All in All You're Just A 'Nother Brick in the Wall
rating: +40+x

"Enter the credentials already slowpoke!"

"Ok! Ok, I'm going! I'm going."

Sherry Andrews’ foot tapping keeps time as her husband, Leep Andrews, types with the rhythm.

NOTICE: CHANGE OF ROLE DETECTED. PLEASE ENTER NEW USER IDENTIFIER AND ACCESS CODE.

USER CODE: O5-1#3

KEY PHRASE: DOES THE BLACK MOON HOWL? DO THE 13 AWAKEN?

IDENTIFIER AND PHRASE ACCEPTED.

Welcome to the Council, O5-1. 15 new messages, and 22 new tasks available.

A silhouetted figure is oriented facing the camera, most of their upper body is obscured by darkness. A desk sits between them and the camera. A window is discernible to the right, and illuminates portions of the room with a setting sun, including a door to the left behind the figure.

The flash of a lighter ignites the end of a cigar, and the embers contrast the surrounding darkness. A ring of smoke floats into the light before dissolving.

Figure: I've been staring at this camera for more than an hour, debating on how to address you, both of you. Cliche openings, launching straight in, political greetings and asking questions you would surely be wondering about yourself; all have passed through my brain like a shooting star on Christmas, but that feels disingenuous. Perhaps, that's why I chose you.

His speech trails off into muttered words too soft for the microphone to pick up.

Figure: Or perhaps, this is merely why my predecessor left naught but a three line letter. On my desk. On my first day.

Sherry looks at Leep and then back at the monitor, her brows wrinkle in annoyance at the babbling of the figure on the screen, wishing he would hurry up and get to the point.

The soft-eyed man next to her tilts his head slightly, a curious look crossing his freckled face.

Another ring of smoke, followed by a sigh.

Figure: 108 years. I know Sherry asked. That's how long.

"I didn't ask anything." Sherry responds, giving Leep a firm frown.

"But you were thinking it." Leep fires back, booping her forehead gently. He briefly pauses the video, the screen light highlighting a smattering of golden brown hair arranged in neat brushstrokes.

His eyes drift to the locked closet door left and behind them, before back to the screen.

"Am I really that easy to read?" Her voice drips with disbelief. Chaotic, curly, maroon hair gleams from the screen's light.

"No, but you start to get the basics after knowing you for so long, Lava-girl."

A fist impacts his shoulder. "Dickweed."

His grinning lips curl downwards slowly. His brow furrows into fine lines. "How he came to that conclusion without knowing you is beyond me."

"I'm sure he had spies all over Site-234… all the O5's have networks. Play the video of the living dinosaur, and lets keep interruptions to a minimum, otherwise we'll never get anything done."

Figure: …We'll start there. Yes, that's a good place.

Momentary pause followed by a long series of wet, phlegm-filled coughs.

Figure: "I apologize, my lungs are still adjusting to the constant airflow and moisture, and there may be further interruptions. Where were we?"

The feed cuts abruptly, and several objects in the room have changed position.

Figure: Right, yes. This will be the first thing you see, or at least I think it will be, I'll have one of my aides check it to be sure. Corduroy, yes Corduroy is reliable. My predecessor didn't give me the luxury of a moving picture recording, we didn't have it in 1911, much less the wonders that is the internet. There are things you're going to see and hear that may shock you to your core… things about your past, and my past, and our interactions.

"What's he talking about?"

"Shhhh."

"Don't shush me golden boy."

"He's going to tell us, just be patient."

Figure: You currently know me as O5-1… but the moniker is neither my name, nor my sole identifier, nor even the first of the identities I have gone by. O5's… we take… great pride in selecting our successors, and unlike my colleagues, who prefer to groom their successors near the time of their departure from the organization, I decided to begin that search far earlier… it was, in many ways, very different and far more exquisite. The consequences… were also different and more pronounced. My predecessor never did anything remotely close to it.

O5-1#2 coughs again, holding a rag to his shadowed and indiscernible face.

O5-1#2: Sherry, my little striker, do you recall the softball game when you were 7, two years after you began bouncing between homes, and how the ball came at you at a perfect angle, and you made a precise calculated swing that nailed it out of the park while everyone screamed? How proud your foster family was of you? How they still celebrated your personal victory, even though your team lost.

