You're a Toy, Mr. Sanderson
rating: +37+x

149 Scranton Lane
Unincorporated Site-92, Los Angeles, CA
8:42 PM, June 24th, 2032

"So, are you gonna tell us?"

"Tell you what?"

"About the mission. What really went on?"

"Everything the report said went on. We lost the anomaly, we lost the-"

"Yeah but like- did it talk? This was a humanoid, right?"

"Pfft. A human, yes. And a famous one at that. She's one of the most prominent anti-Foundation public figures out there. You've probably seen their advertisements in the paper."

"Oh, the law firm. Leeward and Warner Legal Solutions, right? And the skip is Warner?"

"Yep. We've been trying to recontain her for years, but she keeps finding the legal loopholes to avoid it."

"Shit, yeah."

Brent Sanderson feels a twinge in the back of his skull. Like a feather is tickling his brain matter, right down there on the cerebellum. "Look, I don't want to talk about this."

"Yeah, you're tired. Case coming up and everything. I got you."

He nods. Time seems to freeze as he takes in his coworkers' faces. Rogers, Gale, and Kinsey, all from Offsite Response and clad in their silly matching white polo shirts. Andrew, from his team, watching Gale's incessant questioning with a subtle scowl.

"Fair enough, fair enough," Gale says. "So, what are you going to be doing after we leave, Brent?" she adds, pitching her voice higher as if trying to lighten the mood.

Just like that, he feels his awareness snap back into place, leaving him with a terrible headache. It must be the alcohol. Why are they drinking, again? Or maybe something really is wrong. It hurts to think about. "Well, buddy," he answers with an inebriated smirk in his best news anchor impersonation, trying to force his pounding head into a state of calm with humor and distractions, "I'm going to go into my bedroom there and fuck my beautiful wife. What about you, Andrew?"

That moment, when the men start laughing and Gale and Kinsey roll their eyes, is when he notices the smell. It's the popcorn on the table, by the beers. It smells like meat. It reeks of meat. Andrew asks him something, but he's preoccupied with the unmistakable stench filling his nostrils as he leans closer and closer to the bowl.

"You don't have a wife. You're married to the Foundation," Andrew says, chuckling.

Fuck, does he not have a wife? He casts his eyes downward and tries not to think about it.

"What are you doing?" Gale asks, a glare shooting out from under her messy bangs. Her bangs aren't usually this messy. Her skin isn't usually this pale.

"This popcorn. Was it expired?"

Kinsey freezes for a few seconds before smacking her gum and responding. "No."

"Then why does it smell like- you know what, I'm gonna be sick." Brent stands, wobbling, and runs into the bathroom. The mirror is foggy. There are clothes on the floor. A white shirt with red-brown bloodstains, plastered to the cream-colored tile floor with water and fluorescent green fluid. Mouthwash? His eyes move upward. The fluid is dripping down the cabinet door. His headache worsens until it's a searing pain, driving away at the inside of his skull. Keep looking, keep looking, keep looking. Blood in the sink. Skin in the sink. Pink flesh, pink and green. Green fluid leaking all over pink flesh.

"Stay focused, D-2094."

His head snaps upright, and his eyes are closed. "I can't do it," he says aloud in a trembling voice. "This is as far as I can get." He swallows, trying to keep bile from rising up out of his throat. Everything stinks of meat. "Something isn't right, I can tell I said something wrong and got everything off-track. This doesn't feel right, it's like- I can tell that I'm not him, and I'm scared the other people can tell too-"

"Acknowledged. Assume a sitting position and hold your breath for thirty seconds while we cancel it."

He sinks against the wall, his head in his hands.

Research Lab D43
Department of Internal Security and Media Investigations
Site-92, Los Angeles, CA
3:12 PM, July 1st, 2032

"Alright. Alright. Just breathe."

"I can't get further than that. I swear to God." D-2094 sits upright on the table, vision spinning. "Did you take that thing out of my head?" he pants.

