Alma Mater
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He was taken from his home, as per tradition. The room where he woke was clean and dim. His seat, minimal, but comfortable enough.

They said they wouldn't hurt him. All they wanted was to show him the truth.

Horrors beyond comprehension were laid clear and plain on a screen in front of him. Faceless voices offered commentary on each nightmare with academic passion. There was tangible evidence, too. Far too tangible. He asked for water, and they gave it to him. They also gave him a choice: he could go home with no memory of what he had just learned, or he could leave the life he’d known and join them.

"But my family…"

He had no spouse or children. His parents would miss him, of course, and there would be so many lies. But he could still visit, they said. Once in a while. Perhaps. It wasn't the end. It was a beginning.

"But what help could I possibly…"

A hand squeezed his shoulder. He had potential, they told him. He was smart. He was college educated—mostly. He didn't have to be working a dead-end job. Someone had been watching him, and they saw everything that he could be. He was capable of more.

He packed his things, told his many lies, and boarded the bus marked with a logo for a company that didn't exist.

Junior Researcher, they called him, but he felt more Junior than Researcher. Mostly took dictations, grabbed coffee, delivered files. On a few occasions he had the honor of staring for hours at inanimate objects and writing reports on how they did nothing whatsoever.

The more he learned, the more he understood how little he knew. The organization was large and competitive. Everyone who made a difference had a doctorate, and he was determined to make a difference. But how could a college dropout like him hope to finish graduate school?

No need to worry, they said. The Foundation's resources are virtually infinite. They have a program, a state-of-the-art program, for fertile minds such as his. He would learn from the greatest scholars in the world. Under their tutelage, he would have a PhD. He tearfully thanked them for the opportunity.

Just a few weeks of studying, they said, and then you'll be off saving mankind.

Read these books. Well, at least these chapters.

Take these classes. Yes, they're all available online.

He asked about accreditation. They laughed. What part of 'secret organization' did he not understand? He felt ridiculous.

The work was easier than expected, which made him feel smart. Graduation came and went in the blink of an eye. There was no ceremony. Who has time for formalities when the fate of the world is at stake?

His office was small and tidy with his name on the door. A diploma reading "Doctor of Anomalous Science" hung on the wall behind his desk. A sense of fulfillment washed over him at the sight of it. He wasn't even thirty.

It was Safe class, appropriate for a first assignment. Seemed like simple stuff. A music box. Or was it a lamppost? Or a doll, or piano, or key? It doesn't matter. The result is the same.

He went missing a few days ago. His final research log was barely coherent. Questions were raised.

When they found him today, it was discovered that he had eaten his own head, which only raised more questions, which meant there was more research to be done.

There is always more research to be done.

Tomorrow there will be a different name on the office door and a different doctor will hang her fresh diploma on the wall behind the desk. She feels like she can conquer anything. She's not even thirty.

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