The Significant Others, Part "A"
rating: +52+x

2020


7 September


6:49 AM

He opened his eyes.

He sighed.

Eighteen years, and I still open my eyes when I wake up. You'd think I'd know better by now.

He rolled into a slouch on the edge of the bed, squinting, and chanced a peek between his legs. Left slipper, don't look, right slipper, close your eyes. With a series of grunts and low popping sounds from both knees, he shuddered to his feet and stretched.

Once he was sure he wouldn't pass out — it was a close thing — he allowed his muscles to lead him to the washroom by memory. A familiar voice growled at him from the bedside table, but he didn't look and he didn't really listen.

When he felt the slippers sliding on tile, he slowed his pace. When he bumped his knees against the towel draped over the sink cabinet doors he stopped, took a deep breath, and opened his eyes once more.

The washroom mirror was filled with a dull grey face which wasn't his, and it was screaming silently from a mouth which wasn't really a mouth but was really a jagged gash in its wrinkled, overlarge skull. Two more scars, these ones vertical, flexed open and closed like madly blinking alien eyes as the mouth-gash rippled and the monster in the mirror continued its mute roar.

"Good morning, Doug," he said to it as the roar became audible, steadily increasing in both volume and pitch.

He reached for his toothbrush.


7:29 AM

"JM64," he said. "Philip E. Deering." An audible, tangible click reverberated through his ID card, and he leaned back from the reader. As the card flopped over his jumpsuit zipper, hanging around his neck from a lanyard, he noticed the shift supervisor at the duty desk staring at him.

"What?" he said.

"Philip. E. Deering?"

Phil shrugged. "It's my 43NET login, so it's what I have to say." He punched a small white button on the card reader, waited for another, louder click and swung open the now-unlocked locker. There was a battered tablet in a shock-proof casing inside; he pulled it out.

"Why haven't you changed it? It's simple paperwork."

"Who cares?" He turned the tablet on. "It's just one extra letter, and it is one of mine."

"I just think I'd streamline the process, if I had to say something every single day for eighteen years."

Though he was looking down at the tablet, logging into 43NET, his eyes nevertheless narrowed. "Twenty-one years, Ruya." He scrolled through his daily duties, unsurprised to see that they matched the previous day's precisely. "Eighteen years, you're thinking of the other guy." He jerked one thumb at a large square mirror on the locker room wall, picturing rather than perceiving it: bordered in red and black, a Foundation logo stamped in one corner with "SO-5056-01-M120" and "DO NOT REMOVE" in bold text below, entirely filled with a scowling grey countenance.

"They're forgetting you, Philip," that familiar voice growled. "Minute by minute."

Phil swung the locker shut and nodded at nothing in particular. "Doug says 'Hi'," he said, and he headed out to begin his shift.


8:37 AM

Phil tapped the translucent pipe with his flashlight, frowning.

"Good morning, Mr. Deering." The words were just this side of a yawn. Phil looked up.

"Oh. Hey, Dr. Blank. You're up early."

Harold Blank was a slightly podgy, more than slightly disheveled middle-aged man with too much facial hair, too much hair in general and a pair of too-large black-rimmed eyeglasses. He clapped Phil on the back, too hard, and said "Got a lot of work to do. It's apocalypse eve in the Great Underground Empire, you know."

Phil blinked.

"Wow. Did you actually forget?" Dr. Blank's bushy, unplucked eyebrows went up a notch.

Phil looked down at his tablet. September 7. "Well," he said. "Shit."

"Yep. All you non-ghost, non-Keter-Duty losers need to be in quarters by eighteen hundred hours tomorrow or the magic explosions will eat you." Blank grinned. "You lovebirds got anything planned for your anniversary?"

Phil watched the pipe. It was swimming with a heterochrome gas, dark orange and lime green, and there were specks of what looked like ash suspended within it. There was also a tiny grey face attached to a tiny grey torso, the rest of its body lost around the receding edge. It was pulling a ridiculous face at him.

"Eighteen years is what, porcelain?" said Phil, flashing his light on the pipe. The gas colours inverted; the specks disappeared; the apparition was momentarily obscured. "I'll get him a coffee cup, let him go for a swim in the morning."


7:29 PM

"Give it to me."

Several obvious responses jockeyed for Phil's attention; he carefully selected none of them. "Orphic outflow's recondite-positive again," he said instead, scrolling aimlessly on the tablet.

"No big surprise there." Amelia Torosyan, Janitorial and Maintenance Section Chief for Site-43, leaned back in her cheap plastic chair. "What with the big bang tomorrow, and all."

"Yup yup." He blinked; he sighed. "Can you read the rest of this?" He held out the tablet.

"Sure," she said, sitting forward again. "Why?"

"Doug." His voice was flat. "The whole screen was Doug."

Amelia nodded. "I wondered where he went." She glanced at the wall-mounted mirror to her left; it once again contained a glowering grey figure, peering intensely at the man with the wire-framed glasses and salt-and-pepper stubble standing in front of her desk.

Phil watched her perusing the concise details of his day's activity, dimly aware that Doug was emitting a low hum which was making his teeth vibrate.

Your teeth are vibrating, he thought. Your teeth are vibrating and you're only dimly aware of it.

He was fully, painfully aware, as he always was, that Amelia Torosyan was beautiful. Her dishwater-brown hair was slicked back over her head, her ruby red jumpsuit was almost as shapeless as his orange one, there was redness around her eyes and deep, dark bags below them, and her smile was the second-worst thing which had ever happened to him.

She tossed the tablet onto the desktop. It landed with a muted thump. "Looks good," she said, smiling. "Still don't know how you manage it."

"It," he said, "manages me."

"She hates you," Doug snarled.

She was looking at the mirror. "What did he say? I'm still no good at scar-reading."

"He says you hate me." He watched her carefully.

She nodded, pursing her lips and widening her green-blue eyes at him. "Well, he's an expert on Philip E. Deering, but he doesn't know jack shit about Amelia Torosyan." She tilted her head in the direction of her filing cabinet, against which a collection of tablets like his were stacked haphazardly. "Of all the techs, I hate you the least."

"Thanks, boss," he said. He could feel his colour rising; he turned to go. "The stick up your ass is shorter than the ones the other Chiefs have."

"Sentence structure," she said. He heard her kick her booted feet up on the desk. "Ask Mirror Master to help you with your diction."

"Doug doesn't do fun insults." Phil stuffed his hands into his jumpsuit pockets and leaned on the doorframe, looking out at the empty J&M breakroom. "He goes for the throat every time."

A moment passed.

"Good night, boss," he said, looking over his shoulder.

"Good night, Phil."

He pushed off the doorframe and started walking.