"Yes, it's out." Dr. Ruby Licata gestures to the assistant carrying Brent Sanderson's Personnel Identification Implant over to the counter, held aloft in tweezers. "You don't have to do it twice, don't worry."

"Just get me out of here," D-2094 mutters, cupping his hands over his ears with jittering fingers.

"Take him down to Medical," Licata tells the assistant. She nods and starts helping him off the table. Licata takes her clipboard and laptop back into her office, closing the door behind her. She sits down and looks through the checklist. Out of four subjects and ten total attempts, that one key element is starting to look genuinely unrecoverable. And the Media Relations Director and Site Director alike are not going to be happy about that.

A ringing sounds behind her eardrum, quietly. She presses a finger to her temple. "If you're calling about the results, I've got nothing but more of the same."

"Oh? Well, that's not good at all. What exactly is so hard to crack about this chip, huh? Ours seem to be working fine."

"The problem isn't the chips, Director. It's Sanderson."

"What about Sanderson?"

"It's him- well, it's his chip specifically, rather. It's really starting to look like someone messed around with the files, which I know is unlikely given his clean record and good behavior, but I don't think we should rule anything out. Obviously we're now at the point of trying Initiative A's procedure, but it's looking the same as with the other subjects."

"Well, if inserting it into chip readers on the computer and physically transplanting it into a post-amnesticization brain won't yield results, then what do you think will?"

She almost sighs, but remembers that the Director will hear it. "I'm trying to tell you that I think the data on that chip is genuinely unrecoverable, sir. I think he erased the entire memory, at least from the implant."

"You can't amnesticize your PII, Licata. Only your actual brain. You and I both know that."

"Yes, but if somehow one were able to wipe a section of the chip after the memory in question, the brain would be unaware. You remember those developments from last year that the O5 Council sent out for everyone to read."

"Okay, well what do we tell the media, hmm? That it's inconclusive? The Foundation is trying to make the PIIs look trustworthy, Doctor, not easily corrupted and uncontrollable. We have the most advanced system of employee monitoring in the world, and yet we're unable to prove to the media that one of our employees wasn't a criminal even when we stuck a little computer in his skull that records everything he does while on the clock. Do you have any idea what would happen to the PII chip's funding if we find out Sanderson's chip failed to uncover criminal evidence? Oh, and not to mention how under-fire the R&D branch's stocks are-"

"Sir, I-"

"That chip is this organization's last shot at good publicity. If you get this evidence, we'll be down two employees and up immeasurable profits in tech sales. That's a trade worth the trouble. In this economic and political climate, it's time for the Foundation to have money on its mind, Licata. You know it and I know it."

"I agree, sir."

"You have 24 more hours. That is all the press coverage we can handle up here. Get something out of that chip, if it takes one try or a hundred. Understood?"

She gulps. "Understood."

"Great."

A beep sounds and she relaxes her muscles. With a sigh, she looks back down at the desk, hoping that the newspaper clipping she's had sitting there for two days might have something new to offer her.

scan_newspaper.png

Licata sighs and puts the paper back down. She calls out her assistant's name. When she comes to the door, Licata puts her head in her hands. "Is that D-class still around?"

149 Scranton Lane
Unincorporated Site-92, Los Angeles, CA
8:42 PM, June 24th, 2032

"Stay on-topic. Ask them about the anomaly. Don't stray off in the bathroom again. And again, remember not to look in the mirror."

"You okay, Brent?"

D-2094 raises the memory of Brent's eyes up to meet Andrew's. "Fuck. Yeah, yeah. What were you saying?"

"So, are you gonna tell us?"

"Tell you what?"

"About the mission. What really went on?"

"Everything the report said went on. We lost the anomaly, we lost the-"

"Yeah but like- did it talk? This was a humanoid, right?"

"Pfft. A human, yes. And a famous one at that. She's one of the most prominent anti-Foundation public figures out there. You've probably seen their advertisements in the paper."