She tenses at the nickname. "How did… I haven't thought about any of that in… ages."

O5-1#2: Or perhaps more familiar, your journey to the men's state judo championship, the raging volcano, in high school? How you miraculously faced down defeat only to sweep every remaining round to win, and then cried in the locker room for 30 minutes because you broke your wrist and two fingers in the process. You were too proud to go for help right away, and oh so disappointed when it ended your competitive career. How proud you were when you won the science fair, ecstatic when you jumped straight into a PhD after getting your bachelors at such a young age. Talented, physically strong, beautiful and intelligent. Hotheaded, impulsive, and always ready to act.

She sits up, hairs rising on the back of her neck. "Leep those names that eve— I've only told a couple of people about the Judo thing."

Leep's face wrinkles. He opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again.

O5-1#2: Leep, do you recall the days of elementary school, of building a reputation for carrying a large quantity of pencils. What was it they called you… yes that's right! Pencil Man! How you tried so hard to retain them, as they seemed to slip from your grasp at every opportunity. Do you recall forgetting things left and right, unable to control the torrent of emotions, and the struggles of crushing expectations. Do you recall the moment you began to overcome it, facing down the bullies who mocked your proclivities, your shortcomings?

Leep remains quiet. Sherry intertwines her fingers with his, and squeezes. He rubs the side of her hand with the interlocked thumb, squeezing back.

O5-1#2: Little golden genius, do you recall the bruises and cuts, the lacerations from standing up to those much stronger than you, while you sat in the bathroom in high school after five minutes of on and off bully swirlies. Crying, suffering, and alone, toilet water in your wounds. Teachers who stared on, but did nothing. You swore you wouldn't be like them. You'd make a difference and stop it. The cruelty you endured. Yet you persevered. You graduated top of your class, got a bachelors, and then your PhD. Resilient, quiet, thoughtful, aware, and intelligent. At times overcautious and slow to act.

More coughing.

O5-1#2: You both caught my attention very young and you must understand, this position requires discretion and secrecy, or at least, in the earliest days it did, when we were young and small and the rules were more clear. Everything has changed from the days of my predecessor.

A puff of smoke as the cigar end lights with embers. The feed cuts again and objects have shifted, as has the light in the room.

O5-1#2: My predecessor preached about rules and discretion and secrecy, they mattered more than preparing me for what was to come. I was incapable of meeting either of you with my face.

O5-1#2: As a part of many of the projects I undertook, I acquired skills in thaumatology, which I may have used liberally to become entwined in your lives. A change in skin, of shape, of face. Years I lived as people you knew.

"…the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Sherry interjects, eyebrows crinkled in confusion.

The man leans forward into the light. The face is rugged, bearded, with a sharp jawline and a strong forehead.

O5-1#2: "Great hit striker, I knew you could do it."

Sherry stands, knocking her chair backward, a thud echoing as it tips over. "Coach Reggie?" Her knees waver, entire world swirling, thoughts racing.

Rounding home, there with hand posed for a high five.

In the locker room on the floor, crying, he walks in.

In front of a poster, proudly holding a ribbon for him to see.

Graduation.

Receiving Bachelors.

Handed PhD.

A black casket, and a flower wreath.

Sherry remains standing hands balled into fists at her side, lips curling back, eyes burning with pained green flames.

The man leans back into the shadow and then leans forward again. The face has shifted into a soft eyed man with baby fat cheeks, a look of gentle kindness and compassion etched into the aging flesh.

O5-1#2: Why so down Pencil Man?

Leep's eyes widen and his hands clench the bottom of his chair so tightly they begin turning red. "…Uncle Barry?" The room seems to tilt, his stomach flips.

On the doorstep with welcome cookies, boxes all around.

On the sidewalk, drawing with chalk. Pencil man with a cape.

On his couch crying. Hair soaked in toilet water.

Graduation, Valedictorian.

Bachelors, Summa Cum Laude.

Across the stage in green and gold. The Doctorate in tow. Him, smiling in the front row.

Wedding bells. In a tux, standing at the front, with that kind gentle smile. A wink and a nod before The Kiss.

