Two Roads Diverge (The 3009-C Remix)
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Junior Researcher Benedict Kim had been a fan of the Site-19 Burger King since it had been built a few years back. It was brightly colored and aggressively normal, a pleasant alternative to the strange-smelling cafeteria. The wide tables and easy availability of food made it a good change of pace from the office.

Unfortunately, the change of place wasn't helping Benedict much. He had been there for hours, now, and his table was scattered with paperwork. His half-eaten cheeseburger had gone cold an hour ago.

He scowled at the thick blue binder open in from of him, its sleek blue plastic cover glinting in the fluorescent light. The header at the top of the page said, in neat block letters: SCP-3009-C PSYCHOLOGICAL PROGRESS REPORT. He lifted up his pen and—

His phone buzzed. Jolted out of his fast-food fueled stupor, he put the pen down and blearily checked the screen.

3009

whatcha doin?
can i call you 👌

It was SCP-3009, the Foundation's most irritating sapient Snapchat account. For once, she had only indirectly caused his general state of exhaustion, but she certainly wasn't helping the situation. He needed to concentrate. His bi-monthly trip down to Site-17 was later that day, and he had to prepare.

He picked up his phone and began hastily typing up a reply, but his phone almost immediately began to vibrate, like it had been possessed by the spectre of a very angry hornet. He hesitated for a moment, glancing at his binder as if for permission to slack off from work momentarily, and then accepted the call. The familiar face of what appeared to be an adolescent girl filled the screen.

"Hi hi," sang 3009. "Message for you from Doctor Coles! Our James Bond marathon is approved, and you're supervising! Great, huh?"

Benedict sighed. His supervisor, Dr. Dennis Coles, had taken to using 3009 as some sort of messenger pigeon — partially because it made her feel useful, and partially because he thought it was funny. It was lacking in professionalism, but 3009 loved it, and it was certainly more harmless than the other ways in which she wanted to 'help out' around the office.

"You could have just texted," he said patiently, and flipped around the camera so that she could see the mess of paper on the table. "I'm taking advantage of my lunch break to review and recompile my notes on 3009-C. I need to concentrate."

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I'll text next time!" said 3009, blatantly insincere. She had said that the last time, too. A pause, and then: "Actually, that was what I want to talk about. 3009-C, I mean. You're seeing her today, right?"

Benedict narrowed his eyes. He knew where this was going. 3009 always brought up the same question when her human counterpart was mentioned. When can we have our reunion? Their single meeting had ended on a rather antagonistic note, and 3009 had become fixated with putting things right, which was admirable but…

"3009, I've told you. She's not ready to see you yet. The therapist's reports have been promising, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves, alright?"

On the screen, 3009's face twisted. "I know that. I wasn't going to say that we should meet right now. I just mean… our birthday is in March. We're— well, I guess I'll technically be fifteen forever, but she's turning sixteen. That seems important, right? So I was thinking that maybe that could be when we had our reunion."

Benedict considered this. It sounded like a sensible timeframe, and it was good to set goals, but he didn't want to risk pushing 3009-C too hard.

And yet. 3009 was making puppy dog eyes at him, and despite knowing that it was a manipulation tactic, he softened. It did sound like an important date, to be fair. "I'll try," he conceded, before adding quickly, "But this is a preliminary goal only and may be re-evaluated based on changing circumstances."

3009 shook her head. "You have to promise," she said. "You have to help her by then, so that she doesn't have to spend her sixteenth birthday alone. Okay?"

He hesitated. 3009 looked at him expectantly.

"I promise," he said. "I'll do my best."


"Well? Go on, then. This one doesn't bite. Doesn't do much of anything, actually."

The on-duty security guard in Site-17's accommodation wing was not happy with Junior Researcher Benedict Kim. This was not surprising, given that Benedict was currently dithering outside the open door of a humanoid containment cell, and low risk or not, it was bad policy to just leave the door open like that.

"I just needed a moment to think," Benedict replied, rather irritably. He was nervous. Truthfully, he struggled to deal with teenagers, and teenage girls in particular. He knew the right thing to say on paper, the chemistry behind the way that their brains worked, but he just wasn't the most sensitive person.