"Oh, the law firm. Leeward and Warner Legal Solutions, right? And the skip is Warner?"

"Yep. We've been trying to recontain her for years, but she keeps finding the legal loopholes to avoid it."

"Shit, yeah."

Andrew freezes, his hand gripping the condensation-coated glass of beer in his hand. "Wait, this is safe to talk about, right?" he says, voice hushed.

"Y-yeah," D-2094 sputters out. "Yeah, of course. It's… all pretty recent, after all." He cringes as he takes a shot in the dark, but after a few seconds of silence, he can tell he led the flow of events in the right direction.

"You're right," Andrew says. As he stands, the other three people fade into the fabric of the sofa. D-2094 tries not to let his eyes focus on it.

"About what?"

Andrew stands fully and the space near the sofa stretches and buzzes and snaps back into place.

"Can you still read us? That was it. Stay with this."

D-2094 feels a twinge in the back of his skull. Like a feather is tickling his brain matter, right down there on the cerebellum. "Alright," he whispers.

"Alright what?" Andrew says.

"Uh, alright, as in, let's continue. The conversation." He laughs dryly. He's still not sure how he'll ever react normally to the ambient voice of the researcher echoing in his skull with no logical source, and he hopes the saved memories of Brent's coworkers don't notice him acting oddly.

"Oh, right. Right." He freezes, unblinking.

D-2094's right ear whines and screeches before the warped imitation of a voice comes back into his head. "That's not quite it. Change the topic. Talk about fighting, talk about combat, or anomalies, anything to trigger the memory connection."

He nods involuntarily. "Andrew. Did you go to training last week? When they brought out the punching bags?"

The room flashes warmer tones in the lighting for a split second before resettling with Andrew grimacing. "Yeah. Did you?"

"Yep. Felt like I could take on the lizard head-on, you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, and speaking of catching skips-"

The couch they're sitting on convulses like a living creature underneath them, throwing D-2094 into the air for a split second. When he lands, he's face-down in dust and ceiling debris.

"Sanderson! Get up!"

He turns over. The lights are off. A flashlight is in his face. "What?"

"Get up, she's getting away!"

Licata's distorted voice whispers in his head, crackling. "Go! Go! That's it! Get up!"

He bolts upright. His polo shirt and beer-stained khaki shorts have been replaced with black pants and a utility belt. A blue-glowing device is attached to a cord around his right hand. He picks it up and clambers to his feet.

"On your six!" Andrew calls out.

He ducks as a blast of air and red light slams him into the ground again. He looks over his shoulder to see a figure darting past the porch doors and over the railing. "Over here," he yells, reaching for the slider switch on the device without second thought. He pushes it all the way forward, cringing at the inexplicable recoil against his palm that shoots an ache up his forearm and into his chest.

"Turn that thing the fuck up and get out there before she gets away!"

He nods, scrambling back onto his feet. He darts for the door, yanks it to the side, and hurtles himself over the porch railing. He lands on someone and rolls over, twisting his ankle. He feels himself lose focus through the pain, and for a split second, the dark, damp backyard flashes to a sunny day and then to a shot of Brent's coworkers sitting on the couch. D-2094 shakes his head and stands back up, mindlessly aiming the device in his hand at the woman in front of him.

"You'd better put that fucker down," she spits, arms wrapped protectively around herself. "I'm serious. Don't you know LA laws?"

Licata's voice screeches in the back of his ear canal. "This is it. Don't lose this feed."

Andrew comes running down the stairs, rifle in hand. "Aww, I love it when they fight back," he says with a sneer. He aims the rifle toward her. "Get on the ground."

"The police will be here any minute."

Andrew cackles. "The police. Right. Good luck with that, skip."

She glowers and drops to her knees, hands behind her head. "Any minute."

"Precious. Brent, knock her the fuck out."