Morbid Bells. Tux again. Lined casket, white lilies. Turned away, tight holding, heavy tears.

O5-1#2: Now you see. I've been with you all along. Helping you grow. Pushing your path forwards. The only thing I never foresaw, never accounted for, was you, both of you, meeting… a pleasant surprise and strong comp-"

The video pauses as the keyboard is slammed. Crushing silence chokes the room, time slowing until each second feels like a year.

Maroon hair matches red complexion as she starts to say something, but all that comes out is a pained, choked noise of barely contained hurt and rage. She stares at her hands, clenching and unclenching her fists.

The silence ends as Leep picks up a pen, then a stapler, then a ruler, and loudest of all, a paper tray; and throws them at the potrait of O5-1#2 on the wall, the face removed at some point shortly before their acquiescence into the position. The pen sticks in the chest of the painting.

"You monster! You fucking coward! How could you. How fucking dare you!" A stapler smashes into the painting, furthering the already present tears. Any throwable object is shortly impacting at or around the painting, leaving scratches and dents in the wood of the wall. "Was any of it real!? Was any of it our choice!? Did you ever give a damn about us, or were we just replacements, pawns in your sick and twisted game?" Sherry recoils in the face of the sudden outburst, doing her damnedest not to cry.

Tears steam down the golden-haired administrators face, as he scrambles to find more things to throw, a basket full of paper clips, a hole puncher. Anything to destroy the legacy of his deceiver.

"Leep…" his partner manages, her voice hoarse and croaked, fighting off sobs of distress.

"I loved you like a father! And you… you… twisted it, used and prompted. Then you have the gall to stand there, and dump all the lies, all the deceit and falsehoods, that we endured for 20 fucking years in a video."

He picks up the name plaque on the desk and throws it, denting the wall behind the painting.

Sherry's vision swims, looking down at her hands, shaking. Strings attached to her arms swim in and out of reality, and sound seems to dull. A cruel voice, her own voice, whispers in her ear. "You control your own destiny, these are your choices. Except, he chooses for you, you'll always be a puppet."

"Leep?" Sherry says in a small voice, too softly for her partner to hear over the collision of a tape dispenser with the wall. She fails to choke back the tears as they flow down her cheeks.

"FUCKING COWARD, you didn't even have the balls to stand here!"

Sherry shuffles towards the door, her way out of this nightmare, panic and distress etched across her face, vision still swimming. "You're nobody. He made you. You're a lie."

Leep picks up his chair, vision red, holding it over his head ready to throw it. Sherry's movement catches his attention, as she tries to jiggle the handle and open the locked closet.

"Sherry, that's the closet." His voice still hot with anger, as she turns around, tears streaming down her face. She lets out a pained sobbing noise, unable to escape.

The rage fades from his reddened features, cheeks sagging as he drops the chair, impacting the ground with a thud, and rushes to her. He enraptures her by wrapping his arms around the woman's waist, feeling his alter ego tremble against his chest. Hot tears drip onto his shoulder as she shudders with quiet sobs. One arm rubs up and down her back, the other cradles her tight, supporting and comforting. He sniffles and chokes, gasping as the hot tears roll down his face.

"L-l-l-leep wh-what do I do? None of it was real?" Sherry barely manages, voice strangled and hoarse.

Leep squeezes in response, and maneuvers her to the couch in the office. Both of them collapse onto it, coiled in each others arms.

"It was all a lie. A fat stinking lie. He always said… who I became, and what I would be known for was my choice. No one else's… But I was a puppet. There was never any choice. Everything was decided by him." She chokes. Something between a gasp and a strangled wail vibrates into Leep's shoulder. "I've never been anything but a tool!"

"N-n-no." Leep manages, swallowing between sniffles, clinging to her like a child clings to a parent before they depart for a long trip. "No you're wrong, you're a person, a human being who's fought, and suffered, and carved their own way."

A strangled laugh followed by a choked half gasp escapes her lungs. "H-h-how can you be such an irritatingly, optimistic, golden boy in the face of the fact that we were pawns in his game."

"Because, there are many things he never chose for you or for me. Many choices you made, that he could never have stopped. And one you did above all else, because you wanted it." His voice breaks halfway through speaking, her hands squeezing the flesh of his back.

