Nobody Prays For February
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rating: +27+x

Gwen Liao looked between three different charts and the woman sitting on the hospital bed in the infirmary's containment room. According to every test— from a DNA screening, fingerprint scan, retinal scan, and even an EEG— this was, in fact, Director Weiss. But she was almost forty years younger.

Dr. Katherine Sinclair stepped out of the chamber, into the airlock, and after a brief decontamination process, stepped out of that. The thaumatologist was vexed, the arcane energy around her disappating. "The aura matches. As near as I can tell, Gwen? That is her. That's Weiss."

"That doesn't make any sense, though." She frowned. "If… that is her, then she's compromised. We shouldn't let her resume active duty. Dr. Bailey could—"

There was a clearing of a throat behind them. Sinclair and Liao turned to face the Goatman, who had been standing in the back of the room, chewing on his corncob pipe for god-knows-how-long. "With all due respect? Stranger things have happened in this town to worse people. From my brief interactions with her, she's got a good head on her shoulders, and if anything, being younger may just help with that judgement."

"Why is he not in a cell?" Sinclair asked. "How are you not in a cell?"

He tapped a badge marked "VISITOR" that was pinned to a set of suspenders he now possessed— the only piece of clothing on him. "This Bailey gave it to me, since he's acting as director in absentia for the time being. Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere classified— unless you have vending machines in your jail cells."

"They're in the break rooms on every floor that's a prime number. Long story." Liao rolled her shoulders. "But I agree with Sinclair. As much as I appreciate you rescuing her? She's been compromised, and it would be a bad idea to let her run anything more complicated than hot water right now." She looked at Sinclair. "I've got people trying to revive February right now. He should be coming out of it within the next ten, twenty minutes."

"I'll grab Tofflemire and Carol. You-" She pointed to the Goatman"-with me. I don't want you disturbing the medical staff."

"All right, all right." The Goatman stretched lazily. "It's not like I'm going to fry every computer in here. I'm a thoughtform, not a wizard."

"I've only done that once," Sinclair protested, exiting the observation room.

Half an hour later, as Liao was assisting Weiss into the shower, there was a knock on the window to the containment room. Making sure the director-apparent was comfortable, she stepped through the airlock, finding herself face-to-face with Agent Nicholas Ewell, Head of Security at Site-87. Standing next to him was a meek and somewhat sheepish Tristan Bailey, rubbing the back of his neck.

Ewell held up a small device in one hand—a microchip reader-writer. It was a primitive thing, all analog buttons and somewhat cheap plastic casing, but it was still used because it worked, was durable, and had a battery life that had outlasted four presidents. "Just got off the horn with Command," he explained. "Weiss is having her clearance suspended, order of O5-4. Bailey will be acting director in the intermediary."

"Can you at least wait until she's decent?" Liao glowered. "It's not like she's a threat to anyone— she has a bum leg and she's in the shower, for Christ's sake."

Bailey kept rubbing the back of his neck— Liao could tell that he was feeling along where the chip in his neck was. He had a slight bruise around one eye, ink on his fingertips, and a small bandage on the inside of his right elbow."Already got a retinal and other biometrics?" she asked.

"Weiss's will remain in the system until such a time that she's fit to return to duty. This isn't the first time we've done—"

There was a pained scream from the next room, and the sound of feet as other nurses ran to the side of a bed. Liao sighed. "February," she explained. "He's been having bad dreams, even through the chemical coma. Been getting worse since we started pulling him out of it this morning."

There was silence in the room. Ewell was the first to spoke, once the screaming stopped. "I'll… break it to her easy. This is going to be tough news, and… well…"

"He's afraid of breaking her heart." Bailey scratched at his neck. "She's not your nana, Nick. Weiss doesn't lose control very often. She'll have a bit of pain, but… she'll understand. I've known her since she first became director."

"That reminds me." Ewell tapped a few keys on the reader-writer. "Bailey, why the hell is your date of birth classified at O5 Level?"

"You are literally asking a question I can't answer." Tristan rolled his eyes. "That's why it's classified."

A bell sounded from inside the containment room. Liao ushered Ewell in with her, recovering Weiss from the shower. Bailey remained outside. He felt his heart break a little, as he saw Weiss's straining not to. She looked between Liao and Ewell, tried to protest a few times, but when Ewell showed her something on his phone, she sighed, pulled up her hair, and bowed her head. Then it was done, Ewell and Liao quietly exiting the room.

Bailey mimicked Weiss's motion, pulling up the back of his own hair and exposing his neck. Ewell pointed the device at it, and there was a beep, a hum, and then a click.

"Congratulations, acting Director Bailey." Ewell shook his head. "Printer should be printing a clearance card for you right now. Let me take you there."

"February should be out of his comatose state within an hour or two." Liao tapped Ewell on the shoulder. "Will you be back for that?"

"'course," Ewell nodded.

With that, Tristan and Ewell exited the room, going their separate ways. Nina Weiss sat in her bed, alone, muttering to herself. While Liao couldn't hear it, judging by her elevated heart rate and the expression on her face, she wasn't happy.

