No Smoking
rating: +23+x

“You know how many Class-D died last year, Dolarhyde?”

Dolarhyde makes that traditional “deer in the headlights” look, before finally some cogs start turning and he sputters out, “Uh. No. I mean, uh, a lot?”

Foundation Appointed Prosecuting Attorney Coyle leans back on her office chair, gives a kick, slides open to the window. “Gimmie a guess.”

“Uh, a thousand?” It’s not a question, but Coyle tastes the question mark. Dolarhyde screws up his face into a grimace then gives some vague approximation of a shrug, as if he isn’t even sure about not being sure. When she doesn’t answer, he adds, “Ten thousand?”

She glances out the window, knits her fingers together, says, “Twenty.”

“…thousand?” he adds, hopefully, because it makes his wild guess marginally less humiliating.
The office is hot; Dolarhyde is small and pale at the best of times, and right now he’s sweating so hard that Coyle has the sudden image of him melting into a puddle. Coyle takes a moment to hate herself for her aversion to fans; any consistent noise drags her away from her work like a tongue drawn to a gap between the teeth. So she swelters through the heat, watches great dark patches of sweat stain her favourite shirts…but she can tolerate it. Barely. If it means no painful drilling groan of machinery.

She swings her chair round, scoots back over to her desk with a nameplate reading FOUNDATION LEVEL THREE PROSECUTOR BETHANY R COYLE; it’s heavy and metal and there is something immensely satisfying about holding it. “Twenty. Just twenty.” She considers smirking, letting Dolarhyde know she’s not as scary as she seems, but suppresses it. Let him be frightened just a little while longer, she thinks. Until he gets the point.

“Twenty?” Dolarhyde looks less surprised than she expected, like a child who has just learned that a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable from the back of a cereal bar; vague disbelief, but also acceptance as if he has yet to comprehend how this information pertains to him in any possible way.

She starts counting them off her fingers. “Two died fighting among themselves, two more from natural causes. Three more were killed in a contagion breach, another fell off a ladder and burst her skull open, one poor bastard had a loose roofing tile land on his head. Four died in containment breaches, and that leaves seven who died during testing.”

“Seven,” Dolarhyde repeats, as if he still hasn’t quite understood it. Then, “I thought that-“

“I know, we’re “the man”. The men in black. Cold, not cruel. A big, sprawling entity locked in an eternal battle against the invincible incomprehensible things lurking in the corner of our peripherals.” She considers it a moment. “Which is true, in part. Also completely made up for the other part.
Consider:

“A class-D is presumed to have little to no specialist knowledge. The initial containment and preliminary research into an anomaly will be performed almost entirely by trained professionals.” Well, that isn’t quite true- sounds like a line from those godawful information films they pumped out in the early nineties, after The Change in Managment- but this isn’t the time. Dolarhyde is already looking like he’s regretting every single life choice that lead up to him sitting in Attorney Coyle’s office, sweating away the majority of his bodyweight.

“Then, if the anomaly is found to be a direct and present danger to Foundation personnel, the vast majority of testing will be conducted without the direct human involvement. Assuming that approval for testing is given to begin with. Our MO is to contain these things, not poke them with sticks until they inevitably kill us.” Again, the time before the Change in Management flashes in Coyle’s mind…of the piles of orange jumpsuits, used again and again each month.

“If it isn’t of any serious danger, then Class-D testing will proceed, but as we’ve already established that they’re probably not in any serious danger. And again, ever since the Change in Management, we’ve put less priority on testing and more on containment. As a result: testing has killed seven Class-d over the course of the last year. I believe that’s seven too many.”

Dolarhyde blankly nods, as if he hasn’t comprehended a word of it. “Seven too many,” he repeats, then nodding again with a smile as if he’s getting behind it. “Seven too many.”

“So, tell me-“ she pauses; was it Robert or Ryan? She guesses. “Robert, why in the hell did you join the Foundation’s prosecution division?”

He wipes back his greasy fringe, swallows hard, and says, voice cracking, “Make a difference.”

And with that, Bethany Coyle gives herself the smirk. Then she yanks open a draw, deposits three sheets of paper. “Let’s begin.”

TERRENCE BLACKWELL

Terrence Blackwell did nothing wrong. I think everybody believes that except Terrence Blackwell. He was young even for an assistant researcher- about as old as you are now, Dolarhyde. Head Researcher Baines reported him as “vaguely competent, devoid of all intuition, all booksmarts.” Whatever she thought of him, she held him in enough esteem to give him control of testing regarding SCP-9806.

The anomaly? I’ll keep it brief; a bible that kept flicking to a seemingly random page whenever an individual approached. Doctor Baines hoped to establish a pattern to what page it turned to, theorizing that the pages were not judgment, but rather an attempt at communication. After multiple tests involving D-Class without so much as a papercut, she was given her annual two-week leave and gave Blackwell charge of the next few experiments.

