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Story Application: "085, A Romance in 2.5 Dimensions"

Chapter 1: "Sierra Nevadas"

Her cadmium yellow #5 hair cascades down over her shoulders as she sits down in the corner of the canvas, looking up into the white expanse of blank gesso, her slender legs crossed at the ankles. Her arms are crossed, and there is a desperation to her as she kicks her feet back and forth, expectantly. "Come on," I hear her say. "Hurry up."

{Patience,} I write, using a very light charcoal pencil. {Don't rush an artist.}

She doesn't respond much to that, except to sigh and lean against the bench, sighing. She scratches an itch, pulling up her ultramarine dress a bit, and I see a slight flash of white panty. I wonder whether I should tell her about that. Probably best not to mention it.

My paints are ready, my palette prepared, my brushes are all arranged. I pin up the photograph of the lakeside view next to the canvas, and spend a moment just drinking in the sight of that beautiful mountain view. It was a photograph I'd taken ten years ago, as a teenager, on a camping trip up in the Sierra Nevadas. I'd been with Rachael back then: lovely Rachael with the girl-next-door eyes and the face of an angel, lovely Rachael who had crept into my tent while the others were asleep and put her finger to my lips, kissing me softly as she crept into my sleeping bag, lovely Rachael who now lived somewhere in Sacramento, a lobbyist for Greenpeace now, and I wonder, as I sketch the outlines of the mountains and trees, whether or not she sometimes looks out at the forests that she fights so hard to protect and remembers, with a smile, the night when she crept into the tent of her classmate wearing a t-shirt and panties and made love to him to the sound of chirping crickets and falling water.

Memories. My pencil dances across the canvas with reckless abandon, as it always does when my muse strikes, when the left-side brain shuts down and lets my right-side brain flow freely, when eye and hand and pencil work in perfect harmony. Memories of the time that the man in the black tie had come to me and told me that he'd read my paper on folklore and myth, being told that I had the opportunity to save the world. Memories of the first missions I went on, the first times I was asked to handle a containment situation. The hands that now held pencil and eraser had once been red with the blood of a close friend, Maggie Lyndon, Dr. Maggie Lyndon, torn in half due to a single moment's indiscretion with Six-Eighty Two, the red of her blood deeper and darker than any cadmium red that my paints could mix. It is not sadness that I feel, but regret, regret for the diamond ring that still stays in my safe deposit box, that I never got to give to her.

If only I were as cold and hard-hearted as some of my colleagues. I cannot drink away my problems, nor can I effect the same cold-hearted dismissal of death that Dr. Clef or Kondraki can. My mother had always told me that, as the youngest, I was the most sensitive of her children. Indeed, although my career was found in science, I had always found solace in art, and it was in art that the Overseers decided that I should find my solace now. Removed from the Keter-level projects, I was told that there was another SCP that had need of my unique talents.

I don't know what I expected, but I did not expect this.

As always, the time passes quickly, and by the time I am finished with the sketch, an hour has passed without my knowing. Cassy is rapt with attention, smiling with delight at the faint outlines of the mountains, the lake, the dock and the small cabin. "It looks wonderful," she gasps. "Can I… ?"

{Not yet,} I write. I put down my pencil now and take up my palette and brushes. With broad strokes of my widest brush, I lay down my base colors: deep, dark blue for the water, brown for the mountains, pale cerulean for the sky. I move quickly, for Cassy is impatient, but I am careful to pace myself, to slow myself down and really see what is there before I place it on the canvas. Under my brush, the mountains slowly come alive, the flat browns giving way to deep, craggy peaks capped with snow, then bursting forth in greenery as the pine trees explode over their craggy sides. Down low, I take some time to paint out some more details on the closer trees: the broken branch on one, the bent trunk on another, the slight hint of wood rot in a third. Closer in, closer to Cassie, I take some time to paint in the slightly dry grass in darker greens, dabbing in a little bright yellow to form the budding flowers of mustard.

Even as I begin to start on the lake, the painting begins to come alive. A soft wind rustles the high branches of the pine trees, causing dried needles to come drifting to earth, thickening the dark carpet of pine needles under Cassy's bare feet. The lake, which had begun as a deep, blue blotch of paint, quickly takes form under layers of lighter and lighter hues, then under highlights of pure white mixed with a hint of cerulean, to reflect the sky. Little wavelets, like the ones that had lapped at the sides of the rowboat that Rachael and I had drifted in for hours, form on the surface of the water, and begin to move, to ebb and flow.

