An Apple a Day...

rating: +103+x

Eleven Years Ago

A young woman sat in a hermetically sealed cell, a broad grin on her face. Her dark skin was covered by a pale coat of makeup, with black mascara and lipstick, giving her face the look of some bizarre mix between a teen who had gotten too into goth and a monochromatic clown. What ruined it was her attempt to actively look intimidating by giving a wide grin at the glass.

On the other side of the glass, Dr. Veijo Saarijärvi pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand, the other handing a file over to Simon Glass.

"SCP-353. Keter?" Glass frowned. "She's just sitting there in a cell."

"Read on a bit."

Realization dawned in Glass's eyes as he came to the second paragraph. "She can manipulate bacteria?"

"And she's started showing the ability to control them outside of her own body." He nodded to a red line on the floor before them. "Twenty-meter exclusion radius. Keeping oxygen levels low in her cell keeps her docile."

"Biohazard suits do nothing?" Glass chewed his lip.

"It's hard for a biohazard suit to do anything if she can make your gut flora mutate to the point where it starts eating your intestine." Saarijärvi sighed. "She's a lost cause."

"Never say that." Glass adjusted his glasses. "Where's the intercom?"

"Over there. You may have to yell."

Glass crossed over to a pole with an intercom speaker on it and tapped the button twice. The figure in the cell looked up at the ceiling. "Can you hear me?"

"Another jailer come to visit their pet?" The figure within chuckled. "Do you hope to control me? Force me to obey to your whims?"

"No. I wish to help you. What is your name?"

"My name is Vector." There was a hissing through the speaker. "And you shall bow before me."

Harkness, Maryland Quarantine Zone
October 31st, 2019

Audrey McGrath sat back in her seat and winced as the needle was pulled out. "Not going to comment on the look?" She asked, blinking her heavily-mascaraed eyelids.

"Nearly gave me a heart attack, seeing you back in your old… what's the word?" Dr. Veijo Saarijärvi tilted his head. "Old duds." His laugh was muffled through the biohazard suit he was wearing as he put the sample of blood he had drawn from the woman into a box marked 'Biohazard Level 4'. "How's counseling going?"

"Dr. Palmer's taking over well from poor Glass." Audrey shrugged, rubbing the inside of her elbow after gauze was applied. "He said that he didn't mind me putting on makeup and dying my hair again, but… well, it looks a little odd."

"Goth fashion doesn't work as well on a thirty-seven-year-old." Veijo locked the box and handed it to an assistant. "Still, the lipstick looks good on you, if nothing else."

Audrey let out a soft 'heh' as she stood. "What are you hoping to develop from this sample?"

"Zika's on the upswing again, and there's a shortage of vaccines." Veijo led Audrey to the door. "Thank you for coming by on such short notice, 3—" He stopped himself. "That is, Audrey. Sorry. Old habits die hard."

Audrey rolled back her sleeve, revealing a tattoo on her left arm that read 'SCP-353'. "I'm technically still in containment. You're fine."

With that, she exited the Salk & Cooper Pharmaceutical Testing Facility, or as it was known internally, Site-52. It had originally been Samson and Cooper, but Jonas Salk did aid in the original containment of Harkness, so when an O5 had one of their rare sentimental moments, they decided to rename this particular front.

Harkness was, as always, covered in a miasma. That was the only word to describe it— a dense, sickly green fog which had pervaded the town for over thirty years. Sunlight was rare, but thankfully, the fog was contained to the Nexus Zone, so no errant gusts of wind could blow it onto the nearby highways— if twenty miles could be called nearby.

Ten Years Ago

For the first time in a very long time, the door to SCP-353's cell opened. SCP-353 herself looked up from the book she was reading— Journal of a Plague Year. Let it never be said that Vector was not thematically consistent.

Dr. Glass knew that biohazard suits wouldn't help. He didn't even bother wearing one. He could practically see the miasma around her, and he swore that it whispered. "Vector?" He asked.