D-2094 freezes, praying that Licata will tell him what he's supposed to do. Would Brent have done it? He doesn't even know who Brent is, or what type of person he was. All he has is a computer chip full of corrupted workplace memories, free of ethics and morals and feelings tied to the person that once possessed it.

Andrew's face is frozen, and little pieces of it are blurring and shaking in midair as D-2094 realizes he picked the wrong option by hesitating. With his face contorted in discomfort, he starts walking toward the woman kneeling in front of him and raises the unknown but familiar device up to her eye level. She doesn't blink. A siren wails outside the fence, catching him off-guard and sending him spinning around before he can strike her.

"There! There! Okay, look around, look up, look down, look in bushes, look anywhere you can for any sort of camera or microphone or-"

"Got it, got it," he says aloud, dropping the device to the ground. The woman doesn't react, because Brent didn't have a memory of her reacting; D-2094 runs frantically around the yard and patio as the police rush over to the woman and Andrew, their boots blending into the dark grass in little pixelated smears. D-2094 looks up as the bricks of the house melt in steaming drips and fade into themselves. In his peripheral vision, occupying one last spot of comprehensible space, he spots a gleaming lens. And a small black device. A camera and a microphone.

"There! There! Freeze that frame, do not fucking blink, do not- okay, okay, we got it! We got it! You're good!"

"Wh- how do I get out, get me out!" he yells over inexplicable wailing and electronic buzzing as the world disintegrates around him. His pleading mixes in with the noise as his vision swirls together and fades.

Research Lab D43
Department of Internal Security and Media Investigations
Site-92, Los Angeles, CA
3:38 PM, July 1st, 2032

D-2094 opens his eyes slowly this time, as if doubting that he has eyes to open. He looks over at Licata. "You got it that time, right?" he groans.

"We got it." She picks up a stack of papers off a printer and locks them into her briefcase. "And now I'm taking it where it needs to go. Thank you for your compliance, Mr. Sanderson."

His mouth droops open. Surely he misheard that. "Did you just call me-"

"Yes, congratulations, Mr. Sanderson," a man by the door says, removing his glasses and leaning against the frame. "You are the first successful subject of PII Initiative A."

D-2094 feels like he's going to pass out. He convinces himself that everything he's hearing is some side effect of having that thing in his head, and he lets himself collapse back onto the table as the lights above him blur together into blinding white.

Undisclosed Location
Santa Monica, CA
7:45 PM, July 1st, 2032

"Are you awake, Mr. Sanderson?"

Brent peels his eyes open. There's a young man in a white collared shirt by his bed. "Y-yeah-"

"You've been out for four hours. I'm sorry I wasn't able to introduce myself last time." The man extends his hand. Brent takes it with trembling fingers and nods. "I'm the Director of Media Relations for Site-92's Research and Development Department. I don't really give my name."

"I'm- uh…"

"You're Brent Sanderson," the man says, clasping his hands together. "I know it's hard to believe. You think you're D-2094, right?"

"Y-you actually want me to answer?"

"No. It's a rhetorical question. Do you have any recollection of your identity, actions… anything?"

"What's happening here? I don't- what-"

The Director holds his hands up. "It's okay, you can relax. I'll take that as a no."

Brent looks around the room. It's too homey. There are burgundy drapes, and the bed he's on has a wooden frame. "Where am I?"

"A Foundation safehouse."

"Can't I just go back to my cell-"

"You're not a D-class. You're Agent Brent Sanderson. You worked, until recently, in the Containment and Retrieval Department of Site-92."

"I-"

"You originally refused to reveal the location of any home cameras during this case, presumably for your own legal reasons, but it looks like we were still able to get some information out of you. You've caused us quite the trouble, you know." The Director smiles. "But here we are. If you think this organization protects criminals in its ranks, you're dead wrong, Brent."

Brent grits his teeth. "Can you please just explain what's happening to me? Who am I?"