So there he was, struggling to gather his thoughts. He just… didn't want to mess this up. He looked down again at the notes in his blue binder. 

3009-C continues to demonstrate symptoms consistent with major depressive disorder; in particular, its behaviour and mood are typically lethargic and characterised by frequent bouts of apathy during which it demonstrates indifference to all matters, including those that are important or appealing. Instances of self-harm and suicidal ideation have not reoccurred since October; though progress has stagnated, no signs of imminent relapse have been noted. Its current prescription of 40 mg/day Prozac (fluoxetine) remains adequate.

On further improvement: on 2018.12.14, 3009-C expressed interest in its diagnosis and, in particular, the scientific backing behind the usage of fluoxetine; it appeared particularly interested in my explanation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Given the stagnation of 3009-C's progress, any demonstration of positive interest is potentially a sign.

My professional recommendation is further encouragement of 3009-C's possible interest in psychology…

"Hey, I'm serious. Are you going in or not?" The security guard leaned against the doorframe in his best impression of a bored statue with a gun. He was clearly of the opinion that Benedict could 'gather his thoughts' inside the room, with the door shut.

"Sorry," said Benedict, and bit the bullet. He stepped inside.

Inside, the room was very dark. Nothing was moving. It almost looked unoccupied, except— there it was. There was a large, person-sized lump in the scratchy standard-issue blanket. It was not moving.

"Hello, 3009-C," he said. "How are you today?"

The blanket lump stirred, and then shifted. 

“Mmph," it said.

Benedict interpreted this to mean that 3009-C was the same as it always was — tired, and bored.

“May I turn on the lights?"

“Mmph," said the blanket lump again.

He clicked on the light switch. The humanoid containment cell was minimally furnished and had been redecorated for safety rather than comfort. There wasn't a single sharp object in sight, and a sleek black security camera blinked at him from the ceiling. 3009-C's desk was cluttered with a pile of untouched items: tubes of make-up, tabloid newspapers, and six months worth of Teen Vogue back copies. Most of them were still in their original plastic wrapping.

"You didn't read the magazines that I brought you last time," Benedict said, unsurprised. “I apologise. Did you not like them?"

This was their ritual. Benedict visited 3009-C at Site-17 every two weeks like clockwork, and brought her an entertainment item specifically catered to the known interests of the girl that 3009-C had claimed to be, upon being taken into Foundation custody. Stacey Lee had liked fashion, makeup, and Korean celebrities, but 3009-C hadn't shown interest in a single one of those things. She hadn't even feigned interest, to back up previous assertions of her identity as the original Stacey Lee.

The blanket made a movement that was frankly difficult to interpret. It was probably a shrug. Unresponsiveness was fairly normal behavior for 3009-C; he had received similar reports from any number of the other researchers and therapists assigned to her case. That was why he had been so excited, when one of the therapists had reported that she had actually shown interest in something.

He had seen the security footage. On most days, 3009-C did little else than lie in her bed, swaddled in her thin blanket. Sometimes they could see her counting the ceiling tiles. Most of the time she just lay there and slept, often forgetting to shower for days at a time.

Every three days, a researcher came to supervise her with cutting her nails. If they didn't, she would scratch relentlessly at her scars until they bled. Usually it was the long thin scars down her thighs, but on the really bad days, she went for the thicker ones slashed across her wrists. The scars had healed badly there because she'd picked and picked at her stitches.

“I brought you something again today," he said. “Something different, today. Will you at least have a look?" He waited. A long moment passed, and then another.

Finally, the lump began to shift and squirm. A head emerged, and then a torso, and soon Stacey Lee's familiar face looked back at him. The dark circles under her eyes looked like fresh bruises, her cheeks were a little too hollow, and her hair was a mess. The other 3009 would never have allowed that, but this wasn't the other 3009. 

The difference between them startled Benedict. Telling them apart was not particularly difficult anymore.

Slowly, carefully, he reached into his bag and pulled out a book. It was not a slim magazine like the ones from his last sorry attempt. Instead, it was a battered textbook, thick and solidly bound. 