The woman snapped to face him. "…that voice. You're Glass."

"First time meeting face-to-face." He shrugged. "I figured if you were going to kill me, you would have done it the instant I got into the exclusion zone."

"Big mistake." Vector stood with a manic look in her eyes, and strode closer to him. Halfway to her captor, she paused, and her eyes widened as she recoiled. "What the everliving fuck is in you?"

"You noticed." Glass looked down at his hands. "During a containment breach, I was exposed to an anomalous contagion. It's expected to overtake me within five years."

"So, you're coming in here looking for a cure?" Vector snorted. "That's… just sad." Still, she came closer to him. "What the hell does it do?"

"Is that important?" Glass sat on the floor of the cell. "I'm not afraid of dying anymore, so if you're going to kill me, kill me. If you're going to talk, then talk."

Vector frowned. The organisms in his body, whatever they were, weren't responding to her Control. She couldn't discern what they would do to his body, how they would kill him, even if they were bacteria, virus or archea. They were a curiosity, and his death meant no more access to them.

She sat by Dr. Glass. "What do you want, Freud?"

"So she does have a sense of humor." Glass pulled out his phone. "SCP-353 Session 1, commencing recording."

Today, the miasma was lit by dozens of grinning plastic smiles, belonging to degradation-resistant faux Jack-o-Lanterns, given gratis by the Foundation. Trick-or-treating supplies had been given out as well. Costumes were… slightly more of an issue, due to the unique physiology of some of the townsfolk.

"Eyyy, Audrey!"

She recognized the voice of Alan Plum before she saw him. Man had Chronological Vocal Displacement Disorder— his words came out before he opened his mouth. "Ey, Al."

Alan stepped out of the miasma, wearing a costume modeled after Bane from the Nolan trilogy. Thankfully, this meant that his mouth was covered, so that his words and lips didn't move out of sync. "Just give some blood?"

"Yeah, yeah." She rolled her shoulders. "You heading to the Halloween bash tonight?"

"Maybe. But it's such a beautiful day out that I thought I'd spend it out here and not in the solarium. Catch some rays."

"Your humor's ahead of your time." Audrey stretched. Spending twenty minutes strapped to a chair tended to give you a kink in your back. "Hopefully they find something useful."

The two of them walked off into the fog. In addition to the Halloween party at Leena's, there was a small fair on the main street— if one could call a dozen food stands, a carousel, a tilt-a-whirl and a face-painting booth a fair. But the smell of frying food made Audrey think of it as one.

"I could go for an elephant ear right now." Audrey groaned. Even the thought of fried food made her stomach roil. Having every strain of virus and bacteria known to humanity in your bloodstream did not preclude you from having acid reflux, even in Harkness.

"Eat something healthy instead." Alan led her over to a cart selling caramel apples and cotton candy. "Well. 'Healthy'."

Audrey looked at the menu, her eyebrow raising as she noticed an item on it labelled "Gilded Apple" for 20 requisition tokens. She waited until she got to the front of the line, and saw that Alex Whittlesey, a woman affected by Fractal Body Syndrome, was manning the stand.

"Hey, Aud." She smiled with one of her five mouths. "What can I get for you?"

"What's a gilded apple?"

"Got in a special breed of apple from Wisconsin. Don't know how, but dipping it in caramel turns it gold." She nodded to the rack of apples by her window. "Wanna try one?"

"Why not?" Audrey took out her requisition card and handed it to Alex. "God knows it'll give me less reflux."

A minute later, Audrey was walking away from the stall, inspecting her gilded apple. She had never seen caramel so reflective— even through the miasma, she could see herself in it. "Been ages since I've had one of these."

Alan talked before, and through, a mouthful a cotton candy. "You gonna admire yourself in it or are you going to eat it?"

Rolling her eyes, Audrey bit into the apple. The caramel was sweet and gooey, the apple was tart and crisp, and it was perfect.

