Finding A Scalpel
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From Julian Corwin (Director, Site 246)
Subject Re: The Greenland Incident (WAS: Failure of Operation CLAM CHOWDER)
To O5-03 (Overseer, O5 Council)

Overseer,

I understand the Council's displeasure with the outcome of Operation CLAM CHOWDER, but I remain adamant in my position that no disciplinary action be taken against Agent Elsinger. Not only is such a course likely to damage the operational effectiveness of Delta-3, but it is also a transparently obvious attempt to shift blame. I will remind you that I objected to the deployment of Delta-3 for this operation, only to be overruled by Director Sands. Agent Elsinger still lacks fine control of her abilities, which were never well-suited for containment operations to begin with. In this light, the loss of SCP-████, while unfortunate, was completely predictable. If you'll forgive my impertinence, when you wield a hammer, you should not be surprised when you break something.

Tell the Operations Director that if he wants a surgical approach, he should find a scalpel.

Julian Corwin
Director, Site 246


December 1, 1986
Site 246

Florence was waiting beside the hospital bed when Westbrook awoke. He stared at the ceiling, eyes unfocused.

"My shoulder hurts." His voice was rough from lack of liquid. "That's good."

She looked at him with concern. "I can't tell if you need more morphine or less."

His gaze flicked over to focus on her. "I'm fine. Pain is for the living, is all." He coughed, then licked his lips. "Water?"

She picked up a glass of water off the nearby table and offered it to him. His left arm was immobilized in a sling, so she helped him hold the glass in his free hand as he drank.

"Thanks." He sipped the water slowly. "How long was I out?"

"It's Monday. You were in and out through the weekend, but this is the first time you've been lucid."

He nodded slowly, doing the mental subtraction, then winced when the action disturbed his shoulder. "How bad?"

"Not very. Hairline fracture on your collarbone, some muscle bruising. They think maybe you might have a concussion, but I'd be amazed if anything managed to get through your thick head."

"Your bedside manner leaves something to be desired," he said.

She rolled her eyes. "Sorry, I'm not that Florence." She took the now empty glass from him and set it back on the table. "You got lucky — it only caught the edge of your jumpsuit. Half-an-inch lower and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Now that was a sobering thought. He tried to shrug, then immediately regretted it. "That's the risk of the job."

She shook her head. "No it wasn't. You jumped in front of it."

"It was going to hit you."

"Was it? I was already getting out of the way. Maybe it wouldn't have hit either of us."

"You don't know that."

"Neither do you!" She placed her hand on his and sighed. "It was a stupid risk."

"It wasn't calculated, I'll give you that." He squeezed her hand gently. "But I couldn't risk you. I had a split second to act, and I decided that of the two of us, I was replaceable."

Without warning, she leaned over and kissed him, square on the lips. It caught him by surprise, but a moment later he was returning it.

After a few seconds, Florence pulled away. "You aren't replaceable. Not to me."

"Maybe I should get hurt more often."

"Don't go getting any ideas. I won't be able to give you your Christmas present if you're bedridden."

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh my."

She blushed. "I—" She looked away, then shook her head. "I didn't know just how much I needed you until I thought you were gone. The skip hit you, and I saw you go down, and… I lost it."

He stared at her. "Flo, what did you do?"

Her expression hardened. "You remember what the skip file said about how tough it was?"

"I remember the part about it shrugging off anti-material rounds."

"I don't really remember what I did — just the anger, and the pain. But I killed it. Put a hole through it about a foot wide. All the way through it."

"Jesus." He whistled appreciatively. "Bet the boffins aren't too pleased with you."

She looked down. "Corwin hasn't been telling me much, but I think I'm in trouble. Devlin was saying there might be a disciplinary hearing."

"Devlin doesn't know a goddamn thing," he said. "Corwin didn't want us on the mission in the first place for exactly this reason, but they sent us in anyways. They can't pin this on you — if they try to push anything, there'll be a full inquiry, and then people will start asking why a mobile task force was deployed over the objections of the managing site director."

She frowned. "So why did they do it then?"