"She hates you," said Doug.

As he walked through the breakroom, he distinctly heard Amelia say "Shoo." Before the second syllable was out, the apparition had already blinked into the water cooler jug beside him.


2002


8 September


7:29 AM

"JM64," he said. "Philip E. Deering." He held his ID card up to the plexiglass.

The clerk glanced at him, nodded, and punched a few buttons on his console. With a sound like an old cash register totalling up a massive sale, a narrow slot in the wall produced a long, thin stream of paper imprinted with bold, blocky text. When it was fully disgorged, Phil tore it off.

"Thanks."

"Banerjee's getting that award tomorrow," said the secretary.

"Mhmm." Phil glanced over his daily orders. "Lucky him."

"Maybe it's not luck. Maybe he works harder than you do."

"Oh, absolutely." Phil rolled up the printout and stuffed it into his uniform jacket. "I'm lazy as shit, and that was just a figure of speech." He headed for the locker room.

We get what we deserve.


6:21 PM

Phil rubbed the thigh of his polyethylene suit, trying to get enough friction going to scratch a vicious itch. "Fuck," he muttered into the screen of his helmet. It fogged up. Fuck. He knelt down to retrieve the hose.

The concentration cell in Acroamatic Abatement Facility AAF-D was, theoretically, the most dangerous of an incredibly dangerous series of rooms. It was two cubic metres of untreated concrete, stained pitch black, accessible only from the vault-locked door which yawned open behind him. There were all of two things in the room: his own augmented self and the wheeled metal frame he'd brought with him, in which he now stood. It hummed slightly.

He reached over his shoulder and turned the faucet on the tank slung across his back, and the hose shuddered to life. Nothing visible came out; it was coming out with a great deal of force, however, and a growing pool of thick white fluid now pooled beneath his feet.

He raised the hose and cranked the faucet, hard.

A radiant spray of white something erupted from the empty space one foot in front of him, splattering on the black concrete and gradually lightening it. He extended the hose so that the nozzle was outside of the frame; the abatement fluid was now visibly spurting from its tip. Surely there's a way to describe that without it sounding filthy. He pulled the nozzle back again; within the humming frame, the fluid again became invisible. It never got old, seeing that.

"Work is its own reward," he muttered.

Whatever was in the hose was slowly dissolving whatever was making the concrete so dark. Random wizard shit. Acroamatic Abatement, what his colleagues called the Sorcery Sewer, was a vast refinery for what the Applied Occultism Section called "esoteric effluence." This was the dreck produced by too many impossible artifacts and beings contained in too close proximity. Magic statue cack, magic mask drool, magic bug sand, magic god goop. AAF-D had been constructed to precise occult specifications, so that the otherworldly unpleasantness which would otherwise seep out and suffuse the entire facility manifested instead within this confined, controllable space. It had sloped floors, and it had a drain.

Phil called it the Gunk Tank.

I'll try calling home again tonight, he thought. He waved the hose back and forth, imagining he was watering a garden… no, conducting an orchestra. Tchaikovsky, maybe. He almost imagined he could hear the cannons, booming in the distance.

He could definitely hear the cannons. And they were getting closer.

"FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK"

Phil turned around, still blasting the whitening walls. The hallway beyond the vault door was brighter than it had been when he'd pushed the frame in; it was also upside-down.

He blinked.

No, it wasn't upside-down, it was… two-dimensional? No, it was three-dimensional. No, it was f-

He closed his eyes.

"FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK"

He opened his eyes. A man he thought he recognized appeared in the vault door, wearing a Security and Containment agent's uniform, a terrified expression, and what appeared to be several men's worth of blood. No, it wasn't blood, not unless blood came in all colours of the rainbow at once.

As Phil stared at him, the not-blood turned a uniform vermillion and began drifting upwards, gently stippling the hallway's tile ceiling.

"What," said Phil, and then he stopped. He stopped because his hazmat suit had crumpled up against his body like a paper bag, and for a moment he thought he couldn't breathe. He also stopped because the man in the doorway had also crumpled up like a paper bag, only he wasn't wearing a suit.

There was a bright flash in the hallway, and the spray from the end of Phil's hose ha ha blew back against his face mask, obscuring his vision, and the last thing he thought was Weird, I'm in the frame, I shouldn't be able to see that.


9 September


6:15 AM

He opened his eyes.

"Good. You're awake." A pleasant alto voice.

He was staring at a ceiling. He was lying in a bed. He recognized these clichés.

"Hospital," he croaked. He cleared his throat. "Why am I croaking?"

"Because you almost croaked." The voice belonged to Dr. Emilié LeClair, a perpetually tired-looking middle-aged woman in a labcoat presently standing to the left of his feet. "You're in Health and Pathology." That checked out; Dr. LeClair was the Section Chair. Clair Chair, Clair Chair.

Someone's been fucking around in my head.

"What tipped you off?" she asked.

He looked askance at her. "Uh?"

"You said that out loud."

"Uh." He shook his head. "Brain's not working properly. Feels like it just got off a long vacation."

"Close enough." Dr. LeClair picked up a clipboard from the end of the bed, There's another good cliché, and paged through its contents. "We did give you a few hours off, retroactively."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning we wiped over six hours of your memory." She snapped the clipboard back into place. "You just lived through the only industrial disaster we've ever had in AcroAbate, and you weren't happy about it."

He frowned. "Okay."

"No, you weren't okay, either. What you saw, they're calling a 'sustained cascade containment failure'. It killed seven people — everyone in AAF-D, in fact, except the one lucky guy with a hazmat suit and a tank full of voodoo goodoo all over him."

Seven people. "I don't remember any of that."

"Of course you don't. You spent the first six hours raving like a madman, and the next eight sleeping off the amnestics."

He blew out a breath. "That bad, huh."

She nodded. "That bad. But you're looking good, now, physically — don't take that as a compliment — so you'll probably be up within the hour." She flicked a switch on a bedside monitor, and he belatedly realized he was covered with ECG leads. "You'll have plenty of time to get cleaned up."

He scooched back against the pillow, careful not to dislodge the leads. "Cleaned up for what?"

"The award ceremony."

"They're still doing that?"

She shrugged. "Why not?"

He opened his mouth to reply, then thought about what he might say. He usually did it in that order, which usually ended badly for him. "Uh. Dead people? Seven dead people, didn't you say?" He blinked. "Who were they?"

She gestured at the bedside tray; he recognized his off-duty PDA from the ragged rubber casing. "Check 43NET," she said.

As he pulled the tray closer, she swung a curtain closed between them.


8:57 AM

Ambrogi and Markey. He'd eaten lunch with them just the other day.