Nine Years Ago

"SCP-353, Session 48, commencing recording." Dr. Glass sat across the table from Vector. "You're not wearing your makeup today."

"It wasn't really makeup." Vector shook her head. "Wasn't allowed it. Just used a bunch of bacteria with chromatophores to color my face and skin."

"Hmm." Dr. Glass looked at his recorder. "Last session, I brought up the Pandora's Box project to you. Are you at all—"

"No." Vector slammed her fist on the table. "Fuck no. If I'm going to be a bioweapon, it'll be on my own terms."

"All right, all right." Glass put up his hands in a placating gesture. "Now that that minefield's out of the way… have you been keeping up on your journaling?"

"Not much to journal about." Audrey pulled out a notebook from underneath the table. "But yeah. Don't worry, it's been sterilized."

Glass took the journal and flipped through it. He sighed as he saw the majority of the writing had been scribbled out. "Vector, I appreciate you wanting to be private about your life, but we've been at this for over two years now. I still don't know anything about you."

"What's there to know?" Vector rolled her shoulders. "I can eat pathogens and mutate them in me. Do you really need anything more than that to be a living bioweapon?"

Glass rubbed his face. She was regressing into the comic book mindset, so he may as well follow. "Well, the best villains have good backstories, right? Clayface used to be an actor before becoming horribly disfigured, Mr. Freeze was just trying to save his wife, Thanos was in love with Lady Death… so what's your backstory?"

Vector looked down at the table. "You never cared before."

"Well I'm caring now." Glass sighed. "Just give me a hint, Vector. Please."

Vector looked up at him.

"I was born in Tuskegee, Alabama."

And that was all she said for the rest of the session.

Audrey walked alongside Alan as she ate the apple. The Miasma almost looked pretty with all of the Jack-o-Lanterns showing through it. Almost. It looked Halloweeny, at the very least.

"We're having a Mystery Science Theater marathon at the Community Center. You in?" Alan sounded hopeful.

"Mike or Joel?"

Alan groaned. "Oh god you're one of those people."

"They've both got their merits! But the show didn't feel the same after Joel left it." Crunch went the apple. "I'm fine with both, though."

"We're kicking it off with Monster a Go-Go in half an hour." Alan lifted his mask in order to dig into a pile of cotton candy he had ordered. "We just have to get the entire floor lead-lined, first. The Parker family is bringing their kids over."

"Right, they have the, uh…" Audrey snapped her fingers repeatedly, the name of the Parkers' condition escaping her.

"Spectral epidermal syndrome. Ghost-skin disease. They can phase through anything that isn't lead." Alan shook his head. "Kitty Pryde never had to put up with that. X-Men is full of shit."

Audrey chuckled. "Amen to that."

They went their separate ways. Audrey didn't seem to realize that the apple wasn't getting smaller, no matter how much she ate.

Eight Years Ago

"SCP-353, Session 105." Dr. Glass cleared his throat. "You still haven't told me your real name."

"Vector is my real name." Vector spat. "I expect you to respect that."

"All right, all right." Glass put his hands out in a placative manner. "Vector it shall be, then. But why that name?"

"It sounded cool." Vector shrugged. "That's all."

Glass didn't buy it. He shuffled through his notes. "You were born in Tuskegee around… 1982, '83?"

"Shouldn't have told you that." Vector groaned. "What, you found my parents, interviewed them, told them that their daughter is a monster?" She let out a short laugh. "But yeah. '83."

"It's just that I found an elementary-school yearbook entry for a Halloween costume. Fifth grade." He took out a photograph of a little girl with dark skin, wearing a cardboard computer monitor over her head, a cape on her back, a large "V" on her chest in a square, and a smile missing several baby teeth. "Kind of cute. 'The Amazing Vector-Girl'. Wish we had that in a Marvel movie."

Vector's face turned to confusion, shock, anger, and then sadness in the space of less than a second. "…you actually dug me up." She snorted. "Un-fucking-believable. Get out."