I lift my paintbrush up, and I step back from the painting. Something is missing here… something that is not in the photograph, nor in the painting, something to make it complete…

Cassy knows. "Can you paint me a dock?" she asks. "I want to dive into the water."

I can't talk to her now, for writing anything to her would ruin the painting, so I respond by laying down four quick lines of black, then layering over it with brown and walnut. The dock is a bit rickety, and the piles appear to be a bit old, but that is part of its charm as well. I am tempted to add a mallard duck to the scene, but that would only remind Cassy of her loneliness. I settle for a leaf on the water, drifting across the lake, casting small ripples on the surface of the dark water.

"Thank you," Cassy says, turning towards me and smiling. "It's beautiful."

I sign my name in the corner in white paint, and add a small, "You're Welcome" and a smiling face to my signature. Cassy gets up from the park bench and walks towards the lake, her bare feet crunching over the pine needles, seeming not to care about the rough ground, and I wonder whether it is because she has never felt the true feeling of pine needles against bare skin that she does not know that it should hurt.

It's a mistake to get distracted like that… in my philosophical haze, I trip over my tray of paints, and my little tubes of Burnt Umber and Vermillion scatter across the containment room. "Fuck!" I sigh. Getting down to my knees, I start rooting under the piles of canvases and papers, trying to gather up my various paints and supplies.

I've finally gathered up my last tube of Cadmium Red and am arranging them in my box when I notice a flash of pale flesh on the painting. I turn and immediately turn away, blushing, as Cassy pulls off her blue dress and lets it fall, carelessly, onto the dock. Her bare back is pale, and slender, and her loveliness is that of an Aphrodite rising from the sea foam as she takes the ribbon out of her hair and lays it atop her dress. She dives into the water with a bright splash, emerges in a shower of sparkling water droplets, and slowly begins to swim across the lake, reveling in the coolness of the water.

Some mad impulse in me wishes she'd choose a backstroke.

I manage to fight back my mad libido and close my artist's case slowly, quietly. Stupid. She can't hear me, or see me, but it seems somehow… intrusive… when she is swimming bare naked through the lake, uncaring of what I might see. I am putting my pallette away when I hesitate, realizing something that I had forgotten.

I have just enough white left. I put my brush to paint and quickly add the missing element to the pile of clothing on the dock.

Closing up my case, I leave the containment facility, swiping my card through the reader and turning out the lights as I go. Cassy will not mind: to her, the sun will stay bright and shining, the wind will always be cool, and the water will always be crisp and clean, until she is ready to go back home, to the sketchpad left duct-taped to one corner, to her usual world of monochrome blacks and whites.

I wonder, as I head back to my office, why I did that last bit. Perhaps it would have been better just to leave her be, so that she would never know that I had seen her dive, naked, into the lake? Maybe. Maybe it was just that it seemed unfair that I could see her and she could not see me, or maybe it was just my way of teasing her.

Perhaps, as a gentleman, I just didn't feel like leaving a lady to swim without a towel.

Interlude 1

"Agent Lassiter's performance, given his recent emotional troubles, has been exemplary. His psych reports show that although his mental state is… ummmmm… still distressed… he's become much less suicidal than before. In fact, if we're lucky, he might decide not to cut his own wrists with a razor and bleed out on… fuck… let me start all over."

"Although Agent Lassiter remains in a state of emotional distress, he has made good progress in the last few months. I have every confidence that he will make a full recovery and return to field work… yeah, and he'll lay low for a few months and then blow his brains out with his sidearm and maybe take the team with him, fuck… let me start over…"

"Agent Lassiter is a fine operative… no, he WAS a fine operative, now he's a fucking basket case, and rightfully so. The kid saw his girlfriend… no, she was his fiancee… was she? I know he bought a ring, but did he ever manage to give it to her? Dunno, the kid was fretting about it like mad… anyway, he saw Maggie Lyndon torn to pieces by Scip Six-Eight-Two, and he couldn't do a damn thing about it because she was on the wrong side of an emergency partition, and if I ever find out who decided to make those things out of reinforced nine-inch plexiglass so you can see the horrible things that happen to people trapped on the other side, I'll murder them…"

"… fuck, I can't say that, they'll make him a Delta. Screw it, this telling the truth thing is getting me nowhere. Agent Lassiter is a fine operative who just needs some time to recuperate. I recommend that he be given a low-priority duty containing Safe-level SCPs until he makes a full recovery. There we go. And if anyone buys this bullshit, I've got a bridge to sell them. Fucking personnel reports, should never have accepted this stupid promotion…"

- Excerpted from the surveillance logs of Assistant Director Clef's office, six months before the Lassiter Incident.

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