He set it down on the bed, 3009-C's dark eyes tracking the steady movement, and stepped back a little.

“What… is this?" she said at last. Her voice was hoarse from disuse.

"It's Ulric Neisser's Cognitive Psychology," he said, at last. "It's actually my old copy. From when I was in university. At Berkley. I apologise for its condition. It is some years old, and perhaps slightly out of date. However, I've written notes in the margins, which I thought might be… helpful."

Dead silence filled the room. 

"I apologise if this doesn't meet your interests," he said, talking again, anxious to fill the silence. "I just thought that you might like something a little more… relevant. I've been informed that you've taken some interest in your diagnosis."

3009-C stared at the book, making no move to touch it. Benedict's heart sank. The report had said that 3009-C had been interested, but perhaps it had been a fluke. She certainly didn't look very interested now. He had been hoping for a better reaction, but this was no different to 3009-C's usual indifference.

“Relevant to my mental disorders?" she said, soft and bland. 

“Benedict winced. "No, to your— to your changing environment, and… I'm sorry, 3009-C. I didn't mean to offend you."

"I'm not offended," said 3009-C. It was difficult to tell if she meant it.

He left the book there when his visit wrapped up. It had been a gift, after all, even if 3009-C didn't want it. But when he looked back over his shoulder, she had curled up in her little lump under the blanket again.

"I'll see you again soon," he said on the way out, but 3009-C did not reply.


"So how's she doing? Dash C, I mean."

Benedict looked up from the DVD player that he was fiddling with. 3009 was looking at him with bright, curious eyes from the screen of his cellphone, which had been plugged into a charger and propped up in preparation for their long video call.

It was the lull between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and he had just half-heartedly watched Bond's lover-of-the-day kill herself via a dramatic elevator scene. He had brought his stack of paperwork with him, but it turned out that explosions and impressive stunts were really rather distracting. Still. He'd been asked to supervise 3009's Bond movie marathon, and so here he was. This technically counted as work too, after all.

He was surprised that she had waited for so long to pounce. 3009 had been asking questions about C nearly every day, and after that promise that he'd made — well. The truth was that Benedict was worried that 3009's hope for some kind of reconciliation was going to turn out to be an unrealistic one. 3009-C's improvement was slow and fragile. Would she ever be ready for it?

"Fine," he said, trying not to let his own bitter disappointment show on his face. Unfortunately, he said it in a tone that said decidedly that he did not, in fact, think that things were fine.

3009 looked at him expectantly. She crossed her arms.

He hesitated, and then sighed. "I'm concerned that I made a mistake today. Perhaps I was mistaken about C's interest in psychology."

"Psychology!" said 3009. "Really? I'm not interested in that."

"Well, apparently she isn't either," said Benedict, unable to keep a trace of bitterness from seeping into his voice. "I had just— I had hoped that she would be. Her therapist suggested that it might be the case, but evidently, that was incorrect."

3009 went quiet. "That's a shame," she said, after a moment. "It would have been nice, if she had been."

Benedict blinked. This was a surprisingly sensitive moment from the brash 3009. "You think so?"

"Well, you think so too, don't you? It's… it's important to, I don't know, find your passions and all that. That's what they used to tell us in school. And psychology would have been a really sensible choice. Relevant."

"Relevant?" Benedict repeated, curiously. He had said that too, earlier. 

3009 nodded fervently. "Yeah. To, like, being here in the Foundation. We don't know when or if we're going to leave. It would be nice to learn something useful for being here, right? So that maybe eventually we could have something to do, if we're going to be here anyway. Something to help out. It would be better than just sort of… sitting around doing nothing, right?"

He stared at her. 3009 looked away.

"I don't know if she feels that way. But I would, if I was her. And you think that too, right? If you wanted her to be interested in psychology."

An insightful comment. Sometimes he forgot that 3009 was really rather perceptive. A people person, which was ironic given that it wasn't really a person at all. Or at least not a human person.

"I guess I do agree," he said, finally. "I would like… I would like for her to feel a sense of purpose. I think that's the problem. The pointlessness of it all."