She turned, ready to strike him, to mutate the benign polio vaccine in his bloodstream into something that would make a life in the Iron Lung seem like a mercy, but then she realized something. He could have called her by her old, dead name. He didn't.

"I'm just trying to understand who you were, so we can figure out who you are. Because from what I've seen? You weren't the kind of girl who traveled the world and collected Ebola and smallpox and polio and Marburg and god knows what else just because you could." He drew a line on the table with his fingers at both ends. "I'm trying to figure out how you got from Point A-" he tapped the photograph— "to Point B." He nodded in her direction.

Vector paused."Not much to tell."

"Tell it anyway."

"I got sick a lot as a kid, and then one day, I didn't get sick anymore." She looked at the far wall. "Are we done?"

"If that's what you want." Glass stood. "See you in a week, Vector."

"Sure." She looked away, disinterested.

Audrey McGrath found herself fumbling for the light switch in her apartment. She had managed to get the apple down to the stick after almost ten solid minutes of eating. There was a hotline on her kitchen wall to report anomalies, and she was planning on using it— as soon as she got cleaned up.

Desperately wishing she could recall the chromatophore-filled bacteria that gave her a horrific look when she was younger, she made her way to the bathroom and started a tap of warm water, rubbing a makeup-removal wipe over her lips. Some of the caramel on her face stuck to the wipe, and pulled away in a solid string— a string that was colored an odd shade of red. It snapped off, and took a chunk of fetid skin with it, leaving a bloody gap on her face.

"What the fu—" Audrey's curse was interrupted by a loud, wet, barking cough, which discharged blood onto her mirror. She felt her nose run with thick, green mucous, which dribbled down and mixed with the blood, her makeup running a disgusting combination of colors.

She barely had time to turn into the toilet before the apple, and most of her meals the previous days, erupted from her mouth into the toilet. Something was very, very wrong. She never got sick, outside of food poisoning or heartburn. And this didn't feel like either of those things.

Spitting out a glob of blood, she ran to the hotline. She didn't even need to pick it up, just break the cord. That would trigger an alarm that would scramble Foundation agents to her location within five minutes.

Her right arm contorted itself into a claw, and she used the pain to snap through the flimsy plastic and copper cord as she fell, face contorted in agony. She barely had time to turn herself onto her side so she wouldn't drown in her own blood and vomit, and her voice turned into a scream.

Seven Years Ago

Simon Glass stood in front of a gravestone.

It was small, conservative. The estate of the people buried there couldn't afford much. Just a marker with three names on it— surname, name of the husband, and name of the wife. Martin and Edna, as it turned out, were the names of Vector's parents.

SCP-353 was no longer his charge. Dr. Palmer had taken over, after the Foundation felt he had gotten 'too involved'. He knew that. But he also knew he had less than a year left to live. It didn't feel right, having one of the most challenging cases of his career go unresolved.

Martin had died of untreated syphilis in the late 1980's. He'd been confined to a psychiatric institution by that time, due to his brain being eaten by the disease. As near as he could tell, he'd been infected with it at the time SCP-353 had been conceived.

In one of their last meetings, SCP-353 said that they had "gotten sick" as a kid, before acquiring her anomalous immunity. The source of that was becoming evident— her mother was a pharmacist, her name prefixed with "Dr." on the marker. Records showed that her pharmacy— a family-owned practice— had started ordering vast quantities of antibiotics, anti-virals, and even very early anti-retrovirals starting in 1983.

She had evolved from immuno-deficient to immuno-immaculate. Was there something about that particular cocktail of drugs, her genetics, her exposure to the disease in the womb, some combination of the three?

He contemplated his notes, and placed them on the grave, before taking a lighter to them. The last thing this world needed was the Foundation trying to create another Vector.

"What the hell happened to her?"