Blackwell, if anything, took too many precautions; he checked the testing chamber with a Geiger counter beforehand, for God’s sake. He reported later he threw up an hour before the test began out of nervousness.

The first few tests went off without any complications. But when D-9806-19 and D-9806-20 entered the testing chamber and stood before the book, they both exploded.

Why? We don’t know. Yet. Baines is heading the team looking into their backgrounds, looking for anything unique about them, but human testing has been suspended indefinitely until further notice.
We brought Blackwell on trial, because we have to. One of the reforms they brought in after the Change in Management; if a Class-D dies during testing, an inquest is launched into their death.
I went out there and argued to the council he could have taken further precautions, because it was my job.

They found him innocent, because anyone could see he’d done nothing wrong. He was utterly unfortunate to combine two unknown elements in a way that caused death; we still don’t know what happened with hindsight, so how in hell could Blackwell be expected to see it before it happened?
Of course, Blackwell requested a transfer, and he got it. Six months on, he’s still getting counselling over it.

That has been the majority of our cases since this department was founded; just cases of bad luck that, unfortunately, could never have been prevented.

Once Coyle finishes, Dolarhyde asks, “Is he all right?”

Coyle only shrugs. “I sure as hell hope so. But you’ve got to remember; we don’t have reserves, we don’t march Class-D into the dark to “see what happens”, and we don’t think human life has no value. Blackwells pop up, usually a few every year- and we still need to go out there and try and prove their guilt for all we’re worth, because every so often there’s one who really could have prevented it, and no matter how hard it is to look into a Blackwell’s guilt-ridden face and accuse him of gross negligence, it just might save some lives.”

Her office is all beige, because she likes beige, thinks it gets a bad rep. It makes her think of soft sand between her toes, and that makes her think everything’s going to be all right. The only outlier is the red and white NO SMOKING sign screwed into the wall beside her, always digging its claws into her peripherals. She has torn it down on multiple occasions, but that just leaves those two ugly holes staring at her where the screws once where. And of course sooner or later some jobsworth janitor will file a complaint and she’ll get a lecture and a new sign hammered in.

Dolarhyde has caught her gaze, and then glances down at the ashtray right in front of her.

She shrugs. “I’m only human. Anyway: onto the next case.”

JOSHUA BUTTERMAN

Josh Butterman had three decades of experience on Terry Blackwell, and was assigned to a far more dangerous anomaly. Results are the same: two dead.

I can tell you that their names were Aaron Ingram and Carolina Greyson. Oh yes, that was our latest win: no more classification numbers. Encourages researchers to treat D-class as expendable commodities, even subconsciously. Didn’t stop Butterman, of course.

Butterman was known by those under him as friendly, affable, and soft-spoken. Which makes it all the more surprising he murdered two people.

You see, Joshua Butterman’s son was murdered by an ex-girlfriend of his named- yes, you’ve guessed it- Carolina Greyson.

SCP-6309 is an unknown creature that guards a man named Jeremey Lambert from any possible threats; any who approach are killed, and it has also prevented Lambert’s numerous suicide attempts. That is all we know. Sending more D-classes into the chamber to die would have told us nothing we didn’t already know.

Butterman sent them both in anyway; Ingram only to avert suspicion. The creature tore out Ingram’s neck then ate Greyson’s face while she screamed

We needn’t have bothered with mounting a prosecution; he didn’t bother to deny it. “The cunt deserved to die screaming a thousand times over,” he told the adjudicating council. “Kill me if you want, but I’ll never apologize.” And the bastard smirked.

SCP-6309 has consented to containment as it aids in the protection of Lambert; I don’t think for a moment it couldn’t break out if he thought Lambert was in any real danger. When Butterman sent them in, he killed two, but he put hundreds of lives at risk. For what? Revenge? Greyson would have rotted in prison for another fifteen years.

Of course, Greyson’s reassignment wasn’t a coincidence; we prosecuted Meredith Dortmund, the Class-D administrator, for assigning Greyson to Butterman. Turned out she wasn’t even bribed; Butterman simply asked her, because they were friends. And she agreed to help him murder two people.

And their punishments? Dortmund got demoted and six months of Class-D duty. When her sentence is over, she’ll have the choice between going back to civilian life or re-joining the Foundation at the lowest level.

Butterman? Fifteen years Class-D duty. He’ll never serve all of it, of course, they never do, but he’ll never work for the Foundation again. Fuck him. I hope three weeks into his sentence he suddenly starts to regret it all.

Sorry. Shouldn’t get angry. That was what made Butterman do it in the first place, I suppose.

