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Of all the soon-to-be-miserable individuals, why was it decided that a rookie was the best choice to get official signatures to formally close the Glieces program? On paper, it was the easiest job in the Foundation. You tell the poor sap the news he probably already knows, get him to sign a few pieces of paper, and you were on your merry way back to the bar. In practice, however, telling one of the most senior members of scientific staff that their only project was to be terminated and him summarily retired, might be a surefire way to flush future prospects down the drain. The man may have been unpopular among his equals, but since when did that have any effect on whose ear he could whisper into? Judging by his source (if you could call some meek unknown you bumped into by the water dispenser a source), Brophy considered "unreasonable pettiness" to be an oxymoron. Why couldn't the bastard have retired like any other sane individual? Struggling to remind himself there was no such thing as Keter Duty, Junior Agent Tennyson gripped the handle and proceeded into the observatory's main office.

A man with the most sunken face imaginable waited for him. His time at the observatory had aged him horribly, with his eyes trying to recede in the back of his head, while the bags under his eyes almost made him look like a turkey. By the looks of things, this was mostly self-inflicted. Papers and office utensils were strewn haphazardly across the room. The desk was littered with enough cups of coffee that, cumulatively, could probably kill an elephant. Maybe the whole circus. The junior agent eyed the date of the paper closest to him, nailed to the wall with a poorly thrown dart. Dated less than a week after he'd received the notice. The man was just doing everything he could to prove the universe wrong, and failed miserably.

Tennyson took a seat, having not received an invitation to and forced out the words he had recited in his head for hours in the car journey over, desperately trying not to stammer.

"Dr Brophy, my name is Junior Agent Tennyson, from the Department of Internal Affairs. As per Subsection 14 of the False Alarm Protocols, I am here to inform you of the actions being taken with regard to your designated project. The Ethics Committee has reviewed your case and has ultimately decided to proceed with a.. withdrawal action."

Dr Brophy had remained eerily still and non-emotive since Tennyson's entrance. The only indication that he was alive at all came from periodic blinking, which were rather relieving, albeit brief, respites from his glacial stare.

Tennyson solidified his stance and continued. "The time has come to face facts, sir. Your anomaly has yielded no anomalous activity for an unacceptable period of time. It has been determined that the message produced by Glieces-2554 could well have been an improbable coincidence-"

"So it's already lost its SCP designation, then" the interviewee interrupted in the most accusative tone he could conjure. This was followed by what could only be described as the halfway-point between a grumble and a growl. He was moving dangerously slowly, like a leopard analysing his options, judging whether to go for the neck, or the kidneys. Tennyson was in the nitty-gritty now. If he didn't tread careful, there would be an explosion on his hands, and he rather liked his way his hands looked at this moment in time.

"The anomalous message deciphered from the pulsar's radio waves has only ever been observed once. The costs of maintaining a facility to monitor further activity is becoming increasingly unfeasible. Surely, after all this time, you didn't think actions wouldn't have to be taken?" Glieces' message had been discovered when there was a lot more money and much fewer monsters to be locked up. A pulsar beaming "THR RUSHINNS NOW UF US.. (21-minute pause) BRNGG NICCXON" would've dropped down the priority list eventually. The doctor shifted his weight in a bored fashion. Whatever energy he had, had clearly been wasted in the development of this mess. That didn't stop the waves of impatience he seemed to be emitting.

"Don't mind me, young man" a severely drained voice croaked. "Though if I could ask you to bring me my reading glasses from over there? I would, but-" a demonstrative shrug, "I don't think I'm in any state to go anywhere."

Could hardly argue with that. Tennyson dropped his papers and made his way to the cluttered cabinet Brophy had indicated. After a few seconds of rummaging, Tennyson decided to confront the fact of what he was doing.

He was stalling, and he knew it.

He was ashamed of himself, unbelievably so. He was an employee of an elite organization dedicated to the protection of normalcy, and he was procrastinating, no, cowering before an old man, who probably couldn't kill anyone if he tried, even if he was sufficiently motivated. And being a man famous for being proud of his work, debunking his entire life was alarmingly powerful motivation.

It was that pride that was responsible for Brophy's continued presence in the observatory. The man would be a great addition to any research team, provided he was kept behind soundproof glass and gagged. Sadly, he seldom was, and many a newbie cowered when his towering standards weren't met. But better a trainee than a partner, at least in the eyes of his associates. The observatory held a thinly-veiled reputation as a "jumping-board" facility, where astronomers could find their space legs, before they started charting the unknown. Brophy's own teaching talent was his downfall in this respect. Nobody could beat astronomy into the minds of students like he could. All he had was Glieces to keep him busy, and any other side-projects consisting of more than him were briskly shot down and swept under the rug.

"What is this, this part right here?" A puzzled Tennyson immediately wheeled around to find a significantly more agitated-looking Brophy, pointing to a sensitive area of the documents he had foolishly left unguarded on the desk. The agent's eyes widened, while his stomach decided to pop in and say hello to his intestines.

"Project Heimdall have certainly been busy, haven't they, -" his eyes now very visibly bloodshot, "letting access to their equipment very early on, I see. Uh-huh. Kind enough to send a bit of tech to Glieces and found…. nothing. Not so much as a whisper of psychic potential."

Brophy let out a laugh that was dangerously close to a mad cackle.

