, Dmitri Strelnikov's office.

The door hadn’t been latched properly. It swung open at her touch, allowing the faint sounds of his skipping record player to escape into the hall. The lights were off, but she could make out the dim glow of a cigarette drooping dangerously from Strelnikov's lips. He was slumped in his chair, snoring.

She lifted the needle from the record and knocked quietly on the door sill. Strelnikov sputtered to life, like an antique motor being cranked over for the first time in years. She watched the cylinders of his brain begin to fire as he woke.

"Who the f— …Oh. Tilda. I'm sorry, this is very unprofessional of me."

He leaned across the desk and pulled the chain on a desk lamp, which did not immediately light. A quick rap of the bulb with his knuckles finally compelled it to obey, and he settled back in the chair once again.

Moose was about to take the empty seat on the other side of his desk. Strelnikov stopped her, motioning silently for her to come across and sit next to him. She did, wondering.

"Thanks, Dmitri. You wanted to see me?"

Strelnikov cleared his throat. "Would you like a drink?"

"No, thanks. I'm still on the clock." She never drank.

He uncorked a bottle anyway. "Just as well." He took a swig and set it down among a few personal belongings scattered haphazardly on the desk. An officer cadet photo of himself when he was young, photos of both his wives, and his personal security keycard. "It is not good for the new direktor of Site-19 to be drinking on duty."

Moose blinked, finding herself unexpectedly on guard. The hair on her neck rose. "What exactly do you mean?"

"You are the first to know this, but I am retiring." He made a walking motion across the desk with two fingers. "I leave. I walk. Good byes." His fingers walked to the keycard, picked it up like a playing card and held it out to Tilda. "It is yours."

She sat in silence, stunned. He couldn't be serious —

"Dmitri," she said. "That can’t be mine. I can’t — I mean — they won't — You know why. You know. You can't — you can't go through with this."

Strelnikov snorted and took another drink. "I can and I have. They were fools and let me pick my own successor. Ha! They never expected. I will force it down their throats like a hamburger."

The questionable simile washed over her. "They won’t allow it. There’s no way. You know what I am, Dmitri!"

"A what? A bye-sexual? A non bye-nary sexual? Is that it?"

That wasn’t what she'd meant, but she was in too much shock to immediately correct him. He offered the bottle to her again. This time, she accepted.

"No, Dmitri." The alcohol burned going down. "A witch."

"Baahhhh!" He waved his hand dramatically. "What even is witch. Nobody cares."

"I think a hell of a lot of people care."

"They do not care if they do not know. This means…" He stretched his arms out wide. "Nobody cares."

"I have a lot of enemies. The directors all know, and they don’t always agree with me."

"They do not agree with me either. That is why I do this." He laughed. "Because fuck them. Fuck them all." Strelnikov rested a hand on the photos of his wives.

Moose knew the photos. One wife from each of his lives: before and after the Foundation. Moose had heard the stories about them, in fits and starts, in brief asides here and there. Moose had even met the second wife, briefly — Agent Break. One of the Foundation's best and brightest. Until she wasn't. Until she was gone. Dead, alive — no one knew.

Neither of Strelnikov's wives were dead. It didn't matter. Both were gone. Both because of the Foundation.

"Fuck them all," Strelnikov repeated.

Moose stayed silent, looking at the photos.

She closed her hand around the keycard.

The night after, when she told Lament, he gave her a pained smile that didn't touch his eyes. “Congratulations, Director. I hope you know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

Weeks passed.

After a long day filling out forms, she found someone waiting for her when she arrived back in her quarters, at midnight. A figure, staring out the window, in silhouette.

No one she knew would be waiting in her quarters. Yet something stopped her from calling the guards. Instead, she stood stock-still, trying to take in this new development.

The figure turned. Looked at her, coolly.

And Moose remembered. Before stepping in this room, she did not remember this person. Now, the image felt burned into her brain. A name.

"Bluebird," Moose said.

"You remember me," Bluebird said in a voice that sounded like singing, that was accompanied somehow. "You didn't take everything."

"I took as much as I could." Moose still couldn't remember much about the person standing in front of her. Only a flood of emotions, heartbreak, loss, a kind of love. All disconnected from solid details. "I wouldn't betray you. I made sure I couldn't betray anyone."

Bluebird turned away. "You did betray me. You betrayed all of us. And yourself."

Thoughts raced through Moose's mind. She couldn't think of what to say. In that moment, what Bluebird said seemed objectively true, in thirty-foot flaming letters in her mind.

Bluebird turned towards her again. "Look at you. You don't belong here, playing these little power games. Telling yourself grandiose stories." A shake of the head. "You tell yourself you are a protector. But you are no such thing. You cannot even protect yourself. After all you've sacrificed, what have you accomplished? Have you saved the world?"

It took Moose a moment to realize a response was required. But the response was obvious.

"No?" Bluebird asked. "If not… was this all worth it?"

"It has to be," Moose said.

"Future Director of Site 19." Spite in Bluebird's voice. "Prestigious position, isn't it? Was that your thirty pieces of silver?"

"No," Moose blurted, stupidly. "No —"

"You should have some conversations with Cain. About what he did to his brother."

Silence. Moose wanted to protest, to beg. To do… something. No part of her was prepared for this. Her old life was supposed to be silenced, gone.

"My family," Moose said. She hadn't meant to ask about this. She had meant to ask something totally different. How did you get in here? What do you want with me? Why won't you — "My parents. The… others. What happened to them? Are they alive? Are they okay?"

"You don't get to know that," Bluebird said. "Oh no. You cast yourself into the wilderness. And now, you will wander."

She wanted to protest — but it was true — and imagine — the future Director of Site-19 asking questions like this — having a conversation with a member of the Hand, who had infiltrated the very site she might soon be in charge of —

"Do you hate me?" The words slipped out. She instantly hated how childish they sounded. Unbecoming of her, of the reputation she'd so carefully built.

"No. I feel sorry for you. You're a prisoner here, too. It's only that you're also your Jailor."

Moose couldn't speak.

"This is my message for you," Bluebird said. "Let us know when you're ready to come home."

The dim lights outside flickered for a moment, and after that instant of darkness, Bluebird was gone.

Moose waited, in silence, for a long time.

She should report the incident, she knew, but she sat in the darkened room and said nothing. I am home, she wanted to say, but she couldn't say it and risk the words coming out hollow. She didn't want to be that person. She didn't want to be a failure, to be alone.

The Foundation had to be worth it.