On the other side of three-inch-thick glass, Dr. Saarijärvi gaped at the form before him. SCP-353, Audrey, someone who had become his friend over the course of the last ten years, laid on a bed, her body distorted by pain, covered in blood and pus and oozing sores. They had tried to sedate her, but she was so dehydrated that it wasn't taking.

A medic came up next to him. "Place was a biohazard. Ebola, polio, smallpox, everything was in that room, like it just leaked outta her. Melted through her. We had to quarantine the team we sent in." He held up a plastic container, marked "BIOHAZARD" with black letters on a bright orange label. Within it was a half-eaten caramel apple. "We believe this to be the cause."

"Helvetti. Is that one of the apples from Sloth's Pit?" Veijo put his head in his hand.

"We detected them in town a few weeks ago. We think a crate got away and made it into a fair stall. It's been shut down." The medic sighed. "Dr. Saarijärvi… to say the prognosis is grim would be an understatement. Her fluid content is lower than anything any of us have ever seen, intravenous drugs aren't working, her body's discharging blood faster we can put it in…" He shook his head. "I've been in Maz Hatters for over a decade, sir. I've never seen anything like it."

"Get me on the phone with. Someone. Anyone. Fucking hold a seance for the ghosts of Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk and Anna Williams. Use Andrew Wakefield for some kind of sacrificial rite, do something!" Veijo hit the glass of the observation window hard enough to make it rattle in its frame.

"Sir. She's an SCP."

Veijo turned and loomed over the medic. "She. Saved. My. Life."

Six Years Ago

«Containment Breach in the Biological Wing. Containment Breach in the Biological Wing. Containment Breach in the Biological Wing.»

The voice over the loudspeaker was deep, modulated, and intimidating. And in the dark, underneath the flickering lights, Vector walked for the first time in years.

And she was terrified.

Around her were people dying. The thing that had broken out, it was some kind of— not quite a virus. A prion. She didn't know if she could handle prions, but judging by the fact that she wasn't on the floor, slowly succumbing to a sickness that resulted in death in less than forty-eight hours, she had a hunch.

"P-perkele…" A voice behind her coughed, a split second before the gun went off. It ricocheted off the wall, hit a light, and sent the hallway into darkness.

Despite this, Vector could see. She could see the skulls of those around her, being eaten away at by a prion that just seemed… wrong. And she recognized the shape of the brain of the man who had tried to shoot her, from when he nearly died of meningitis three years ago.

"Veijo." She knelt by him. She wanted to gloat, to take credit for this. To rub it in his face about how he had failed, and that Vector would walk free. But she couldn't. She couldn't even contort her face into a grin.

"You bitch." He coughed. "Leaving us to d-" A rasping, barking cough escaped his lips. "To die while you waltz out the door, and back into the world, to spread your plague? How does that feel, Three-Five-Three?" The spat the numbers out like it would save his life.

Vector sat by him. "This is about the point where I would offer you a cigarette, if I had one. I…" She swallowed. "I need to be honest. I never actually did anything."

"What are—" Veijo coughed. "What are you talking about?"

"With the things in my body." She looked at her hands. "I… was so angry, when you caught me. I don't even remember why. I thought about just storing diseases up and keeping them there, brewing them into some kind of Omega Virus, release it somewhere crowded and cause chaos." Her words came out fast and almost slurred together. "But… every time I tried, something stopped me." Her lips wavered. "T-there'd be a kid playing with his mom, or a couple realizing that they really loved each other for the first time, or a man playing the most beautiful song on the street corner while people threw coins into a guitar case, or a bright sunny day that seemed too nice to ruin— or something that— that— that made me…"

"Stop." Veijo put up his hands. "Spare me the crocodile tears. Let me die feeling no pity for you."

Vector put her hand on his shoulder. He was dying. His brain was being eaten. And all he felt for her was contempt, fear, hatred.

She got her wish.

She was the villain.

But she didn't have to be.

