Caveat Emptor
rating: +35+x

Michaelson's coughing racked his wasted frame. He brought his handkerchief up to his mouth and hacked until his weak lungs stopped trying to clear themselves. Blood spotted the white fabric in places, some fresh, some dried. He didn't care about the blood. Absentmindedly, his hand touched his bald head, fingers searching for hair that was no longer there. It was stupid, really. Lung failure had become a part of life long after the hair loss, but he missed his locks more than he missed a properly functioning respiratory system.

The doctors had given him six months, and he'd taken three years, but now it was all just coming apart. He was getting steadily worse, and the cancer just wouldn't go away this time. It wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair at all. He was thirty-five for fuck's sake! There were so many things he had yet to do. There was a lot of life left for him to live, and he'd never submit to illness, not when he had any kind of way out. Michaelson was determined to be great. He wouldn't let anything, not his so-called peers, not his superiors, not even death itself take that greatness from him. It had taken quite a while to set his plan in motion, but now all of his work was going to pay off. He didn't even care about the price anymore. Anything was better than the sick feeling of knowing he would die before forty, unaccomplished, nothing at all remarkable about him to be remembered. As he pressed the series of buttons in the observation booth that brought in the separate pieces of his salvation, another fit of coughing tore through his chest. It was worse than the last one, and this time, his handkerchief came away with more than a few spots of blood.

Researcher Michaelson shuffled through the testing room door. Somewhere, a silent alarm had gone off warning… someone. A failsafe. Even when testing was scheduled ahead of time, that alarm went off. It had taken a lot of work to get even a hazy idea of who the alarm warned. If he was right, then he had successfully disabled it. If he was wrong, well, he would have time enough for this. Hopefully he could make his deal and be gone before security arrived. The cameras had already been rendered useless, and his heart pumped faster with fear. It was all well and good to go about preparations, but this was the real deal. Being discovered now would mean death. Admittedly, it would be a much faster death than what his own treacherous body had in store for him.

Placing a shaking hand on the top of the straight-backed chair, Michaelson slumped down into it. Within seconds, there was someone sitting across the desk from him. It looked remarkably like the salesman who had fast talked him into his first piece of shit car years ago. His blond hair was slicked back severely, and a welcoming smile danced across pale lips.

"Mr. Michaelson! How pleasant to see you. What can I offer you today?" The voice that came from the creature was a perfect facsimile of the salesman, down to his smooth baritone. It leaned back in its chair, rocking the elegant piece of furniture back on two legs. "Perhaps the love of a beautiful woman? Or no, you're an educated man, perchance you'd like all the knowledge of a P.h.D in Applied Physics? I'd be happy to offer you just about anything."

Michaelson didn't have time for this. "No, I don't want either of those. I need you to heal my body and make it live longer than normal, and it needs to be done immediately!"

The entity's smile took on a bit of a melancholy cast. "Longer life, hmm? It's been quite awhile since I've had someone request that one. And no one has ever been willing to pay the price. Strange, considering how much you frail creatures value your existence." A flawless mask of regretful reluctance passed across its face. "Well, in any case, I'm afraid the price for that is quite steep indeed. I'm sure we can work out some-"

He was in no mood for haggling. Finally, the means to be well again was within his grasp, and the thing was wasting his time. "Do I look like I give a damn?! I don't care what abstract shit you take from me, just heal my body!"

Shrugging, the entity replied serenely, "As you wish. I'll draw up the contract."

Abruptly, two drawers on the desk opened of their own accord, and a few pieces of creamy parchment flew out of one, while a stylized golden pen rocketed from the other. The pen set to writing independently, furiously scratching clause after clause. Michaelson almost salivated at the sight. At last, he was going to be free of his illness, he was going to run again. Perhaps, most importantly he'd finally be able to earn the recognition he deserved. He wouldn't be sad Michaelson, the dying, pointless researcher. He'd be Michaelson the Triumphant, victor over sickness, brilliant doctor, accomplished SCP researcher. They would pin medals to his chest and sing his praises. He could see it all in his mind, and it was glorious.

As suddenly as it had begun, the pen ceased its motion and fell limply to the desk. The entity leaned back forward, the legs of its throne landing with a soft click. It pushed the very last page of the contract across the desk and slid the pen along after it. Its finger rested gently on a blank line. "If you'd please sign here, the contract will become binding, and your body will be healed."

He didn't even bother to give it a second thought. Normally he tried to slow down his writing, to accommodate his shaking hands. Now, he was too excited to bother slowing down. With the researcher's mangled signature scrawled along the bottom of the page, the entity smiled, took the contract, and placed it inside the desk, along with the ornate pen. It reached out one hand to the dying researcher in a jovial manner. "Shall we shake on it, Mr. Michaelson?"

Without another word, Michaelson took the thing's hand in his own. It felt exactly as the salesman's had, slightly clammy with a firm grip.