The Director sighs and stands from his chair. "Looks like it's not working," he says once he's in the hallway. "Go ahead and stick it back in there, I guess. Shouldn't cause any problems at this point in the case, with the backup copied and all that."

He frowns and grips the sheets. "Wait, what-"

"Just hold still. This'll only take a second." The person approaching him is oddly familiar. Like one of the guards on the cell block that he apparently never resided in. They push his head forward and press a bulky device against it. He doesn't have time to resist before there's a quiet click and a disturbing sliding sensation in the back of his skull. Like a feather is tickling his brain matter, right down there on the cerebellum.

"That's the right one, right? Not the testing duplicate?" the Director asks.

"Licata and the other researchers kept the duplicate, sir."

"Gotcha, gotcha. Alright, Mr. Sanderson. Is it safe to assume you have your thoughts back in order?"

"Did you just- What did you just do?"

"Your implant had been removed, so we just put it back in. You were amnesticized as part of an approved procedure, but it appears the PII was successful in this case with accurately logging personal identity and memories."

"I- What? Why am I in the safehouse? What happened?"

The Director chuckles. "Are you going to get out of bed?"

Brent looks down. He's in pajamas. He frowns. "Yeah. Wait, didn't I just wake up?"

"You did… technically just wake up, yes. You were unconscious."

"For how long?"

"Only four hours."

"What were we talking about before that person fucked around with my chip? Whatever went on with it must have glitched out, because I can't remember-"

"I believe I was telling you how we don't employ criminals in our ranks," the Director sighs, removing a laptop from his briefcase. "And thanks to you, we've got the security footage from your house now. You do remember that case, don't you?"

A headache pounds against his temple. "Of course I remember that case. How did you get me out of jail?"

"You know we have our ways. Listen, Mr. Sanderson, I'm on a schedule, and I don't owe you overviews of what you already know you've done. More importantly, however, do you remember when you signed your consent forms for your Personnel Identification Implant, about six months ago?"

"Y-yeah-"

"Do you remember the section about Initiative A, then?"

"I- I don't think I read the whole thing, to be honest."

"Ahhh. No one ever reads the terms and conditions, am I right? Sign and move on. I can relate. Well, when you signed onto Initiative A, you signed onto some of our most groundbreaking research. Could do wonders for the R-and-D Departments' stocks, no matter which Site we're talking about. You see, the PII is big news. Really big news. And our team right here in Los Angeles are the ones who perfected it. It's what every company will want. It's not invasive. It doesn't record your thoughts and send them around. It just captures what you're seeing and hearing and feeling when you're on the clock, and only when you're on the clock. Were you on the clock that night with Aline Warner and your team member Andrew Collins, Mr. Sanderson?"

He puts his head in his hands. The more the Director talks, the more conflicting memories flood back into his thoughts. "Yes."

"And were you on Foundation property or were you on city property when you threatened that bixby with your SRA?"

"I don't- I've been over this a million times with the cops, for fuck's sake. I was in the Site's housing. Everything happened there."

"Well, who instructed you to lead her back onto Foundation property and carry out the capture there?"

"N- no one? I mean, I did. Me, I'm the team lead."

"You are, that's right. Right, okay. So it was indeed your decision."

"Yeah. Look, is this a legal interview right now? Do I need to watch what I say-"

"You're with the Foundation, Mr. Sanderson. Surely your employment has taught you that you're safe with us."

He licks his lips. They're dry and cracked. His skin feels like paper. "I got her onto Foundation property because Los Angeles will fight you in court if you take a sapient anomaly off the streets on county property. Especially her, with her publicity."

"Except the residential streets aren't Foundation property. That area is unincorporated and technically still belongs to the county."

His head is spinning. "But- this was in my backyard. This happened in my own backyard. My house, in the Site's neighborhood."

"Right, but your house is on unincorporated property, and your house also has security cameras, which you had… conveniently forgotten to tell us about during the case, it seems. Actively refused, more accurately."