Vector's hand reached out and clutched Veijo's head. She had never tried to exert her Control on a prion before. If it succeeded, he'd be alive and hate her. If she failed…

"Get off of me, you—" And then Veijo's eyes glazed over. The things that had been eating his brain were recombining themselves under Vector's influence. Amino acid chains unfolded like a sheet thrown off a balcony, before recombining into a benign protein chain, which she then willed to break apart, scatter, leave its molecules to exit the body post-haste and never return. Right through the blood-brain barrier, and…

Veijo sneezed violently, his mucous coming out black and exploding against the far wall. By the time he came to his senses, Vector was already three people down, her hand on the forehead of a woman with dark hair, her eyes screwed up in concentration. Soon, she too sneezed, and Vector moved on.

It was the first ever breach of SCP-008 which resulted in zero fatalities.

Audrey McGrath knew only pain, and loneliness.

For decades, she knew that there were things in her body which would always keep her company. Some of them already had names, like smallpox; others, she named herself, like Alpha Strain 9. She knew each of them, and all of them had vanished from her body in one painful gasp.

She heard voices gather around her, hooking new drips into mummified skin, struggling to find a single vein to find purchase in. Her vision fade to white, then black, then white again. After a while, it was like she was trying to see through closed eyes.

Audrey McGrath, Vector, SCP-353, was dying a slow, painful death.

Five Years Ago

"Quite a recovery you've made." Veijo reached out to shake Simon Glass's hand. "Here I was on the verge of getting rid of Man in the Mirror as my ringtone for you. Guess nobody wins the dead pool now."

"That's grim." Simon sat down across from Veijo. "But it's very much borrowed time. The coma and cryostasis bought me maybe… another four years. Five, at most." He sighed. "How is she?"

"Vector is… in a unique position." Veijo whistled through his teeth. "She reconsidered your proposal from a few years back. Wanted to join up with a task force. I told her that Pandora's Box is dead, and we'd be insane to resurrect it. Putting that many anomalies on one squad…"

"One word: Samsara."

Veijo raised his finger, ready to speak, before lowering it with a scowl. "I can't argue with that."

Glass steepled his fingers. "I… heard the recording of the incident. She's grown as a person."

"She's a valuable asset, and she has helped. Not quite the alternative to SCP-500 we were hoping for. She wants to help, though." He sucked in air through his teeth. "She.. doesn't have the right skillset for a researcher, and she can't spend eight years in a doctoral program. Agent seems to be the right position for her— less training."

"What about Beta-7? Maz Hatters?" Simon pulled up a file on his phone. "God knows they need more infectious disease specialists."

"I'll bring it up with her."

The call went to voice mail. Of course it would— the man he was trying to call was dead.

«You've reached the inbox of Dr. Simon Glass. If you'd like to make an appointment, call my business number. Clef, if you're listening to this, I'm not approving another trip to South America. Stop asking.»

"Simon." Dr. Saarijärvi put his free hand on his face. "I know your inbox is probably full to bursting but it— it's Vector. She's dying, and I… I just need to talk at you, to formulate ideas, something. We're in a place where disease literally evaporates on contact with the air, and she's dying of everything from Adenovirus to Swine Flu to Zika. I've known her for as long as you have, and now I'm scared that she's just going to vanish and—"

The rambling continued into the phone for a long while. He didn't even hear the alarm when she started to go into cardiopulmonary arrest.

Four Years Ago

"Are you sure about this?" Vector looked across the park at the woman on the bench. "I mean, I'm still in containment. So—"

"You're also an agent of this organization." Simon Glass handed her a drivers license. "The name you requested. Why Audrey, if I may ask?"

Audrey McGrath looked at her new civilian identity. "Audrey Hepburn. I was born on May 4th, same day as her. One of my first memories is my mom showing me My Fair Lady." She looked at the woman again. "How did you even find her? I didn't know I had a sister…"

"Half-sister. Your mother put her up for adoption after her first marriage." He sighed. "I'm sorry, V— Audrey."