"Yup, a purpose," 3009 nodded, and then gave a sharp grin edged with a kind of ironic mischief. "And you feel that way about me having a purpose too, right? With my incredible future career as the world's first secret agent that's actually a social media account?"

Benedict's heart sunk. Another problem, and not one that he had been mentally prepared to deal with. Damn these humanoid skips. There was always something to deal with, with them. 

Of course, this conversation had been in the works for a long time too.

"3009, being a field agent, it's— it's not like James Bond, you know," said Benedict, stumbling over his words. "It's not glamorous. It's dangerous, and you would have to do things that… don't always sit well with you. You shouldn't want to do it, and they wouldn't let you anyway. Foundation policy is largely against attempting cooperation with anomalous individuals. There's too much risk of… well, of cooperation ceasing at an unfortunate time."

"There wouldn't be a risk with me," said 3009, in a low voice. "You don't get it, Benedict. I wouldn't leave here even if I could. Not even now, even though I know that I'm never going to have a body again. Or maybe because of that."

"You wouldn't?"

"Where would I go?" she said. "Back to my— my family? What are they going to do with a snapchat account for a daughter? And if not them, then who?"

"3009, I—"

She cut him off. "These calls are my whole world. Snapchat is for talking to people, and when I'm talking to someone, I've got a shape, a face, a voice. And when it stops then there's nothing again, and I go back to being— to being nothing again. Electricity crackling through the void." Her voice went quiet. "My parents are going to die someday, you know? And so are you. Who's going to talk to me then?"

"Whoever the next Foundation researcher in charge of you is," said Benedict, with dawning understanding.

3009 nodded. "It's… it wouldn't be the same, but it would be something. You understand?"

He did understand.

"So I wouldn't leave," said 3009. "There's no reason not to… to let me try to help. Maybe I'd even be useful to everyone here. Maybe Dash C would too."

They had gotten off track. Benedict shook his head.

"This is… this is irrelevant to the current topic. 3009-C seemed uninterested in the academic study of psychology. I brought her a textbook. She seemed to have no interest in reading it. I'll have to try another avenue."

"She did?" said 3009, curious. "That's a pity. I would have read it, if I was her. What are you going to do?"

"I don't know," Benedict admitted.

There was a long pause, as 3009 considered this.

"Well… I don't think you should give up on her yet," she said at last. "We're pretty similar. So that means that she's— she's probably more resilient than she looks. People in general tend to be, I think. Maybe bring different books."

"I think I'll do that," said Benedict. "Thank you for the advice. It was… actually very helpful."

3009 beamed. "It was? Well, you know what else people need, other than to find their passion?"

"What?"

"Friends! So… the reunion meeting has to happen, okay?"

He looked down at the Quantum of Solace DVD, forgotten in his hand, and then shrugged and put it in. "We'll see how it goes, 3009."

"Pay attention this time," said 3009. "I'm going to be James Bond but cuter, and you're going to be Q. So we have to learn properly. Okay?"


One week later, when he went back to the containment cell where 3009-C lived, Benedict Kim was armed with a bag packed full of high school level academic textbooks in mathematics, biology, physics and chemistry.

He was early. His appointments with her were usually spaced two weeks apart, but he wanted to show 3009-C that he was willing to go the extra mile. That he cared about the outcome of their appointments, maybe even a little beyond what his job required from him.

The door slid open with a hiss. 3009-C was sitting on the bed with her legs crossed. She was frowning at a familiar textbook; the blanket was wadded up in a ball at the foot of the bed.

"3009-C?" he said, surprised.

She jumped, and took out one earbud. "Researcher Kim?"

"You're reading the textbook," he said, in disbelief.

There was a long pause, in which they both struggled for words.

The silence was broken by 3009-C snapping the book shut. She stared at it, resting there in her lap, instead of making eye contact. 

"To be honest, I'm… I'm no good at science," she said, stumbling over the words. They came out awkwardly shaped but they were words, and Benedict's heart leapt into his throat. "Stacey Lee had, um, terrible marks."