Phil walked blithely into the bathroom door, roughly shoving it open. Gwilherm, Mukami and Radcliffe. He didn't know many S&C agents, but he knew those three. They'd bunked in the same hab as him.

Del Olmo and Wirth. The dull roar of the award reception dulled further behind him as the door swung shut. He leaned against it, just for a moment. He didn't know any researchers, but still… there was something eating away at him, now.

Survivor's guilt.

Nobody had said a word about the disaster since he'd left H&P. Nobody had mentioned the seven dead employees. They'd even talked circles around the cleanup in AAF-D. It was as though none of it had happened, or… mattered, really.

He pushed it out of his mind as he pushed off the door. He had other things to focus on, if he wanted to.

Three years.

He slid into a stall, latching the door behind him. Three years, and there's not even that many of us.

As he unzipped, he realized there was a more scientific way to approach the issue. Thirty-five months, I've been here. They reset the employee numbers when I started, and I was the last hire out of sixty-four. This act of casual self-flagellation made it easier to release the flow. Ambrogi was the last of the new batch. JM415. That makes…

"Hmm…" he muttered, shifting his stance.

…three hundred and fifty-one techs who started after me. So I don't get the stupid fucking award after thirty-five months; statistically, I'm completely average. He looked down. Completely average.

He sighed, zipping up his pants and unlatching the door. If I don't get it after four hundred and fifteen months, I can start worrying. He glanced at the mirror, stuck one hand under the faucet and jabbed the soap dispenser with the other.

Ambrogi and Markey. Gwilherm, Mukami and Radcliffe. Del Olmo and Wirth.

The water started flowing automatically, fancy-ass place we live in, but the lever on the soap dispenser came loose when he punched it.

"Come in and fix this, Azad," he snarled, surprised at the rancour in his voice. "Employee of the Fucking Month." He whacked the broken handle hard, and caught a violent burst of soap in his hand. He looked down, started to wash his hands, and looked up.


9:17 AM

Noé Nascimbeni, Janitorial and Maintenance Section Chief, smiled wanly at him. Under normal circumstances his deeply lined, deeply tanned, deeply concerned face would have exerted a comforting effect; Phil had always described his boss as "Mario sans moustache" to anyone who would listen.

Normal circumstances, he thought wildly. Why did I ever think there would be normal circumstances here?

"Say that again," said Nascimbeni. He looked and sounded exhausted.

"There was a monster in the washroom mirror."

"Uh-huh." Nascimbeni peered at him with sad, dark brown eyes. "What did it look like?"

Phil shuddered. "Uh. Big, grey, ugly fuckin' space-zombie thing." He shook his head.

"Language," Nascimbeni murmured.

"Hideous," Phil continued, ignoring him. "Slits for eyes, slits for a mouth, all grey skin and bones, no hair. Looked like an alien corpse, mid-autopsy."

"Uh-huh. And what was it doing?"

"It was just… fuckin'… staring at me." Phil searched the other man's face for an explanation, any explanation. "And then it opened its… mouth, I guess, and it started… screaming."

"Screaming what?"


"AMBROGI AND MARKEY! GWILHERM, MUKAMI AND RADCLIFFE! DEL OLMO AND WIRTH! AMBRO-"


"…just screaming," said Phil. He shuddered again.

"I don't know what that means," said Nascimbeni.

Phil clutched the corners of the Chief's desk, leaned forward and screamed, incoherently, in his face.

Nascimbeni stared right at him, straight through him, his expression suddenly blank.

"I'm going to need you to write this up," he said.


9:42 AM

The All-Sections Chief looked across the desk at him coolly. He looked down at the report printout. He looked over Phil's shoulder at the framed photograph of his wife and two children on the bookshelf, with the unconscious ease of long habit, then looked back at Phil again.

"So, a mirror monster," he said.

Phil rubbed his face vigorously with both hands, as though washing it in an invisible sink. "I know how it sounds."

The Chief shrugged. "Sounds pretty normal."

Phil's jaw dropped; with his hands on both sides of his face, he knew he looked like… that kid, from that movie. What's it called. "What?"

The Chief put the report in a manila envelope, which he then closed. He swung it around on his desk and reached into his suit pocket for a pen. "We've been seeing all sorts of local anomalies since yesterday." His voice was deep, clear and even; Phil felt saner just listening to it roll. "You should see the guy with the two-dimensional head."

Phil laughed in spite of himself. It wasn't a very sane laugh, yet. "You can only see it from the front?" he suggested.

The Chief shook his head, writing "SCP-XXXX" on the title line of the envelope in a neat, confident hand. Each stroke of each "X" was precise and perfect. "That would be fine. No, everyone who looks at him sees his head from the front, no matter which direction he's facing." He capped the pen. "Like a sprite in a video game."

Phil stared at him.

"We'll monitor you for a few days. Make sure this mirror monster doesn't come back. In all likelihood it's localized to that washroom; worse comes to worse, we'll just shutter it."

Phil exhaled, loudly. "Thank you, sir."

The Chief didn't respond.

Phil watched him for a moment. The Chief was a composed, unreadable man, but the look now on his face was the most composed, unreadable look Phil had ever seen.

The Chief reached under his desktop, and Phil heard a button twang. "Ms. Ferber."

"Yes, Chief?" said a tinny, electronic voice.

"Can you call Security and Containment to my office, please?" He sounded very calm.

"Right away, Chief."

Dreading, and knowing, what he was going to see, Phil looked over his own shoulder at the polished coffee tree bookcase dominating the north wall of the Chief's office.

He looked at the photograph.

It was no longer obvious what it was a photograph of, because the head and upper torso of the bathroom beast were superimposed on top of it, seemingly trapped within the glass. Its rictus was only slightly obscured by the reflection of the Chief's desk lamp.

"Hello, Philip," said the thing in the photograph.


2020


7 September


9:42 PM

She seemed happier today. I wonder why?

"She never thinks about you, Philip."

He shot the mirror on the bedstand a dirty look, then went back to scrolling the 43NET feed on his PDA. "You don't think so? I think Dr. Lillihammer sees me in her dreams, personally." He adjusted his position on the bed; his back hurt, a little.

"You're wasting your time, Philip."

"Well spotted."

"And you don't have much left."

He glanced at the mirror again. The apparition's mouth slit was quivering, but its eye slits were, as always, fixed on his face.

"Suggestions?"

The mirror monster regarded him evenly, as it had for nearly eighteen years. "Lie in your bed," it said. "Lie back and embrace oblivion."

Phil laughed, returning his attention to the feed. "That's so corny," he said. "Who uses 'oblivion' as a synonym for 'sleep'?"

He scrolled down some more, then looked sharply back at the mirror.