"So she knows nothing about me? Doesn't know I exist?"

"Not until I arranged the meeting a week ago." He waved his hand across the park. "Go. Be human, for once. God knows it's been too long."

Audrey nodded, and strode across the green. The two sisters greeted each other, stood up, and hugged.

It would be one of the last times Simon Glass would see his patient happy.

Veijo Saarijärvi's phone was a weight in his pocket. He had never disconnected the call. He had no experience in hands-on treatment, but his heart broke as he saw his staff attempt to pry apart Audrey's arms so that they could get the defibrillator onto her chest.

It wouldn't help. This wasn't a medical drama. He almost wished it was— maybe a miracle would happen. Some revelation that would save her.

There were no miracles here. There was just a phone in his pocket whose call disconnected with a message that the voicemail box on the other end was full.

Three Years Ago

"Plague, Glass! She caught the fucking black plague!"

Simon Glass had barely dodged the copy of the DSM-V that Audrey had thrown next to his head on the way into his office. "What?"

"My sister, Bella. She almost died because she caught the plague from me living with her! You said I was okay to be around people!"

"I— I thought you were." Glass looked down at his hands. He groaned. Maz-Hatters, him, Veijo… everyone SCP-353 had been around in the last eight years had more vaccines in their blood than hemoglobin at this point, just because they worked with her. "Shit."

"I can't be around anyone! Five people in my neighborhood got sick with fucking Zika! I had to fucking pull smallpox out of a five-month-old kid! I…" She tugged at her hair. "This whole thing, this whole fucking thing, was a mistake."

"It was. I'm sorry, Th— V- Au—" His head steamed with pain. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry doesn't fucking pay for antiboitics." She strode over to him. "I literally had to get on my knees and fucking beg administration to allow the Foundation's insurance to cover my sister, because she's only a half-relative."

"I'm sorry." He backed against the wall. "Is there… is there anything that—"

"Amnesticize her and assign me to a fucking leper colony somewhere. I'm a danger to her, and everyone else in the world." Eyes red and furious, she walked past Glass, and slammed the door to his office hard enough to make the window in it rattle in its frame.

"Dr. Saarijärvi?"

It was the third time the medic had called his name before he turned to look at him. "What is it?"

"Your phone, sir. It's been ringing for the last two minutes."

He hadn't noticed. He'd been in a daze, watching someone he had grown to like die through the glass. The ringtone was distinctive, one he hadn't heard in years. The chorus of Man in the Mirror.

The ringtone belonged to a dead man. Inside his suit, Veijo Saarijärvi answered the phone and brought it to his ear. "Hello?"

There was static on the other end. Then, his voice. «dying… ideas… Zika… vanish…»

It repeated three times before the line went dead. Realization dawned on Veijo, and he slapped his forehead. "The blood sample we took from 353 this afternoon. Do we still have it?"

"It's not scheduled for shipment until tomo—"

Before the medic could finish his sentence, Veijo was dashing past him, to biohazard storage. He flung open the cabinet with such force that the shelves shook.

Two Years Ago And Currently


Audrey McGrath stood outside of Simon Glass's room. His condition had worsened suddenly. He was on the verge of death, and was surrounded by a dozen people she was too intimidated by to talk to.

"Audrey, please." Veijo looked into the room with her. "You were one of his favorite patients."

"They're not supposed to play favorites." Audrey worried her hair.

"Yes, well, we're only human. We get attached, make mistakes, grow fond of one another. And he…" He looked over at Simon. He was looking right at Audrey. "Talk to him. Before you regret it. Please."

Trembling, Audrey stepped into the room, taking her place by Dr. Glass. "Di…did… you…"

"What?" Audrey asked. "Did I what? Simon?"

"Did you regret it, Audrey?"

Audrey looked over her shoulder, the room vanishing around her. A perfectly healthy Simon Glass— or something that looked like him— stood there. "Regret what?"