Raymond February awoke with the taste of metal and plastic in his mouth, surrounded by his friends: Agents Ewell, Pryce, Tofflemire, Carol, and both of the Williamses. He gave a weak smile. "Well," he coughed. "G-glad to know that I-I'm not in a mortuary."

There was some laughter, and some uncomfortable silence. Carol was the first to speak up. "What happened, Ray?"

He recounted to them the events of the traffic stop, the majority of which they knew from recovered footage from a security camera at the scene. But a new detail came out. "He… this is going to sound weird, but, this… this guy didn't have a proper face. He was… wearing one, like a mask. And I… he said he w-would kill me un-unless…" He swallowed. "Unless… fuck, what did I do?"

Everyone around the bed backed off several feet— the lot of them could count the number of times February had properly sworn in the last five years on one hand. Tofflemire was the first to speak up. "W— what did you do, Ray?"

"I… I was so scared. I couldn't th-think straight. It— it was like it knew everything I was afraid of, and t-that it… it would sh-s-sh-shoot me unless I g-gave it what it fucking wanted." He put his hand to his throat and winced. "I… I gave it pass codes into the Site. B-but they were obsolete, maybe a week out of date."

"…October 2nd was the day codes got changed." Pryce's eyes widened. "If they got in the night of the first, they would have had access to new codes. Oh god…" She put her hand over her face. "God dammit all."

Nicholas Ewell approached the bed, pulling out the microchip reader-writer. "I hate to do this to you, man. Bow your head."

"What are you doing?" February asked.

"I have to do this. If an agent gives up classified information— including site passcodes— they're to have all clearances revoked and be moved to a holding area until such a time that a tribunal can be held to determine if they were under reasonable duress." He sighed. "I need to see the chip in the back of your neck, Ray. I'm sorry."

February nodded, tears in his eyes as he sat upright. "Th-there's one more thing," he swallowed. "Couple of more things, actually. Fi-first: can someone bring my Bible here? From the barracks?"

"I'll be happy to bring it up." Blake made to leave the room, with Ruby following. "Your locker combination's still 23-19-13, right?"

"Yeah." He nodded. "And… this thing, it… it acted like it knew me already. After I was shot, it said that 'You still don't cuss'." He bowed his head as Ewell put the reader on the back of his neck, pressing several keys. "I'm sorry."

"For whatever it's worth, Ray? I'd say that having your face stamped in by a whatever this thing was counts as 'reasonable duress'." Ewell pocketed the scanner again. "We'll send Liao in here in a bit to move you to a holding area. You can have a few visitors a day, and we'll have people around to monitor you around the clock." He put a hand on February's shoulder. "Ain't your fault. Can't say I'd have done any differently."

February nodded, head still hung in shame.

"Mind if I wait with him?" Carol asked as the others turned to leave. "Just until Blake gets back with his Bible."

"Just… don't say anything compromising." Ewell nodded. "C'mon. I think we need a drink."

"We'll save you a seat at the Garden, Alice." Robert nodded as he left the room.

February looked down at his hands, swollen, bruised, barely functional. Then, he looked up at Alison, and swallowed. "You're the only person I've never really seen at church."

"Not big into it," she admitted. "Plus I was brought up Catholic, so we think that you filthy Protestants should all burn."

The joke didn't draw any reaction from February. He looked at his hands again, numbly, and said: "I don't think I can go to Heaven anymore."

Alison blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"I… I've been having dreams.. I… I don't usually have dreams about my faith. But… I see something. All I can make out are its horns, and… its voice. It… it keeps on telling me that…" He swallowed. "That I'll do something wrong, so wrong that Heaven won't take me, and even Hell won't accept me. W-what if this is it?"

Alison's hand was on her mouth, and she looked down at the floor. "Ray…"

"I— I screwed up. I could have… no, I did let it into the site. Y-you're all in danger, and… now I get nothing. Heaven, Hell. None of it." He looked at Alison, tears in his eyes. "When I die, I go nowhere. I know that, now."

"It's… it's just dreams, Ray. I'll see if I can't get Dr. Palmer to see you, if you're that concerned." She put a hand on his arm. "Nobody's perfect. You can't blame yourself—" Alison jerked her hand away from him, clearly startled, as a cracking noise came from where she touched his arm. She cleared her throat. "Uh. Sorry. Got a bit of a shock there. Wool blankets on the beds."

February looked at his arm, and then up at Alison. He was about to speak when Blake entered the room again, Carrying February's Bible. It was an old, battered book that looked like it had been well-loved. He placed it on February's nightstand, and then looked at his hands. "…are you going to be able to read it, man?"

"I'll stay." Alison put up her hand. "Give Toff my apologies. But… February needs this more than I need cheese sticks."

Blake nodded. "He'll probably try to save you some, anyway. See you in the barracks tonight."


With that, Alison and February were alone. She picked up the Bible, and flipped through it. "What are your thoughts on Matthew 6:14?"