They stared at each other for a solid minute before Phil rolled out of bed, stepped into a badly-worn pair of sneakers and headed for the door.


9:53 PM

The fourth sublevel Habitation and Sustenance Section cafeteria was a vast, high-ceilinged space stretching out for half an acre of tables, chairs, garbage cans and clusters of more comfortable seating. The walls were gleaming, glazed green tiles, and the floor was sparkling stained grey concrete. Phil had always hated cleaning it, but he figured it was one of Doug's favourite rooms in the Site; there were two dozen mirrors, plus a wide variety of vending machines, light fixtures, and even shiny, waxed tables to apparate upon.

At this late hour the room was almost empty. From the double doors, in the dim fluorescent light, Phil could only see one table that looked occupied. He walked into the self-serve nook to search the cabinets, vaguely hankering for something microwaveable. Soup? Popcorn.

"Evening, gents."

He looked back across the cavernous space, realized what he was looking at, and quickly closed the distance without remembering to shut the cabinet doors. "You're up late," he said.

"Stupid thing to say, isn't it?" asked Amelia. "If you can see I'm up late, you're up late too."

She was sitting at a short green table beneath one of Doug's red-and-black mirrors, cradling a small styrofoam cup of noodles in both hands. She was still wearing her jumpsuit, and Phil suddenly realized he wasn't exactly at his best either in an old t-shirt, hooded sweater and track pants. Please don't let there be any holes I don't know about.

"You don't have a 'best', Philip." Doug was already in the mirror.

Amelia pointed, raising an eyebrow quizzically.

Phil sighed. "He says I don't have a 'best'."

She frowned as he sat down across from her. "That sounds like half a thought."

He nodded. "Mine."

"Still psychic after all these years." She dragged the pot of noodles in a circle on the tabletop, still massaging it with both hands; the soup tossed and swirled. "It must be great, having someone who knows exactly what you're thinking about."

"Yeah." Phil looked at the mirror; Doug was gone. He looked back, then right, then straight up; the spectre was hovering over him, its ghastly figure distended by the lens of a security camera dome on the ceiling. Welp, he thought. That feed'll be all fucked up tomorrow. He made a mental note to check it in the morning.

She was smiling sadly at him, and he had a sudden desire to say something uncoupled from any particular sense of what he might say. "We, uh. You haven't been in here much, lately."

The smile warmed significantly. "We used to come here a lot."

"She pitied you."

He gently nudged her finger, pointing at the mirror, back onto the side of the noodle cup. "Just imagine he's saying something mean about me. It won't be far off."

She shrugged. "I can't think of anything mean to say about you."

He grinned. "Bullshit. You're nine-tenths snark."

"That's it, Philip. Push her away."

She was grinning now, too. "You're the one with the snark. Or is he a boojum?"

"If he was a boojum, I'd have disappeared. And if he was a snark, I'd be hunting him. Not the other way around."

She looked down at the cup. "What sort of supernatural beastie do you figure he is, then?"

"He's an anagazander."

She looked up. "A what?"

He felt sheepish. "It's from an old song my parents used to sing to me. The only thing I know about anagazanders is, they roar. Doug roars; he used to roar a lot, but now it's mostly warm-up roars in the morning." He adjusted his glasses. "These days he's more… existential horror. The evolution of the media is a glorious thing." He grimaced.

"I always thought of him as a predatory psychological complex," she said. "I guess it doesn't help that he has access to all your worries and phobias."

Phil ran one hand through his hair, conscious of how little there still was. "And my hopes. The worries and phobias I can deal with, but the hopes, not so much."

"Any hopes in particular?" Her voice was very quiet, now, her tone very soft.

She was looking at him sadly again, and he couldn't quite bear it. "I hope some day they'll let me trade in my Employee of the Month Award for some vacation time."

She bit her lower lip. "What?"

"You've never heard me call him that?" He pointed up at the camera. "Maybe I should think of a new nickname. How do you feel about Long Service Award?"

She pushed the noodles over to his side of the table. "Here's your Long Service Award. You'll get a pizza at forty-two years."

"You're not hungry?"

She shook her head. "These things are inedible. They've done tests." A few strands of hair came loose and caught on her features, and she started plucking at them. "Just wanted to warm my hands up."

He nodded; he knew she had circulation problems.

"Anyway, people ask stupid questions when you're sitting in the cafeteria late at night by yourself with no food." She pulled her hands up into her sleeves.

He closed his fingers around the noodle pot and nodded. "Like, 'Why are you sitting in the cafeteria late at night, by yourself, with no food?'"

She nodded back at him. "Yeah. Stupid questions like that."

Their eyes met.

"Amelia?"

Her eyes widened. She looked over his shoulder, towards the door, and gasped.

Phil swung around in his chair as a tall, dark-haired man in a labcoat walked into the cafeteria. He was handsome and fit, and walked with a studied self-assurance. He was at the table in seconds, but Amelia was on her feet even faster.

Before Phil could say anything, the man reached out and cupped Amelia's chin with one hand, and Doug was already starting to speak when the man kissed her on the lips.

"You should stay and watch, Philip."

The kiss seemed to go on forever.

"So you can think about it later."


8 September


9:16 AM

"I told you," Eddie Simms crowed. "They're expanding the systems for Arms and Equipment!"

Phil nodded, nursing his cup of coffee.

"That's more tech work for us," Eddie continued. "And guess who just got his SCPT-12 certification?" He jerked both thumbs at his own face.

Phil nodded.

Eddie's thumbs remained in place.

Phil pointed at him. "That guy," he said.

Eddie grinned. "Somebody's in a mood today."

The door to the Chief's office swung open, and Amelia Torosyan walked out with…

"Oh," said Eddie. "You two know each other?"

Phil shook his head. "Bumped into him." He'd tried to end the sentence with "last night," but his mouth wasn't having it. "Doctor Niemenin."

"Nils Niemenin," said Eddie, watching the researcher sweep out of the break room with Amelia in tow. She glanced in their direction briefly, then looked up at Niemenin with a sudden smile. "The security expert from Site-19?"

Phil watched them go. "Alliterative name. Strong jaw, too."

"Yeah, he's basically Superman. Jealous?"

Phil scowled. "Of?"

Eddie laughed. "True! Who wants to be Superman these days? They'd put him in a containment cell lined with Kryptonite. Object Class: Safe." He leaned back in his chair. "I hear he asked for a transfer here to be with his fianceé."

"Fianceé, huh," said something using Phil's body to make Phil's voice.

Eddie looked at him for a moment, then shrugged. "Anyway, I hear he's starting in on the cameras in AAF-D today, got big ideas about increasing the resolution. I think he just wants to capture some fancy desktop wallpapers when the magic starts this evening." He glanced over Phil's shoulder; a lot of people had done that to him over the past eighteen years. "Hey."