"N-n-no, every choice that ever mattered he had his grubby hands in. None of it was me."

"You're wrong, there is one that mattered above the rest. That was all you."

She screams into his scrawny shoulder. "For fuck's sake Leep, there is nothing!"

"I won't, no I can't. I won't let you break. There is one, and it mattered more to me than any other choice you ever made."

"What! What choice possibly could have mattered more than everything else!" She punches the couch, clinging to his warmth.

"You chose me." He chokes out.

An intense, heavy silence blankets the room, broken only by the shuddering sobbing breaths of the couple holding each other.

"You're the fucking worst." She finally manages, words contradicted by the affection in her breaking voice, as their sobs and breathing slow.

"You chose me when I wasn't interested. For three fucking years after we met you badgered me until I finally fucking agreed to go on a date with you. You remember that date?" Leep stutters out.

"Cheesecake Factory." A strained and hollow laugh follows. "Never fucking thought you'd say yes. Also didn't expect the dress."

"No one tells me what I can and can't wear. Beating up the muggers in the alley really changed my view." he manages to chuckle out, what little light was in the room extinguishing as the screen goes into sleep mode.

"And you just kept choosing me, through the mistakes, the bad food, the days of silence focused on tests, Sitting in the same room alone with 50 binders open, in each others laps, while one of us had fallen asleep." He runs a hand through her hair, spindling out fibers slowly.

"In the end you, not me, not this, not him, but you, you proposed. That was the choice you made, the road that you took, and that I chose to walk with you. Every single day of these past five years, the happiest years of my life, have been because we chose each other each and every morning. Nothing he says," He points at the ruined painting, anger rising in his chest once more, "can change that. You're my Crimson Warrior, now and forever."

"You… are the cheesiest, sappiest romantic blockhead I know…" She says with a deep breath, slowly sitting up and meeting his eyes. "And I can't believe I've tolerated it this long." She manages a weak and unsteady smile, as she wipes a lingering tear off his face, hands shaking. "A tool." Softly echoes in her mind.

Leep hugs Sherry again and they enjoy a quiet moment of shared warmth as they both try to regain their composure. Leep's eyes lock on the painting, unkempt fires of rage burning behind them. Sherry stares blankly at the mirror, at the lie staring back. They squeeze each other harder. Eventually, the red-head pulls away, and looks over at the screen. "So, what now?"

Leep furrows his brow. "We should probably finish it."

"I don't know about you, but I've already had my entire world shattered once today, and that's more than enough." A frown creases her face, lips trembling.

"Fair, but if we don't finish it, we'll be flying blind." He retorts.

"Ugh. Are you sure? Can't we just delete it?" She groans.

"Absolutely not. We may want to refer back to it later."

"Fiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnneee. I'd rather send it to the Ethics committee, and let them handle it." A huff escapes her windpipe.

Leep stares at her, dumbfounded for a moment, before a massive grin creeps across his face.

"What? Leep, don't give me that look, I *know* that look."

"Sherry, you're fucking brilliant." He hugs her again, she makes a 'squeezed too hard' face. "We'll just send it to the ethics committee."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" She asks, gently and hesitantly loosening his grip, before pushing him off, "They hate the O5's."

"They hate the current stock of O5's, according to Rickey. We're new." He says, almost bouncing.

"Ooooooooooook, I'm skeptical but its at least worth a shot." They both stare into space for a moment, and shudder at the stories they've heard of the Committee coming down on rules violations. They both stand up, leaning on each other for support.

"Ready?" Leep asks.

"No, but I don't think I ever will be. Skip ahead to wherever he's not talking about us."

They return to the desk, slowly and wobbly. Leep rights his chair. The video skips 30 seconds ahead, Leep sliding the mouse across the time bar, to a point where O5-1#2 is puffing from his cigar once more, his true face still hidden in the shadows. Leep's free hand holds his wife's, steadying her shaking.

O5-1#2: Sherry, Leep, you must be angry. Furious. No, Sherry must be broken, shattered like the debris disk of colliding asteroids in the moments of creation under the endless stars of the Mither's hand. Needless to say, every moment of deception, every second of elusive misperception of your reality has painted and twisted my guts in Shakespearean tragedy.