His eyes widen as realization slams into him like a freight train. His heart thumps in his chest. "Wait, I- that's not possible, I-"

"Consider it lucky, Mr. Sanderson. You may be deserving of your charges, but thanks to your signing onto Initiative A, the PII's future in sales with every security department from Google to Wells Fargo is looking nothing but up. I think your case here may have singlehandedly determined the future of the R-and-D Department's stocks, crimes aside."

"Can you please just slow down," Brent spits, trembling. He swallows. "Please. I don't understand what's happening."

The Director looks at his watch with an audible groan. "I really don't have the time for this. Alright, last week, convicted of attempted kidnapping and assault. Remember what happened?"

"Yeah. Got a report of a famous bixby visiting town, obvious target with known disruptive capabilities. Tried to get her out of town for legal reasons and all that, you know the drill."

"Right, and this person was Aline Warner, who was formerly a contained SCP object but was broken out of the Site by her containment specialist, Adam Leeward, and years down the line the two of them now own an explicitly anti-Foundation law firm known as Leeward and Warner Legal Solutions. And you tried to recontain her on county property. Where the law is on her side."

He sighs. "Okay, okay. I get what this is about. Look, I made a mistake, alright? I didn't read the legalese carefully enough, I get it. And now Andrew's in trouble too, and he didn't do shit. And between the Foundation and I, we didn't do shit to get that attempted assault charge."

"That's not what the PII feedback footage would suggest," the Director says quietly, turning his laptop screen around to face Brent. "You may have neglected to tell the police in the interviews, but your PII history showed quite the opposite once you had a little amnestics and reconditioning to help you out."

Brent watches with his brow furrowed and his mouth in a grimace as the Director plays back the distorted, bulbous picture of his implant's digital audio and video records.

"Ah- there," the Director says, punching the space bar and pausing the footage. "You see that? You hear that part? After Andrew tells you to hit her over the head, you start walking forward."

He frowns. "How did you get this?"

"You gave it to us. When you signed your implant paperwork and partook in Initiative A. When we managed to get you to recall it so that it could be recorded."

"Wait, wait. I do remember this. I remember going back here. But I don't remember walking forward, there. I actually remember not wanting to walk forward."

"In the revisit? I believe Dr. Licata did notice you hesitate, yes."

"Because I didn't want to do it! I only did it because the memory she was accessing through me started falling apart when I thought about not doing it, which means it was obviously the wrong option that wasn't in line with what he- with what I originally did, but I didn't want to do it! It was just Andrew fucking around and being a shit because everyone hates Warner and he wanted to piss her off, it wasn't anything- real."

"What your post-procedure self wanted or did not want to do is unrelated to what you originally did do and what is proven in the implant's history, Mr. Sanderson. And you may have made it pretty hard to recover the PII's files, but thanks to your cooperation with Initiative A, we got them right back. Are you starting to understand where you stand here?"

The Director's words are starting to blur into incomprehensible droning in his thoughts. "No." He swallows. "I'm still confused on what's happening to me. What happened with the case? What does that damn implant have to do with this, besides that footage?"

"The case is near-closed, and you're still going to be convicted. I think your confusion may lie in your mistaken opinion that the Foundation will defend its employees no matter the circumstances, Mr. Sanderson, and that is not accurate. Not in today's age."

"The past week feels like a dream. I didn't mean to do anything illegal."

"You can believe that all you need, but it doesn't change what happened." The Director leans forward, and for the first time in the conversation, his voice sounds genuine and concerned. "Listen, you're not a bad agent. You're dedicated to the cause, a real exemplar. I get your type, I really do. The Foundation of twenty years ago would have loved you. But we're not them now. We're a little down and out right now, so to speak. I'm sure you've noticed it. Publicity killed us, Mr. Sanderson." His lips are right beside Brent's ear. "That's the truth. You can't even drive between the city and the site without protesters swarming your car. And you know that a lot of that is happening because of your case, and, to be frank, because of you. I don't have a problem with this continual recontainment effort we have going on for Warner, but it has to be done so, so carefully. It'll make us look bad no matter what, but there's no denying that a reality bender with publicity value is dangerous."