Of course, it would have been better if she hadn't dropped a complete non-sequitur, but Benedict had gotten better at rolling with the punches. 3009 did it all the time, after all.

Benedict opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again.

"That doesn't mean that you couldn't improve, with time and effort," he said, very carefully but nonetheless just as awkwardly. He himself had been a prodigy; he had attended UC Berkeley at age sixteen, and excelled. 3009-C was not a prodigy, but she had plenty of time on her hands, and very little else to live for.

Another uncomfortable silence.

"You think this is going to fix me?" said 3009-C eventually, tracing the book's title. A note of true confusion leaked into her voice. "A textbook? You think— is it supposed to be as easy as that?"

"No," Benedict confessed. "I don't really know how to fix you. I just thought that maybe you'd like it. That maybe it would help."

This was perhaps not the most professional thing to say, but it was true. Benedict had wracked his brain for what 3009-C might enjoy, if she didn't want to partake in any of Stacey Lee's former hobbies, and had come up empty. He had been grateful when the therapist had suggested that she might like something that he himself had enjoyed, at an approximately similar age, which was… studying. 

And 3009 had been right. It was relevant. He didn't know if there was a brighter future at the Foundation for 3009-C, but it was an idea. It was something to hope for. It was, at the end of the day, better than nothing.

"And if it doesn't?"

"Then… we'll keep trying. Until we find something that does help."

"This is a little advanced," said 3009-C after a moment. She lifted up the book and showed it to him. "I'm like, fifteen. And not whatever kind of super-genius you were at fifteen. Maybe, um… maybe you could bring something a little more basic. Like the rest of high school biology."

"Oh," said Benedict. He flushed. "I… I actually have that with me. And also some other subjects." He emptied out his bag onto the mattress. A small waterfall of textbooks spilled out. "Should I… take back the psychology one?"

He reached for the book back, but 3009-C pulled it back quick as a flash. "No, I'll keep this," she said, her face going hot. "I'm going to read it. Just… bring me the other stuff too, alright?"

"Okay," said Benedict, in wonder. This was progress. He was actually making progress. This was the first request that 3009-C had made in months, after she had given up on the requests to go home or see her family. "Is there anything else that you'd like?"

"Yes," said 3009. "Um… can I have a teacher?"

"I'm sure that can be arranged," said Benedict, already considering how the Foundation might acquire a private biology tutor. Perhaps one of the interns…

"No, I mean… I want you to teach me."

A long pause.

"What?"

3009-C's face fell, twisting with a strange mixture of embarrassment and disappointment. "Well, you're… Aren't you supposed to be a specialist? And we already know each other, so… it just makes sense, for you to teach me. Do you not want to? You don't have to, but—"

"No!" said Benedict quickly. "No, I want to. I just— it's been a while since I went over the basics and I'm not sure if I would do a good job."

"Then we'll both read up on it," said 3009-C. What looked almost like it could be the ghost of a smile flickered across her face, too quickly to even react to. Then, just as quickly, it was gone again, and she looked back down at her book awkwardly. It was clearly the end of the conversation.

"Okay," said Benedict. It had already been established that he had a particularly difficult time dealing with teenaged girls, and if there was one thing that he had learned from the other 3009, it was that sometimes it was pointless to argue. "I'll… I'll broach this with my supervisors, and then I'll come back soon."

She was silent. Benedict Kim turned to leave, and then—

"Uh… well, also, I need new glasses," said 3009-C.

Benedict paused. "Don't you have all those contact lenses?"

"They kind of dry out my eyeballs so I don't like reading with them in. And I'm pretty sure that my vision's gotten worse again."

"Okay," said Benedict. "Is there anything else?"

He waited. There was a long pause, in which 3009-C squirmed in a manner that indicated that there was definitely something else.

"Stacey Lee was no good at science," she said, very quietly and uncertainly, like she was not entirely expecting an answer. "But do you think that I could be?"

Benedict's throat was strangely tight. "Yes, 3009-C. I think you could be very good at science, if you tried hard enough."

"And you'll help me?"

"Yes. Yes, I'll help you."


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