"What?"

"Socketman feelin' alright?"

Phil snorted. "Socketman, that's a new one." He turned in his chair; Doug was standing in a mirror on the far wall, staring at him. Staring at me is implied. He turned back. "Was he gurning behind me, or something? Making rabbit ears?"

Eddie shook his head. "No, I just… he's not moving his mouth."

"Well, he's not making any noise right now."

Eddie nodded. "When did he stop?"


2002


12 September


9:16 AM

It won't stop. Why won't it stop? It won't stop.

The thoughts hadn't been novel when he'd first thought them, innumerable lifetimes ago, and they were nothing but a madness mantra now, but he couldn't stop thinking them. As long as that incessant wailing didn't… cease, he couldn't take a mental breath and select a second thing to think.

Why won't it stop? It won't stop.

In the mirror on the containment chamber wall, the mirror monster was screaming its ugly head off. Its ugly head was thrown back, its ugly scars were wobbling as it warbled its awful, ugly song; he stared at it, glared at it, and noted without much caring that the scars seemed maybe an inch deep, and the flesh within them was a dull dark mauve.

Eggplant, he thought, and he grasped at the thought as a drowning man grasps at a life preserver. Eggplant bastard from hell, eggplant monster, screaming eggplant. Eggplant.

"Eggplant," he muttered. He couldn't hear himself.

"What was that?" said a voice from the ceiling.

Phil uncoiled on the cot and stared up at the ceiling speaker from whence the non-screaming, non-eggplant voice had come. "Eggpl… eggplant," he said, haltingly. He wasn't even sure he was saying the right word, under the mirror monster's roar. He was even less sure how he'd heard the voice from the speaker, or how it expected to hear him.

"Go on," said the voice from the speaker. He could definitely hear it.

"The scars," he said, slowly, taking great care with each syllable. "The scars are… eggplant. Purple. Under… underneath. Purple."

"Your scars run darker and deeper, Philip," said the thing in the mirror. It was suddenly, blissfully, no longer screaming. Phil's ears weren't ringing, but his mind was.

"Oh," he said. "Oh, thank god, it stopped."

"What stopped?" said the voice from the speaker.

Phil glared at it. "What stopped?" He jerked a wavering finger at the mirror. "Eggplant fucker stopped! He's been screaming for… I don't even know! How long has he been screaming for?"

There was a pause.

"Describe this screaming."

Phil blinked.

"Ask the last guy who asked me that, what I did." He winced. Poet laureate, Philip E. Deering.

"Are you saying you can hear the anomaly?"

He sat up, massaging his screaming haha, screaming muscles into a roughly human shape after who knows how long spent huddled in a fetal position. "Are you saying you can't?"


13 September


7:22 AM

He felt almost normal after the shower, and the fresh change of clothes. It wasn't his usual J&M jacket and pants, of course; it was, he noted, what humanoid containment subjects usually wore, a bright green jumpsuit with a distinct lack of pockets. But it wasn't filthy, and neither was he, and that went a long way towards restoring his sense of reality.

The image of the eggplant monster on the shower floor, swimming in the pool that swirled around his feet, distending with the impact of each sheet or stream or drop of water, well, he was trying not to focus on that.

Here's sweat in your eyes, he thought, as the guards led him back into the containment chamber. There was a shiny new black-and-white sign on the door: "SCP-5056." This made him feel even better, for some reason; he decided not to focus on that either.

There were two doctors sitting at a metal table in the middle of the room. He recognized them both: Dr. Bradbury and Dr. Blank. They were research partners; Dr. Blank called them "the B&B Commission." He told everyone it was a history joke. He had to, because nobody got it.

Dr. Blank was a slovenly mass of dark brown hair with glasses. Dr. Bradbury's hair was silver, but she looked very young. Her skin was perfect.

"Don't even bother," said a voice to his left. The mirror was still on the wall; he refused to look at it.

Both doctors were smiling at him. The smiles seemed genuine enough. "Sit down," said Dr. Bradbury.

Phil sat down.

"So, here's what's going to happen," said Dr. Blank. "We're gonna try to to figure out where your new husband came from, and hopefully get you a divorce."

Dr. Bradbury nodded. "We're going to run some tests. Nothing too taxing, nothing that should be dangerous to you. We need to know what we're dealing with."

Phil squirmed. "And if you can't figure it out?"

Dr. Blank shrugged. "We'll let you pick out a colour for the chamber walls."

Dr. Bradbury shook her head. "Not without a security deposit, we won't."

Phil blinked.

Both doctors folded their hands on the table simultaneously, still smiling at him.

To his surprise, he smiled back. "Alright. What's first?"


12:52 PM

"████ ███ ████," Phil screamed.

"████ ███ ████! ████ ███ ███-████ ████!" Dr. Blank bellowed.

"███ ███ ████ ██ █████████?" Phil cried, clawing at his ears. The screeching was everywhere at once. It was the only sound, the only thing in the entire universe. It was causing him actual, physical pain; his earbones were vibrating harder than they'd ever vibrated, his teeth were rattling on his jaw, his skull was buzzing like a sack of bees.

The test chamber's vault door finally swung open. In the hallway beyond, filling a mirror on the wall, the monster was shaking so intensely Phil couldn't even make out the craqueleured ridges of its eye-scars. Its madly fluttering mouth-scar, though, that he could definitely see.

The apparition was staring directly at him; it had apparently been doing so through the vault door. They made "eye" contact.

It stopped vibrating, its mouth stopped fluttering, and the screeching also stopped.

"██, █████ ███," said Dr. Blank. He was slouched against the open door, sitting on the floor.

Dr. Bradbury staggered into the containment chamber, a look of pained bewilderment on her face. "████ ██s that all a█out?"

"My gue█s," said Dr. Blank, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes, "█s that it doesn't like to be separated from Mr. Deering."

Phil worked his jaw in circles as his ears popped. He was blinking furiously.

"I think that's a safe bet," she said. Her face was streaked with tears. "At least this time we could hear the damn thing."

Dr. Blank replaced his glasses. "We certainly could."

She leaned heavily against the chamber wall. "They heard it across the entire site."

"I should think so."

She shook her head, wincing as she did so. "No, I don't think you understand, Harry. They heard that across the entire site."

Blank peered up at her. "…at the same volume, you mean?"

She nodded. "Every single living thing in this complex."

Blank blew out a breath. "Well," he said. "We're learning things already."


16 September


5:04 PM

Phil rubbed his face and yawned. "Sorry," he said.