Brent nods, fingers clenched.

"Do you want to know what the best hope for this organization is right now? It's that chip in our heads. The value that thing presents to the corporate technology world is unparalleled. I know containment is our thing, Mr. Sanderson, but there are challenging times ahead. It's time to look toward innovation and business. The other things we're good at. We can do science. We can do money. And the PII means both." He exhales through his nose and eyes the door. They share several uncomfortable seconds of silence before he speaks again. "In conclusion, I suppose, I'd like to personally thank you for your place in this case. Thanks to you, we can gain the public's trust again, or at least get the ball rolling. Rogue agent? Not to worry, everything's recorded and on-record. The Foundation may fight tooth and nail to carry out its cause despite political adversity, but one thing we're not is dishonest. This case will prove the PII's worth as business technology, and you just gave that process a jumpstart."

Brent feels like he's going to vomit, and he's not sure if it's from the pain in his skull or the Director's words or both. "W-what-"

"I know you heard what I said," the Director says, his tone and volume still the same despite the alarm in Brent's voice. "Now, put some real clothes on. I believe the chief of the LAPD wanted to talk to you."

Brent watches the Director walk out of the room with his mouth hanging open.

Site Command Office
Site-92, Los Angeles, CA
11:30 AM, July 4th, 2032

The Director of Media Relations has his lips in a straight line as he pushes a printout across the desk toward the Site Director's open palm. "This is it. Same one you approved last night, of course."

"Excellent, excellent. Thank you for all that you've done," he says, picking it up.

pii_article.png

"Everything looks the same as last night, right? I checked it myself for errors probably five times."

"It's perfect, it's perfect. Succinct as always. It's believable media, I'll tell you that. My hat goes off to you and your department, Director."

"Likewise. And it's R-and-D you should be thanking, not me." He laughs, barely perceptibly. His cheeks are pale. "Well, you can thank the crew I have running the Coastal Sun Reporter, of course. Whew. But yeah, the public seems to be taking it decently so far. It went out this morning."

"Emailed to employees, in the morning papers, featured on a few local channels and websites… that's it, right?"

"Correct. I guarantee you that starting small is the way to go. Hell, all the big names are already signed on without the spotlight, anyway."

"Alright." He sets the paper down on the desk with a sigh. "That agent, though. Sanderson. Shame about him."

"How so?"

The Site Director shrugs, hands clasped with his elbows on the table and his head to the side. "I just think he was on the right track, and it's a shame to see he slipped up on the legality."

"Well, his case… made us look pretty bad, sir, to be honest."

"Oh, I'm not excusing him. There's no doubt he made mistakes. Just a shame to see a good agent go to waste just because of- because things are so hard these days."

"Oh. Agreed."

He nods. "But the PII is looking up. That's what we've got going forward, that's what matters." He looks back down at the document on the table. "I'll see you tomorrow, Director. We've got a busy few weeks ahead of us."

"We sure do." There's no comradery in his tone, though he's straining to try and convey it nonetheless.

"Our stocks are in great condition. The business end of things is looking up. Everything in that realm of operations is looking up. The Foundation still has a strong future ahead of it. A different one, yes, but still a strong one. Don't forget that."

"Of course, sir." He stands up to leave, looking at the door.

The Site Director picks the printout up off the desk and lowers his glasses. "Oh, and happy Independence Day," he adds. "Easy to forget there's a country waiting outside those fences, sometimes. Isn't it?"

He swallows and nods. He doesn't think so. "Happy Independence Day, sir," he mutters.

When the door closes, the Site Director sighs and reads the article again, his mind fixated on the future as a calm smile creeps across his face.

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