"Overwatch politics." He waved his free hand in a gesture of contempt. "Delta-3 isn't exactly winning any popularity contests over there. Someone was trying to set us up for failure. Get the task force dissolved, maybe have the whole special asset program canned."

"Will they?"

"No. They overplayed their hand. Corwin's smart, and he's old, which means he has allies. They'll make sure heads roll for this, but it won't be ours."

She bit her lip nervously. "God, I hate this. The secret agendas, the power plays. It's like being back with the Ghosts."

"The Ghosts probably did it with less paperwork," he said. "Try not to worry about it too much. Corwin will make sure that it doesn't spillover onto you. This is all Director-level shit anyways, and most of them don't even care about you personally. We're just pawns to them."

She sighed. "I've always been a pawn. I'm sick of it."

"Florence, at the end of the day, we're all just pawns in someone else's game. At least we're fortunate enough to know whose game we're playing." He gave a sly grin. "And you know what happens to a pawn that makes it across the board, don't you?"

She shook her head. "What?"

"You get to be a queen."


March 2, 1987
Site 246

The Golem of Prague was waiting for her in the submarine bay. He bowed respectfully as she approached.

"Agent Elsinger." His voice was gravelly, in a very literal sense, but not unpleasant to hear.

"Operative Josef," she said, returning the bow. "Director Corwin said you wished to speak with me?"

"Indeed. I came here to thank you for your part in defeating Maximilian Bauer some fifteen months hence. And to congratulate you on your victory over him. He was a most formidable foe."

Florence speaks with Josef, the Golem of Prague, in the Site 246 submarine bay.

"I was just doing my job," she said.

"No," he said, eyes twinkling. "You were doing my job."

"Someone had to do it."

"And that someone was you."

She nodded, conceding the point. "If you don't mind me asking, where were you? The Gorgon said you were unavailable, but she would never say why."

"I was…" He paused. "Traveling."

She studied his clay features. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

The fires of his eyes flickered in an approximation of a blink. "You have more perception than most."

"And?" It probably wasn't wise to press a half-ton man of clay for answers, but her curiosity had been eating away at her for over a year, and it had only gotten worse the more she had learned about the Golem.

"Yes," he said. "Eventually. But it was not easy to find." He stared at her, and she had the unshakable feeling that he could see right through her down to her soul. "If I may offer you some advice?"

"Please."

"The spirits of the dead cling to you. Do not let them consume you."

She looked away. "I've heard that before."

"You seek responsibility for the deeds of evil men and thoughtless monsters. Their crimes are not yours to answer for."

She clenched her fists. "I have power. I can stop them. Doesn't that make me responsible if I don't?"

"Only if you don't use it," he said. "You are familiar with the expression that an evil man needs only for good men to do nothing in order to triumph?"

She nodded. "Churchill, right?"

"John Stuart Mill, although I suspect Sir Churchill would have readily echoed it. It is a good expression. Do you understand what it means?"

She chewed her lip, thinking. "Maybe you should enlighten me."

"You have power. Do you use it to oppose those who would seek to do harm?"

"I try."

"Then that is sufficient. Not all battles can be won. That does not mean that fighting is useless. If your path is righteous, and your course resolute, then you will do no wrong."

"That's a very… rigid worldview."

He made a deep, booming sound that she realized was a laugh. "I am the Golem, created by the Maharal to defend the weak, punish the wicked, and oppose injustice wherever I find it. You should not be surprised that I am a moral absolutist."

"I suppose not."

"May I offer you some more practical advice?"

She motioned for him to continue.

"Your power is immense. That can be a great benefit, but it can also be a hindrance. I suspect that you have already realized this."

She nodded. "I have trouble with workings. With anything precise. I don't have enough control."

"As you say. Mortal magic is often imprecise. Wild. Confused. It is a consequence of your nature."

She frowned at him. "And yours isn't?"

"No. I am a golem. Everything I am, everything I believe, comes from without — from the emet, the holy truth carved into my clay. It animates me, guides me, binds me. Gives me absolute clarity of purpose. That clarity lends precision to my actions. Rigidity, as you call it."

Her frown deepened. "You're saying I lack conviction. That my lack of control comes from a lack of confidence."