"Changing." Simon stood next to her. "A therapist can only do so much. We can't force you to do anything you don't want to. We can offer a comforting word or an encouraging pat on the shoulder, but in the end?" He scratched his ear. "In the end, we're just people. There's no magic word I can say to make the pain go away." He looked down. "The pain I caused."

"I caused a lot more." Audrey shook her head. "I don't… I don't even remember why I wanted to be Vector. I just…" She tugged at her hair. "I didn't want to hurt anyone. I don't think. I wanted to be special, and I— I was a stupid kid, angry and scared, and stupid and—."

"You're only human." Simon looked over at the body on the table. "And you never said goodbye to me."

"I'm sorry, Si." She rubbed her face. "Is that what this is? My life flashing before my eyes?"

"For all you know, I could just be the last neurons firing in your head." He sighed. "It's okay. You were angry, and scared. Maybe a little stupid too." He smiled at her. "It takes time to change, and sometimes we don't do a complete 180. But." Simon pointed at her with a grin on his face. "You came close. 'A lost cause', they said. Now look at you."

"Dying on an operating table in fucking Maryland." Audrey snorted. "Fucking hell, Si. I… I could have saved you."

"You tried, once or twice. I know you did." He flexed his hands. "But you could never get it out, could you?"

"It was like it stuck to your soul. I tried making it more benign, but what if it—-" Her voice turned panicked.

"It didn't hurt. It was scary, yes. But it's okay to be scared and angry." Simon put a hand on her shoulder. "And it's okay to have regrets."

Audrey McGrath fell to her knees and cried.

It took over three minutes for him to find a vein hydrated enough to accept the blood. A technician was on standby to massage the heart, another with Type-O blood for a full transfusion.

Veijo Saarijärvi muttered a prayer under his breath in Finnish, and jabbed the vial full of Audrey McGrath's blood into her arm. He kept praying.

November 5th

Item #: SCP-353

Object Class: Neutralized

Special Containment Procedures: No longer required.

There was a knock on Veijo Saarijärvi's door, interrupting his revision of the file. He was in Baltimore, at his office away from Harkness. The whole room smelled like disinfectant. It distracted him from how much was lost. "Come in."

Audrey McGrath rolled her way in. The woman looked like she had aged twenty years in one night. With enough time, she would recover. But Veijo doubted that she could ever use her legs again— the dehydration and nerve damage had been too intense. They'd barely been able to save her arms.

"Audrey." Veijo nodded. "I'm… revising your file. Your SCP file, that is. Not your personnel one."

"Already going through that." She waved her hand. "Ten examinations later. Clean bill of health." She sighed. "And I mean clean."

Veijo blinked. "You mean—"

"They're all gone. Every single disease. My white blood cell count is so low that they're thinking about putting me in a bubble. They're surprised I have gut flora anymore." She shook her head. "I thought you'd be apoplectic. Losing a valuable resource."

"Yes, well, menneen talven lumia." Veijo waved his hand. "If I get fired, I'm going to need someone else to take over my job."

"…you're joking."

"Why not?" He shrugged. "You have more experience working with infectious agents than I ever will. And Zika's still on the upswing." He sighed and looked out the window of his office, at Baltimore harbor, up the coast, towards Harkness.

Audrey joined him. "I saw Glass. When I was dying."

"I think I did as well." Veijo looked at the phone on his desk. "Or at least, heard him. No incoming call was shown at that time."

"Zombie viruses, werewolves, ghosts…" Audrey sighed. "I need a doctorate to have your job, don't I?"

"We have an accelerated program." Veijo put a hand on her wheelchair. "Want to discuss it over dinner? There's a good seafood place about a block south of here."

Audrey looked out the window.

"Can we just stay here for a bit? Been a while since I've seen sunlight that's not through the miasma."

"Of course."

The pair of them waited, mourned, and consoled in silence. The sun was setting, and so all grief was temporarily adjourned for the sake of a fried fish dinner, between friends.


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