"Don't be." Dr. Bradbury was tapping away at an expensive-looking tablet computer; he was studying her face, trying to figure out how old she was. Silver hair, he thought. Perfect skin. "Containment is boring."

He sighed. "Boring, sure. I remember boring. You guys got any boring out there, you're not using?"

"She doesn't have anything for you, Philip," said the thing in the mirror. The mirror was on the table between them; it was facing the ceiling, so the apparition was planking in the reflection to keep its scars fixed on him.

"Shut up," he whispered.

She looked up from her tablet, one silver eyebrow cocked quizzically. Before he could say anything, she said "It's speaking again?"

He rubbed his temples. "No. Not 'again.' 'Still' is the word you want."

"Shame we can't hear it."

He laughed; the sound actually startled him. He hadn't heard it in days. Weeks? "You're not missing much. Unless you've got a burning need to hear about how much I suck."

"She doesn't want to hear anything about you, Philip," said the thing in the mirror. "She's heard enough."

"What's it saying?" she asked.

He told her.

She smiled warmly, slipping the tablet into her labcoat. "It doesn't understand science, then." She stood up. "That's probably for the best."

"I'm starting to think I don't understand science either," he sighed. "Which might explain why I'm a janitor? But remind me what you're trying to prove, here."

The eyebrow again. "Remind me why I should explain myself to a janitor?"

He shrugged. "I'll be your best friend?"

She tapped the mirror; the apparition didn't react. "You've already got a best friend. It's sat in here with you for two straight days. We'd like to know why; failing that, we'd like to know how far its patience stretches."

Phil looked at the mirror. He wasn't sure how to feel about that statement.


18 September


4:02 PM

"What happened?" Phil raised his hands in front of his face defensively. "What happened?" He could still hear her screaming.

"Against the wall!" shouted the agent in the black uniform. He was brandishing a taser.

"Put that thing down," snapped Dr. Blank, watching the assessment team carry Dr. Bradbury's stretcher out of the test chamber. They were wearing blue jackets with shoulder patches; the patches read "EPAU."

Emergency Psychiatric something Unit, thought Phil. What he said was, again, "What happened?"

Blank shook his shaggy, podgy head. "I don't know. Put that thing down, I said! Are you going to tase the janitor? Maybe you'd like to tase the mirror, instead? Get out of here."

The agent glared at Phil, but lowered the device and stepped back. Blank approached them; at the sound of clattering, he looked down.

He knelt briefly. When he stood up, he was holding Dr. Bradbury's glasses.

He paused, then held them up to the fluorescent lights. Phil could see that the left lens was badly scarred, the glass… marred? engraved? with what looked for all the world like the silhouette of a head and upper torso.

"Doesn't like containment," Blank muttered. His hands were trembling as he shook out a thin plastic baggie and dropped the glasses into it. "Experiment's over."

He headed for the door. "I'll check on you later." As he rounded the corner, Phil saw him press his glasses into his forehead with both hands.

"Tell her I'm sorry," said Phil, as the door swung shut.


29 September


11:14 PM

He stared at the ceiling; the ceiling stared back. "Don't you ever sleep?"

The thing in the security camera glowered down at him. "Don't you?"

Phil fought the urge to smile. It felt alien and absurd. "You've moved on from screaming to schoolyard backtalk? Is it your eighth birthday, or something?"

"I was born when you were born," said the apparition. "Will I die, when you die?"

"Won't be my problem." Phil rolled over onto his side. The lights in the chamber were dim; a kilometre above him, it was the dead of night. "Maybe you can haunt my brother. I'm sure he'll outlive me."

"Would he even notice? If you died?"

"Fuck off." Phil stared at the vault door. "You don't know anything about my brother."

"How could I, Philip? You only ever think about yourself."

He cocked an eyebrow ceilingward. "That's rich, coming from you. 'Philip, Philip, Philip'. You're like a PR agent from hell." He closed his eyes.

There was silence, for a moment.

He opened his eyes.

"My brother's a scientist," he said. "Works for the Foundation, doing… I forget, honestly."

"He's forgotten you, too."

Phil nodded. "Maybe. He's a real bigshot. Smart as hell… applied as hell."

"You were never as clever. You never worked as hard."

"Right on both counts. But it doesn't matter… we grew up together." He smiled. "We… well. We grew up together."

"And then he abandoned you."

"Right again." Phil scratched his back. "I haven't talked to him in… years, now, I guess. He's always busy, and I… I don't know. I've never really needed too many people. But he was always out there; I could've talked to him, if I wanted to."

"And now you do, and now you can't."

Phil shook his head. "I'd like to know he's okay, at least? I even thought I saw him, just for a second the other day. It could've been any balding white dude, really." He paused. "It could have been him."

"It was him," said Doug. "He was here, and he ignored you."

Phil nodded. "Maybe."

"Everyone ignores you."

Phil smiled. "Not everyone." He rolled onto his back again. "Do you have a name, you hideous goober?"

"You know what I am," said the camera monster. "I'm your other half."

"That's not a name, though."

It stared at him.

"I'm going to call you 'Doug'," he said. "If you promise to stop jumpscaring me, you can call me Phil."

He closed his eyes. "Goodnight, Doug."

"Goodnight, Philip."

It started to scream.


4 October


10:18 AM

"Home, sweet home."

Phil looked askance at Dr. Blank. "Dorm, sweet dorm."

"Suit yourself."

Phil dropped his bug-out bag on the floor and flopped down on the bed. "Freedom," he muttered. "Relatively speaking." He looked around the room. "Bigger than my old one."

"Lonelier, too." Blank kicked the bag under the bedframe. "You're not hotbunking anymore. No roommates, either." He pointed at a closed door across the room. "Even got your own toilet and shower."

"No roommates, you say." Phil pointed at the full-length mirror beside the door; Blank glanced at it.

"Oh, well, yes. Looks like Super-Toy's settling right in."

"Super-Toy?"

"Super-Toys last all summer long."

Phil shrugged.

"Old sci-fi story."

Phil shrugged again. "Everyone's staring at me," he said. "They're gonna be staring at me the entire shift, when I start." Doug suddenly vanished.

"They won't even notice you," growled a voice from the bedside table. Phil flinched; he hadn't noticed the digital alarm clock with the reflective face.

"They're all staring at me, too." Blank adjusted his glasses. "Because it's my crazy idea."

Phil ran his fingers down his face and blinked at the doctor. "You think it's a crazy idea, too?"

Blank nodded. "I do. But if it's more efficient than sanity, I'll go with crazy every time."


3:32 PM

"Why won't it look at me?" Azad Banerjee stared at the mirror on the wall, transfixed. He was keeping his distance.

Phil pushed the mop head up against the wall, pulled it back, pushed it up, slowly converting the spotless floor into a shiny spotless floor. "It won't look at anybody, minus yours truly."