He tilted his head. "Humans are not like golems. You do not have an emet. You carry your truths on the inside. In a way, this makes them more solid, more secure, but it also leaves them less rigid, less exact. As a result, you are confused. Conflicted. Is it no wonder then that when you use magic, the ultimate expression of will, that you find it riddled with conflict?"

She heaved a frustrated sigh. "You said this would be practical advice. What can I do about it?"

"You must find a way to externalize your truth," he said. It was hard to tell whether this statement was meant to be followed by an implied, Obviously. "Give yourself a symbol to hold onto, a way to ground yourself and visualize your will."

She stared at him, comprehension dawning on her face. "Focusing geometry. I can use a focus for evocation."

He nodded. "You understand."

"Thank you."

He bowed again. "You are most welcome. Unfortunately, our time together draws short. I wish I could remain, but I have been away for far too long already. While you may have dealt a devastating blow to the forces of OBSKURA, I fear what they might do if they are allowed to continue scheming unmolested. I shall remind them why they hide in shadows."

She smiled lightly. "Of course. Good hunting. And good luck."

"Fortune favors the righteous, Agent Elsinger. Farewell. I hope our paths may cross again some day."

With that, he turned and strode back into the airlock. The door closed behind him, and the chamber filled with water. A moment later, Florence heard the external hatch open. And then the sound of the Golem, striding away across the lake bed.

She almost felt sorry for OBSKURA.

Almost.


"What did the Golem want?" Westbrook asked. They were in his bed.

"Hmm?" Florence yawned. She had been on the verge of falling asleep.

"The Golem. Why did he want to see you earlier?"

She rolled over to face him. "Jealous?"

"Should I be?"

She frowned. "I… I don't think he's anatomically accurate." She shook her head to dispel that train of thought. "Anyways, he was here about Bauer."

"Was he mad that you stole his kill? He's been hunting down OBSKURA members since the end of the war. Probably wanted to get Bauer himself."

She shook her head. "No, he wanted to thank me. Said I had done his job for him."

"You kind of did."

"Mhm." She ran a finger across the tattoo on his chest. "He gave me some advice too."

"What about?"

"Oh, you know, magic stuff." She didn't think she could fully explain that particular conversation to Westbrook. She wasn't certain she fully understood it herself.

"Wizards secrets. Very sexy."

She giggled. "You only say that because you don't know what they are."

He grinned. "Hence the mystique."

She flipped her finger over and started tracing the outline of his tattoo with her nail. It was a stylized scroll, although she couldn't make out what was inked on it. "Maybe we should talk about some of your secrets instead."

She felt him tense up at the touch of her nails on his skin. "Oh?"

"Mmm. Like maybe this tattoo. What is it?"

He relaxed a little bit. "You've had plenty of chances to see it."

"I was, uh, distracted." She coughed.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

She prodded him with her finger. "Talk."

"Yes, ma'am." He grabbed her hand and pulled it away from the tattoo. "It's unit affiliations. See?" He placed her finger back on the tattoo, near the top. "Omega-17 — That was the Florida Men, down in Miami. You would not believe the kind of crap that lives in the Everglades." He started moving her finger down the list. "Sigma-23 — Wily Coyotes. Don't let them assign you to a site in Arizona, it's a literal hellscape." Down the list again. "Kappa-1 — Sherman's March didn't last too long, did it? And of course, Delta-3."

"That's a lot of history to keep on your chest."

He shrugged. "It reminds me of who I am."

She blinked. Something clicked inside her head. "That's it," she hissed.

"What?"

"Where'd you go to get this done? There's not a tattoo artist on-site that I haven't heard about, is there?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I went to a guy in Thunder Bay to get it updated. He's sort of clued-in, a lot of para folks go there. He's got a low-grade basilisk that he uses in defensive tattoos, apparently. Cog-haz on your palms, that kind of thing. None of it is strong enough to warrant action though."

"So he's used to doing weird stuff."

"Yeah, probably."

"Hmm." She thought about that for a bit. "I might pay him a visit next time I have surface leave."