"Why if I had known earlier, I might have taken a gander at it, it might have saved you and me a bit of time. Well, a couple of hours for you, and-" he glanced exaggeratingly at the papers " six years for me. Funny how they never thought to inform old Brophy about that little development, don't you think?

So much for breaking it to him softly.

Now feeling a lot less in control than he would have thought possible, the agent assessed the decaying remains of the situation. There was the "just-in-case" argument that was ever popular with this sort of dispute, and had the added benefit of being the truth, but somehow Tennyson doubted that telling a senior member of scientific staff about logical redundancy would do anything to avert a rampage. The "just-doing-your-job" speech he composed on the way over sounded more like consolation at this point, not a solution.

"Well, young man, I, for one, believe enough of our time has been wasted." At this point Brophy's might as well have been on a promotional poster for Bedlam. Reaching out for a pen, he began to sign every conceivable area his name could be plastered, regardless of whether it was required or not. "You've accomplished what you set out to do. You may leave me in bloody peace." A hand plagued by uncontrollable shaking indicated the exit. An out had been given. Tennyson weighed his options and the Coward gripped the door handle and promptly exited.

It had taken less than two seconds for Tennyson to regret his gutless decision. But what could one say to someone now convinced he had wasted countless years of his life, chasing a phantom? Not even a real one, the Foundation had plenty of those. A cruel trick of the universe, a heartless coincidence, had cheated Alister Brophy out of a meaningful existence. A young woman, an intern, maybe, eyed Tennyson as he descended down the concrete steps. He had seen the same look of apprehension on the receptionist when he had first arrived. "Did he take it well?" she inquired.

Her answer arrived in the form of a mangled office chair, thrown with considerable (though not-too-considerable) might out the window above. The plastic and leather construct shattered on impact, shedding debris into the surrounding area. Tennyson got lucky. The innocent intern, on the other hand, was not favoured by the powers that be. It was only a slight gash, but it might as well have been an amputation wound in Tennyson's eyes.

The intern glared pressingly at him, hands pressed firmly on her newly minted wound, her eyes very plainly saying, "Please don't leave us to clear up this mess". Her message was wasted, though, as Tennyson was already making his way back up the steps. It was one thing when someone had a temper tantrum, it was entirely something else when someone else had to pay for it. The door flew open, and gone was the Coward, and in strode the Agent.

There were no screams. There were no thunderous cries. Nothing to suggest Brophy's legendary rage had ignited. Hell, the only two things out of place were a few shards of window glass and the absence of a chair. There was only Brophy lying collapsed in front of his desk, his head resting back on the front of his wooden desk. He had stared into the jaws of defeat, and the maw was closing fast. To the untrained eye, he might have appeared dead, his glazed expression certainly reeked of death, only the slight periodic rising of his chest gave any indication that he clung to the mortal realm at all. If Tennyson didn't do his job now, that might not stay that way.

So, Tennyson did what felt natural. He closed the door, walked to his left and stuck on the kettle.

Two minutes later, a freshly brewed cup of tea found its way into Brophy's decrepit fingers. "Drink."
No response. "Drink" he repeated, in a much more assertive tone than he thought capable of. At least it worked.

Colour began to flush back into Brophy's skin, his overworked heart going back to its regular scheduled pumping. Tentative sips slowly drained the fluid away, and while Brophy did look all the better for it, his eyes told a different dispiriting story. A few curious researchers had gathered outside, and were subsequently shooed away.

"Jesus, look at me. What kind of a scientist would act this moronically?" That one would definitely be best left interpreted as a rhetorical question. For no particular reason, Junior Agent Tennyson let himself sit beside Brophy. The weight of the day seemed to lift right off his shoulders. It hadn't even been ten particularly stressful minutes since he entered the head office, and already the future agent was feeling the sting of hindsight. Maybe coming out of his parent's basement might not have been the best career choice. But you do what you can with what you're dealt.

Brophy reached into his shirt pocket, taking out a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a lighter. After two failed attempts, Tennyson took control of the lighter and steadied it for the old man. When he exhaled, all the tension holding him together escaped and his body went as limp as a wet rag.

"So, this is what I have to look forward to in 50 years, eh" Tennyson started, desperate to ease whatever tensions lingered in the room.

"So long as you don't spend 'em like I did, you oughta be fine". The aged doctor's face slowly swerved to meet that of his temporary companion, and it that instant, there was an understanding between the two. Before his induction, Tennyson might have been too naïve to see the signs. But both men knew there was no happy ending to be found here. All Tennyson could do was do right by his paycheck and get the job that needed doing done.

In the end, he had achieved what he came here to do.. With the papers signed, the final chapter in Brophy's career of seeming productivity came to a close.

"1548 could always use someone else to watch it, sir." That got the tiniest chuckle and the hint of an empty smile. Tennyson wanted to tell Brophy that a Foundation scientist that lasted this long should be proud of himself for beating the frankly depressing odds. But this situation was no longer in his hands. It lay with Brophy and whatever god (or lack thereof) he held dearest. Maybe he would take this opportunity and make the most of it. Help a charity, volunteer, inspire the next generation of astronomers with whatever time he had left. But would he take the one last step?

Two weeks later, the news would arrive from an offhand mention by a neighbouring agent in the break room. A part of him was thankful the ordeal was over for one of them, at least. Unfortunately, he doubted that this would be the last time that Brophy would come to mind. He would deal with those consequences in time, do his job and get on with life.

But still. Goddamn it.

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