Azad shook his head. "I still can't believe this."

"Yeah, well. Join the club." Phil stretched, enjoying the familiar resistance of his old J&M jacket. It felt good to get out of the jumpsuit; he hated jumpsuits.

"Looks like a private club, from where I'm standing." Azad moved closer to the mirror, tensed up like a cat ready to spring back at a moment's notice.

"Speaking of where you're standing," said Phil, returning the mop to its bucket.

Azad glared at him. "Just because the eggheads think it's fine to let a mirror monster run rampant over the site, doesn't mean I'm gonna give it a big hug."

Phil squeezed out the mop and rolled the bucket down the hallway, noting how Doug's eyes followed his every step. Any why not? You don't see a guy pushing a mop every day… unless you're a janitor's personal demon, that is.

"All your friends are dead," said Doug.

"What did it say?"

"It said 'Do you know, Philip, what the most aggravating sentence in the English language is? It's 'What did he say?'' And you know, I think it's right?"

"Somebody's touchy."

Azad headed down the hallway and Phil ambled along behind him, shakily tracing a clean path with the mop. He noticed a sudden movement to his right, as Doug popped into existence on a fresh mirror mounted between two unmarked doors.

"I think I'm gonna be touchy forever," said Phil.

"You'll get used to it," said Azad, glancing down at his duty scrip and frowning. "Vending machines, seriously. Nothing important's broken right now?" He reached into his toolbelt.

"How am I gonna get 'used to it'?" Phil snapped.

Azad stared at the vending machine. It was a glass-fronted snack dispenser; the snacks were entirely obscured by a gaunt grey figure.

"This is already a shitty job," said Phil. "Now it's a shitty job with a foreman I can't duck who occasionally screams at me."

Azad began removing screws from the vending machine, his eyes locked on the apparition. "Sounds like a pretty typical foreman to me." He smiled at Doug, weakly, as though trying to placate it. "Or maybe a wife."

"Do you want a wife, Philip?" asked the thing in the glass, sneering with its scars. Azad briefly recoiled, then removed the final screw. "Do you want to be wanted?"

"Call me Phil, asshole. Everyone else does."

Azad swung the front of the vending machine open. Doug's image disappeared from Phil's view for an instant; when the back of the glass became visible, the apparition had already flipped around to face him again.

"Talking to yourself?" Azad asked.

"Yeah. I call myself 'asshole', asshole."

"I might start calling you that, too." Azad attached a small electronic device to the interior of the machine, and tapped a few buttons on it.

Phil felt a hand on his shoulder. He winced; he could remember when a sudden sensation like that would have sent him into the ceiling tiles. He looked behind him.

The hand was Dr. Blank's. "How's it working out so far?"

Phil shrugged. "Fine, I guess." He gestured vaguely at the hallway walls, decorated every few metres with black-and-red mirrors. "But this is a bit… much, isn't it? Not really our style?"

Blank laughed. "I think the "S" stands for something else. We don't do 'style' here. We do security, and this is what security looks like."

"It looks like a funhouse," said Azad. "Without the fun."

Blank blinked. "We've considered the matter with care. And the matter is closed." He smiled briefly at Phil, and walked away.

Azad watched him go. "Asshole," he muttered.

Phil shrugged. "Not used to talking to us lowlifes."

"Subjects in containment get talked at all the time." Azad removed the device and swung the vending machine shut again, Doug inverting mid-swing.

"I'm not a subject in containment," said Phil.

Azad grinned. "Sure you're not." He started replacing the screws.


2020


8 September


3:32 AM

He was standing in a long, pipe-lined hallway. The air was filled with sparks, with coruscating waves of pure light, with mathematical concepts and laughing rain. The air was closing in, and in mere moments there would be no room left for his simplicity, his mundanity, his —

Something grabbed him from behind. He turned, screaming silently, and fell face-first through the mirror.


10:27 AM

I wonder if I can swing one of those flex schedules. He prodded the heat register with his socket wrench. For when the night terrors come calling.

"Deering!"

Phil turned around. Nils Niemenin was strolling towards him, labcoat fluttering like Su-

"-perman's cape," said Doug.

"I wasn't going to finish that thought," Phil snapped at the mirror.

"So, this is 5056." Dr. Niemenin walked right up to the mirror, and tapped it. "Hello, in there!'

"Good luck with that. He never so much looks at anyone but me." There was a strange edge to his voice; he realized that he felt vaguely proprietorial about the apparition. Oh, brother.

"So I've heard." Niemenin continued to tap the glass. "Or, I should say, read. You two have had quite the experimentation history together! More than a dozen in just over two months. Of course, that was almost twenty years ago… not much interest, since."

Phil felt his pulse quicken. "You've read Doug's file."

Niemenin nodded, still tapping the mirror. "Yes, Doug's file. Interesting stuff. Bet you'd like to get your hands on it!"

Phil forced himself to shrug. He felt sick. "Not really. I prefer science fiction to science fact."

"This thing's more like fantasy fact." Niemenin glanced at him momentarily. "Not that it's your fantasy, I suspect."

"I don't really have fantasies."

As Doug began to speak — "At least none you want him to find out about" — Phil continued, focusing on the words in his mind because he couldn't hear them over the apparition's gravelly growl. "If we're being honest, he doesn't bother me much anymore."

Niemenin smiled — "His teeth are perfect" — and narrowed his eyes. "Are we being honest, though? Really?"

Phil blinked slowly. "I am," he said. "You're not really saying much."

Niemenin turned to face him. "I don't really have that much to say to you. I didn't even know who you were until… Blank, I think, pointed you out."

"We met in the cafeteria," Phil half-grunted.

Neimenin cocked his head to one side. "Oh, that was you? I suppose I was focused on Amelia. I hope we didn't make things too awkward for you."

"Not at all." Phil pictured the words in his mind and recited them one by one, fighting back a sudden taste of ashes in his mouth. "She seemed happy to see you." He felt like he'd just described a violent murder.

"Trust me, she was." Niemenin grinned, adjusting his tie in the mirror with a bit of ducking and weaving. "She must have been lonely with nobody to talk to."

"Nobody to talk to," said Doug.

"I wouldn't know," said Phil. "I always have somebody to talk to."

"Not much of a body," said Neimenin, tapping the glass one more time, "but I take your meaning. Most of us spend our entire lives wondering what makes us special, but you've got an all-day, every-day reminder right here. What more could a man ask for?" He chuckled; it rang false. "Still, can't be fun flying under everyone else's radar. I've heard so much about your friend here, but next to nothing about you. Besides what's in the file, of course."