The second their hands separated, the researcher felt a burning heat suffuse his entire being. He would have screamed, but the pain seemed to radiate out from his lungs, and he could no more draw breath than he could catch the Sun. Before he could even begin to regret the deal he had made, the pain vanished. Slowly standing from the chair, Michaelson felt tears run down his face. He took a long, slow breath. Air fully filled his lungs in a way it had not in nearly three years. He felt like jumping, shouting, sprinting through the halls. It seemed like he was so full of vigor he would burst.

Turning to stride from the testing room, he heard the entity say, in the same friendly voice, "Not so fast, Mr. Michaelson, you have yet to fulfill your end of the contract." Cold fear crawled down Researcher Michaelson's spine. Now that he was no longer knocking on death's door, he felt far more afraid of what the thing could take from him. Feeling more than a little panicky, he wondered just what he had agreed to. Racking his brains frantically, he couldn't remember ever hearing just what the price was for his returned good health, only that it had been "steep."

Of its own volition, the contract he had signed came zooming back out of the drawer. "You'll see here in this clause, that in requesting the healing of your body, you did not specify what mind was to inhabit said product. Since said attribute of the post contract product was not enumerated directly in the initial agreement, it allows for ownership of said product to be transferred via a properly binding contract." The entity pressed a finger down on the parchment, running his finger under a line. "Now, normally the ex post facto change in ownership would null the agreement, but your phrasing was ambiguous enough to allow a proper change in ownership, -which was enumerated in page three, paragraph nine- while still retaining the positive gains of the contract."

Michaelson couldn't even pretend to understand the hurricane of legal dogma being thrown at him. However, the mention of transferring ownership of his body was beginning to really sink in, and his pensive expression quickly soured into outright fear.

The entity paused for emphasis, still smiling warmly at his pale face, "In this final clause you agreed that in return for the restoration of your physical form, and the following increase to your natural lifespan, that you would allow the being with which said deal was made, that's me, by the by, sole control over the repaired product." Its grin was becoming wider than the human face could stretch, going nearly from one ear to the other. "If you'll forgive my temporary lack of professionalism, I must say that I've been trying for decades to get someone to sign that particular clause. Usually, the rules prohibit me from even offering that as a price, but you are an exceptionally greedy man. Healing is nothing, but longevity? That is an entirely different order of magnitude." It beamed lovingly at the contract's last page. "Oh, how I have waited for this day. Thank you, Mr. Michaelson, for being the desperate fool I needed."

Michaelson's slowly dawning horror was reply enough for the entity. A feverish light was in its eyes and it smiled at him again. Suddenly, he could see nothing pleasant or warm or even mirthful in that smile. Now, it was the rictus of a predator that has finally caught its prey. He had made a miscalculation. For all his schemes, all his ingenuity, Michaelson hadn't thought to account for the very element of the plan that he had thought would ensure his survival.

"Really, Mr. Michaelson, did no one ever tell you to thoroughly read contracts before you signed them?"

His mouth was dry. "I- I didn't- I didn't know, there was no- I mean, I couldn't have-"

The entity silenced him with a glare, a sudden departure from its normal jovial expression. "Mr. Michaelson, really, show some dignity. If you find your end of the contract odious, maybe you should have read the deal before you signed it. I was even going to tell you what the price was and allow negotiation, before you so rudely interrupted me." It paused to take a deep, satisfied breath. "I am now the de facto owner of the merchandise I repaired. And I think I'll take possession of my property. I do so hope you enjoy whatever comes after death for your species." It tapped its chin thoughtfully. "Though I do seem to recall most of your belief systems tend to look down on deals like the one you just made." It chuckled quietly. "Well, I suppose you had best hope they're wrong."

"Oh, don't look so worried, there's a warranty clause. Should the warranted property prove insufficiently restored, or if the malfunctions it was cured of should return, the whole contract becomes null and void." Its eyes danced with amusement. "Of course, the entire warranty clause in and of itself will become meaningless upon the cessation of life of either party, leaving the use of the property in question up to the sole discretion of the surviving party. Unfortunately, you humans are just so fragile without your leased containers. I'm afraid your demise will come rather swiftly after your eviction."

He tried to run. It was a meaningless endeavor. The entity didn't even have to move to take him. It was all in the contract after all. Michaelson tried to scream one last time, but the words wouldn't pass his lips. They weren't even his lips anymore.

The entity stretched slowly, popping every joint it could in its new body. Looking at the throne-like chair it had spent so many centuries in, it felt a slight twinge of sadness. A prison it might have been, but a gilded cage is still gilded. Still, freedom beckoned. Before it left, it opened two drawers of the desk and retrieved a large stack of parchment and several black pens. It could always make more, but waste not, want not. It pushed the drawers shut, and they seemed to close with a certain reluctant finality.

Smiling slowly, it strolled quietly to the door of the testing room. As it walked out of the observation area and back into the general hallways, the entity began to whistle the tune to an old hymn heard often in the Cardinal's chambers. It was one of his old favorites.

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