She couldn't see it, but she knew he was raising an eyebrow. "What are you planning?"

She placed her head against his chest. "That's a wizard secret."


April 6, 1987
Site 246

The thaumaturgy gym was once again filled with candles. As before, Florence sat in the middle of the pattern, lost in meditation. She had ditched her usual jumpsuit for jeans and a tank top, which revealed the tattoo that now covered her left arm. The intricate fractal design had an almost organic appearance, although in reality she had spent hours on the math underlying its arcane geometry. Rather than ink, the pattern had been scribed with colloidal silver, giving the whole thing a grey-blue hue.

Her entire arm itched and ached, so she focused her meditation on ignoring it. She had made significant improvements in her mental discipline over the last year, so that the process only took a few minutes rather than an hour.

She took a breath and opened her eyes. She saw the world as it was, and how she wanted it to be. She raised her hand and focused her will.

Familiar flames appeared above her palm. She felt the universe push back against the spell, and tried to direct the backlash. The lines of her tattoo glowed softly.

The candles continued to burn steadily, undisturbed by backlash.

She didn't allow herself to smile. Instead, she poured more power into the spell. The tattoo on her arm glowed brighter as the fire grew into a pillar of flame. It soon reached ten feet into the air, and her arm shone as intensely as the sun.

Still, the candles remained undisturbed.

She relaxed her will and released the spell.

Only then did she smile.


December 18, 1987
Scriba, New York
Nine Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station

"Firestarter!" Even with the low fidelity of the radio channel, the urgency in Westbrook's tone was apparent. "What's the status on those wards?"

"Working on it," she said. She clicked off the radio and turned to shout at one of the agents. "Strand, drop that anchor already!"

Markus Strand immediately released the large metal cylinder he had been carrying. It fell to the ground with a solid thud. He waved at Florence, then pointed at the cylinder, as if to say, Like that?

There was a distant explosion, then the sound of something roaring.

Florence keyed on her radio. "Solomon One, disengage. I'm about to pop the bubble."

"Copy that, Firestarter. Target is already en route, ETA… two minutes."

Florence knelt down and focused on the five metal cubes in her right hand. Each one had been excised from one of the cylinders that had been placed around the perimeter of the power plant. She reached out with her will, feeling for the contagion links between them. She found the anchors in her mind, and flooded them with power.

Even with the focusing tattoo, she still had difficulty with subtle workings. Wards, however, were far from subtle. They were all about building up raw power, and she had power in spades.

Nothing visibly changed, but she could feel the fence of invisible force that had sprung up around the building. Anything that tried to bypass the anchors would find itself in for a world of hurt.

"Well? Where's the ward?" Devlin asked. Florence had tried to get him assigned to the secondary team, with no success.

"Why don't you go kick one of the anchors and find out?" Jackass.

He didn't say anything. That was fine with Florence. It made it easier to hear the approach of the rad worm as it slithered closer.

It burst from the darkness perhaps a minute later, eyeless, slimy, and 40 meters long. It cleared the outer fence in a single lurch, on a direct course for the reactor in the closest thing to a beeline its legless body could manage.

Florence clenched her first, willing one last burst of power into the wards.

Then the worm hit. There was a burst of light from the point of contact, and Florence's tattoo flared up as it absorbed the backlash. The worm screeched and recoiled as it was zapped by several thousand volts of electricity, then started trying to pound through the barrier with its head.

Florence gritted her teeth and dropped into a three-point stance as she held the ward up through force of will. In a protracted contest of strength between her will and the worm's mass, she would eventually lose. But she only had to hold for a few seconds.

As the worm reared back again, she collapsed the other sections of the ward and redirected the energy into the portion the worm was attacking. When the worm smashed against it again, instead of a jolt of a thousand volts of electricity, it got a million.

The rad worm didn't scream this time. It simply convulsed, then collapsed to the ground. The ward finally gave way beneath its limp body, and Florence hissed as the resulting backlash overloaded her tattoo. Before it could start to burn her, she released her grip on the spell, praying that the backlash would dissipate quickly.

She panted, exhausted. "Hey Devlin, ask me about the wards again."

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