Phil looked away. "Yeah, no one else would've mentioned me." He didn't care how tellingly bitter that sounded.

"No one else ever has." Niemenin smoothed out his tie. "But that's a good thing. Around here, being noticed is a liability." He nodded dismissively, and walked away.


5:35 PM

Amelia's jumpsuit was rumpled, her tousled hair hung down over her face and the bags under her eyes were darker than ever before. She yawned three times while Phil was giving his daily report; she apologized after each, but didn't look at him. He thought he caught her smiling softly a few times, but the smile disappeared whenever they made eye contact.

"Late night?" he asked, on the third occasion. What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck, he thought. Don't answer that!

She nodded. "Yeah, been busy. Uh." She was clearly trying to think of something more to say to him, and failing.

"Just leave," said Doug. "She doesn't want you here."

She pointed at the mirror. Phil shook his head. "He's speaking French, and I don't."

She nodded again, obviously distracted.

"I'd better go," he said. "Curfew's in an hour, and you're doing Chief Nascimbeni's duty this year." He smiled, squinting behind his glasses so he didn't have to see her face clearly. The smile hurt. "Don't catch any magic explosions."

"Phil?" she said.

He walked out of the office.


5:44 PM

He glanced at his dorm room door, really seeing it for the first time in years. All the other doors had rectangular, black-and-white labels. His had a yellow-shaded octagon split into quarters, the top three each containing a single symbol. An eye, reflecting fire; a padlock; some sort of knotted thing. The bottom of the octagon was empty; below it, "SCP-5056" in bold.

He unlocked the door and pushed it open.

"Forget about her," said Doug. Phil didn't bother to check the mirrors. "She's already forgotten about you."

He kicked the door shut behind him; it slammed, loudly, in the frame. He wanted to cry. He wanted to shout. He wanted to —

There was a manila envelope on his dining niche table, next to his pens and pencils in the empty soup cup.

He didn't own any manila envelopes. On closer inspection, it looked a lot like the one the All-Sections Chief had used to file his report, all those hundreds of thousands of years ago.

His heart skipped a beat when he saw what was written in the title field: "SCP-5056."

He picked it up and opened the flap. There was a thin stack of printouts inside, and he recognized the format immediately; until 2002, he'd sometimes liked to peruse the Clearance Level 1 files via 43NET before bed. They'd helped him fall asleep.

Usually.

There was a photograph clipped to the pages, a fuzzy, badly-sharpened image of a subway car with a familiar blurry silhouette visible in the door window. It looked like someone tall, thin and oddly-proportioned was standing outside the train as it sped along its underground track. It looked, he thought, fake as all hell. He glanced at the caption: "Enhanced detail from ultra-long-range photograph: SCP-5056-A within the Site-43 Inter-Sectional Subway System." That made sense. Doug loved to apparate on lenses, and he always wrecked them in so doing. They would've had to shoot the photo from far enough away that the monster couldn't manifest on the camera without abandoning Phil.

I must be just out of frame. I wonder when they took…

"Hang on," he said. 5056-A?

He laid the photograph on the table and read the first line of the file. "Special Containment Procedures: SCP-5056 is contained by the Janitorial and Maintenance Section of Site-43." He had to smile; someone had clearly enjoyed typing that line. "Its position depends upon, is determined by, and may be directed via the work schedule of Philip Eugene Deering (JM64/SCP-5056-B)."

His mouth went dry. What?

"SCP-5056-B is confined to Site-43…" What?! "He is not to be apprised of his SCP status." WHAT?!

He dropped the file on the table and sat down, heavily. He nearly missed the chair. That can't be right. That can't be right.

"You and I, Philip. Two in one."


5:53 PM

It made a horrible kind of sense, and he had to admit he'd had his suspicions over the years. But to have it all spelled out for him in such clinical language, to actually see himself referred to as an object of study, of containment, one half of an anomaly…

"SCP-5056-B is a Caucasian male, 172 centimetres tall with brown eyes and thinning, greying brown hair." He stood up and walked over to the full-length mirror beside the door, still holding the file. He tilted his head, trying to see around Doug's naked, emaciated form.

"There's more grey than brown," said Doug.

There was a separate report wedged between the sheets:

Risk Assessment: SCP-5056-B

Philip Eugene Deering poses only minimal containment challenges. He is naturally introverted and antisocial, maintaining a small circle of friends and only rarely seeking out the company of others. After psychiatric evaluation and off-site conversations with concerned parties, I have reached the following conclusions:

1) Deering does not pose a flight risk;
2) Deering's surviving family members will agree to suspend contact with him indefinitely;
3) Deering's limited leisure requirements are easily fulfilled by existing on-site facilities;
4) Brief visits to the topside interdiction zone should satisfy Deering's intermittent need for natural environments and daylight;
5) The fiction that one month's lead-in time is required to plan any off-site vacations should keep Deering at Site-43 indefinitely, of his own volition, as he is poorly motivated and resistant to long-term planning;
6) Individuals with Level 3 Security Clearance or higher demonstrating close relationships with Deering, if any, must be given access to a variant of the Special Containment Procedures File for SCP-5056 which omits any mention of him as a component of the anomaly;
7) New personnel should be directed to Deering for orientation on the properties of his counterpart, to facilitate the maintenance of his social circle over time;
8) Embedded agents should periodically encourage personnel to pursue Deering romantically, where compatibility has been indicated by Hiring and Regulation Section cross-referencing; records show he has never made romantic overtures without direct prompting.

The above measures should be sufficient to maintain Deering's emotional equilibrium ad infinitum, facilitating the containment of SCP-5056 at Site-43 until his death from natural causes. At that point, obviously, reassessment will become necessary.

- Dr. N. Ngo, 8 February 2003

He dropped it on the floor. His legs felt weak. The rest of the file washed over him like a tidal wave of shame, every sentence offering up a new insult: he was "reliable, amiable, melancholy"; he "engaged in brief romantic relationships invariably terminated by his partners"; he displayed "degraded responses to sudden audio and visual stimuli." By the end of the file, it was getting truly ridiculous.

He read a few of the final lines out loud: "His personal appellation for the apparition is "Doug," but when referring to it indirectly he prefers the term "my Employee of the Month Award." No such award has ever been granted to him, and in light of his present duties no such award is likely forthcoming."

He tried to throw the file across the room, violently; it caught the air wrong, and fluttered to the floor in front of him like a black-dappled butterfly.

He clenched and unclenched his fingers.

He took a deep breath.

He looked back at the mirror.

"You and me, Doug."

No response.

"Eighteen FUCKING years."

The apparition blinked.

Phil checked his watch. It was also blinking: 6:00 PM.

He grabbed his PDA from the table, and headed for the door.

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