"'For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you'." February nodded. "I'm the reason that this thing can hurt people. If… if I had just…"

Alison flipped back to the start of the Book of Matthew and began reading aloud. It was one of the few parts of the Bible Alison actually knew. "'This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:…'"

Hours later, Raymond February slept, but Alison could tell it was uneasy. She refused to leave his side, damn any security risk she posed. The man looked, and probably felt, awful. A few rooms away, she could hear Weiss's voice over the intercom, but she couldn't tell who she was speaking with.

She reached out and touched the bare skin of his arm again; she was afraid to do it while she was awake. As she did, his skin cracked and folded, exposing square bumps along its surface. They had letters and numbers on them, and were in a pattern she immediately recognized: a keyboard.

Alison ran her fingers along his skin, and within seconds, a whole keyboard made of her friend's flesh lay under her fingertips. She tapped at at one experimentally; the keys had an abnormal amount of give, and she had to press hard to get them to click. "Gross," she frowned. "All right. Last time I did this, I created a tulpa-monster made of living jelly, so… let's not do that again."

With that, she began typing.

Raymond February found himself in a cold, dark room once again. The only thing he could see before him was a set of horns, in the dark. His body was battered and broken, like in real life, and the horned thing came in close to him, trying to stamp at his broken body with cloven feet.

The thing didn't speak so much as it burbled and gargled, but February could understand it just fine— it was telling him that this is what awaited him in the afterlife.

"Okay, enough of this."

The room was suddenly filled with an odd, blue light, the exact same color one would find on a computer screen when you highlighted text. It was warm and almost comforting in its artificiality. The horned thing recoiled from it.

"H-help me," February gasped. "Please."

"This is your battle, February. Not mine. All I can do is be a light in the dark."

February turned, his whole body aching, to face the horned thing. He gasped, nearly falling— he was looking at an infant. Barely a week old, if that. The horns and hooves were stuck to it haphazardly, like a bad Halloween costume. As the child was exposed to the full light, it fell off of its stilts, only for February to catch it.

"I— I don't understand." He held the child, his hands and arms not hurting despite their broken state. "What does this mean? I— is this some kind of vision? Am I holding—"

"Not everything is Jesus, this isn't Paradisio. Riddle it out."

He held the infant up— it cooed and squirmed in his grasp, letting out a raspberry. "They're… very young. Very. Can't be more than a week." He knelt and picked up the horns; cheap costume store quality, generic red devil horns. "This… this is what I was scared of? I… what's—" He looked at the child. "This is… what was giving me the dreams. It's very young."

"How young?"

"A week. No, less." February swallowed. "I've… only had these dreams for a few days? But— it's felt like so much longer, I—"

"Time is weird in dreams, and you've done nothing but dream in your induced coma." The light grew brighter. "Give the child to me."

February looked at the bably, and walked into the light. A pair of hands extended from it, and gently took the child. He saw a form in the light, feminine, holding the child as she began to walk away.

"Wait," he swallowed. "W-who are you? What are you?"

"I'm Nobody, really. Just… a light in the dark."

With that, there was a pair of clicking sounds, and the light vanished.

Alison Carol stood from February's bedside, his skin returning to normal as she removed her hand. She ran it across several other surfaces; they all remained static. Even when she returned her fingers to February's skin, nothing happened.

She wrote a note promising to return (or at least have agents come in shifts) to read and meditate on him over scripture. Then, she adjusted her mask, and headed towards the containment room where Director Weiss was being held.

In the observation area outside was none other than The Goatman, his hand depressing the intercom button. "I'll talk to you again tomorrow, Director."

The Goatman made his way out of the observation room, stopping in front of Alison. "…is that a .22 pistol in your hand, or are you just happy to see me?"

"Cute." She frowned, finger off the trigger. "What were you talking about?"

"You've discovered my evil plan. I want to burnt his town to the ground with everyone in it for a sacrificial ritual to obliterate Ohio." The Goatman rolled his eyes. "Why do you Plastic People always think there's some ulterior motive? This is my town, too, and I don't like what's happening in it."

"That sounded a lot like dancing around a question."

The Goatman sighed, and pulled a credit card from his overalls. It bore Weiss's name. "She was giving me permission to use this."

"…you're joking, right?" Alison kept the pistol aimed at him.

"I mainly subsist off of berries, roots, and actual tin cans. Do you know how long it's been since I've had a hamburger that isn't half-eaten?" He tucked the card back into his pocket. "She's going to be in lockdown for a while, and wanted to show her gratitude— and since she can't act in an official capacity…"

Alison frowned, looking the Goatman over. He had a variable appearance, this much was true, but he always had an air of harmless fear that you saw on the facade of funhouses at the county fair, with their out-of-season Draculas and Frankensteins on the front. That same air remained, but he had a wary smile on his face.

She holstered her pistol and sighed. "Any funny business from you, and I will un-invent pataphysics just to kill you."

"Don't know what that means, don't particularly care." He started walking off. "I'm going to have a burger."

The Goatman rounded a corner. Alison heard the elevator to the surface ding, open, and then shut. She was left in a dimly-lit infirmary, alone but for the patients in the beds.

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