“Is, uh, that a common thing that happens?” asks Dolarhyde. “Ryan.”

“What?”

“Ryan. Not Robert. My name’s Ryan.” He stares at her for a few moments, before adding a meek, “Sorry.”

She takes a moment to figure out what exactly he was saying sorry for, then realizes it’s probably his default response to everything. “Ryan,” she repeats. She takes a carton of cigarettes from her breast pocket, removes one for herself, then offers them to Dolarhyde. “Want one?” Coyle asks, before adding, “Ryan.”

He looks at the cigarette carton as if he’s a small child in a bad PSA who has just been offered to inject heroin directly into his eyeball by his best friend. “It says no smoking.”

Coyle sighs. Dolarhyde, so far, has had all the agency and activeness of a corpse; he seems more genuinely confused than making any kind of statement of incorruptibility.

“And that brings us to case numero tres: Catherine Wheeler.”

CATHERINE WHEELER

Those awful propaganda videos imply they needed more staff after so many died during the conflict, but whatever they say it was more of a coup than a civil war. Most of them simply resigned, because when the Overseers were still in power they gave researchers free reign. No oversight, no checks, no balances. Also that issue of massive institutional discrimination. Don’t want to mention any individuals, but one of the big names back in the day? Christ, he sounded like a Tarantino script if you removed the foot fetishism.

Wheeler didn’t resign. Whatever Wheeler did, I don’t want to imply for a second she did what she did out of malice of sadism. I think she truly wanted to learn more about our impossible world.
Of course, with the Change in Management came the change in priorities; the Overseers wanted to know how it all worked. And what we learned pretty quickly is that it doesn’t make sense. Most of these things don’t have stories. They were spat out by the churning void that exists just offscreen without a point. You want a narrative, go read a book. I don’t think the Overseers ever truly realized that.

Wheeler was pro-Overseer, but when the revolution came and went she carried on without any major career changes- Governor Thomasson declared an amnesty to save the life of Overseer Seven, because she was his friend, and so a minor cog like Wheeler didn’t even get a slap on the wrist.
But you can bet when her superiors decided on who to promote, they kept that all in mind.
Doctor Wheeler should have received a promotion years ago. That is a fact. Compare her record to her fellows who got advancement ahead of her- it was an injustice.

She was assigned to SCP-5117, which was simply a doorway that lead to another world, empty, filled with grass and a small hotel. Every drone that had gone into room 237- yes, everybody else gets it too- immediately lost all connection.

Wheeler wanted out. Once she found out what was behind that door, her superiors promised her that long-deserved promotion.

She ordered radiation-proof drones from Logistics and Allocation, but they’re not cheap, nor readily available. Not for another three months, in fact.

So she sent three Class-D in instead. Why wouldn’t they be able to kick the door down, realize there was nothing in there aside from perhaps some particularly strong EMP or something, and get her promotion. A site director. At last.

The three were all dead of radiation poisoning before they could even make it back to Earth.
And here comes the interesting part: the adjudicators have a very high percentage of pro-overseer members. Only way Thomasson ever could have kept the peace, really.

The fact was, Wheeler should have gotten her promotion years ago, and the Adjudicators wanted her to get it; hell, she was friends who two of them. Now these judges had also overseen- poor choice of words, maybe- the Blackwell and Butterman cases, and they gave out justice there.

So they gave me a deal: they would triple my funding. They would try to tighten the restrictions on Class-D testing. They would increase backgrounds checks to avoid any further repeats of what Butterman did. They would release files from back before the Change in Management; not for prosecution, of course, just to keep an eye on those who engaged in the most reckless actions.

In return, I would drop the case.

Dolarhyde looks up at her. "What did you do?"

Coyle sighs, takes another drag on her cigarette. "I didn't drop the case entirely. Wheeler got two weeks of wages docked and an official reprimand."

"You took the deal?" Dolarhyde looks like a kid who's just been told Santa isn't real.

Taking her cigarette from her mouth, Coyle says, "Two hundred a month. A fucking *month*. That's how many Class-D died before the Change in Management. Killed them all at the end of the month. I don't know why. They just fucking murdered them because they could. Because this organization was once ruled by people who saw no inherent value in human life. I've seen piles and piles of orange jumpsuits washed free of blood over and over and over. I've seen guards pump Class-Ds full of lead for fucking looking at them funny. I took their deal not because I gave a shit about the money, or the status, but because my job isn't to punish the guilty, it's to save the innocent. How dare I place my own peace of mind above lives?"

It all comes out at once, like water from a busted dam. She takes another drag of her cigarette, wipes something from the corner of her eyes, and offers Dolarhyde a cigarette.

He looks at it for a long while, then at Coyle.

And he doesn't take it.

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