"Fuck off, you don't give a rats ass about either of us." Leep growls, with no intensity. Sherry is silent.

O5-1#2 descends into a deep series of rasping, plhegm-filled coughs, a fast motion that reflects light off his hands in an unnatural way moves upwards, clutching his throat. For a few moments, it seems as though he might choke to death.

"Fuck, is he going to die on camera?"

"It would certainly be karma."

"Sometimes Leep, sometimes you sound colder than me."

He finally recovers, and continues in a hoarse voice, filled with delirium.

O5-1#2: But you see, I already pay to the mother for my crimes and abuses of the gifts which were not mine to take.

O5-1#2 fully leans into the light, revealing most of his features.

The video stops, and an oppressive silence rolls over the two Junior O5's like a thick fog.

"W-w-what the hell?" Leep's mouth hangs open wide.

"Are those…?" Sherry's brow wrinkles, confusion flickering in her green eyes.

O5-1#2's face is disfigured by luminescent blue scales crisscrossing the right side, his neck is swollen, and distended, covered in even more scales, large gaping slits with wavy membranes fluttering in the office's breeze all the way down his shoulders. Trickles of blood ooze from them. The top is half unbuttoned, his torso distended by two large holes just below the clavicles.

Leep pushes the play button again, both he and his wife utterly speechless. It's all too much for one day.

O5-1#2: I'm doomed to become one of them. I suppose it's only fair, I took from you, she takes all of me for herself.

He coughs profusely, a trickle of blood leaking out of the corner of his mouth.

O5-1#2: But enough about all this and that. Lets get to the meat, the clams and mussels and crabs of what you'll be doing as an O5… before the lady of our sorrows takes me once and for all to the realm of the sea, 001. Yes, the big number no one talks about, I know that you Leep are practically dying to hear about it, and Sherry is bouncing in her seat.

Sherry remains deathly still in the chair, her husband's jaw practically on the floor as the part man, part fish, part unholy magical abomination continues to ramble.

O5-1#2: There's not just one. There's 13 of them, and each of us ha- that is, the O5's- has one that they are responsible for. They're more like, long term projects, huge goals that we constantly work on containing or researching, or fighting, you get the grand collage of the idea.

He coughs again, maroon drips onto his desk.

O5-1#2: In your limited frame of mind, you've always viewed SCPs as singular anomalous things, people, locations, events, et cetera. Isolated abnormalities in the universe. It's simultaneously a truth and a falsehood. This is nothing like you will have ever worked with at Site-234. They are bigger, deeper, more connected, and have moving parts that usually consist of those smaller abnormalities that we classify. Some are of such cataclysmic scale that failure on our part would mean the end of everything. Believe me, we have failed before. Some, like 13's, are so far beyond any of our comprehension that we've lost track of what it is.

A raspy sigh emanates from the speakers.

O5-1#2: Your 001… my 001 is now yours. It's both a weight off my chest, and an ache on my heart. In the minutes and hours to come, you will learn the scope and scale of the task before you… and as I waste away in my saline bath in the next room, I can only hope that everything I did best prepared you for the journey to come. When this video ends, a window will open on your screen, it will have every one of my files on the 001, including the documentation report, as well as logistics, personnel, anything you can think of under the mithers stars in the days before the great cataclysm and age of sealing. Good luck, Striker, Pencil man.

He smiles before the video ends, and a window pops open on the screen.

Sherry and Leep both remain in place, in stunned silence, eyes not focusing on the screen even as one of the files opens on its own. At least two minutes, perhaps more, pass before Leep routely types in the login information left for them at the end of the video screen.

"…"

"…"

Both Leep and Sherry slowly look at each other, having stopped on the same line.

"What, have we walked into Sherry." Leep says, exhaustion and lingering rage weighing on his voice.

"Battleships, clearly." She quips back, no mirth in her voice. "What do we do with all this, and him, what was that, should we read the rest?"

"You know, at this point, I think these are questions and problems for later. Lets go lie down… and try to forget."

"You know me too well." She smiles, a forced effort, hollow and empty as a tiny voice lingers in the back of her mind. "You're a lie."

"Like I said earlier, an open book." He rubs his thumb across the skin of her palm.

rating: +40+x
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