Dr. Anderson's Failing Marriage
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Dr. George Anderson woke up to a terrifically ordinary morning. He made his ritual breakfast: bacon and two eggs, and sat across the table from his wife, Claire.

He noticed, as she reminded him that he should be watching his cholesterol, that the words felt strangely hollow. The entire routine seemed devoid of any substance, and he had no idea why they bothered doing it. He puzzled over what could be missing, and stumbled on an uncomfortable truth: he no longer loved her.

When did that happen? An unfamiliar sensation gripped his chest, and he wondered if he was about to have a heart attack.

Claire looked up from her cup of tea. "Jason, my cousin's son, got that girl pregnant."

"I thought he was in prison," George said, trying his best to maintain his tone.

"He got out a month ago."

"And already got a girl pregnant?"


"Well, he certainly works fast."

"Runs in the family." Claire smiled at him as she spoke, and he smiled back.

"I should get going."

"Alright. Have a good day! I love you, Georgie."

"I love you, too."

The words chased George out of the kitchen, like a swarm of wasps, and stung him as he gathered his things for work.

The train ride to Site-37 took over an hour, and George settled into his commute. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was still across the table from his wife. Had he really not seen, before today, that something had changed? How many months, years, had he felt this way, without a single moment of introspection?

He looked around the train car, at the various security personnel, the researchers, the all-but-doomed D-Class who shuffled in, day after day, and felt something he didn't care to fully explore.

George pulled his earbuds from his briefcase, and queued a lecture series on applied non-euclidian physics. The speaker began, "I don't have to tell you that this is an exciting time to be on this side of the Veil. With recent advancements, I'd argue that there is no longer a single problem that we, as a scientific community, cannot solve. Take for example, the idea that time is constricted by …"

The familiar rhythm of academia drowned out the drone of the tracks, and George hid himself within it.

George followed the masses of personnel as they entered Site-37. He made his way through the litany of security checkpoints, metal detectors, badge scanners, and unreality probes. This job required caution, precision, objectivity. The Foundation made sure that nothing unauthorized entered the site, and George knew that whatever he felt about the events of the morning had to be left at the door.

George entered his office, and his assistant was already waiting for him, files in hand.

"Good morning, Dr. Anderson."

"Good morning, Santiago."

"Before we get started, I've got some bad news." Santiago rummaged through the folders, and produced an incident report. "Would you like some coffee while you look this over?"

"No coffee, thank you. What's in the report?"

"Dr. Strauss died. Our containment procedure for 8641 was *incomplete.*"

"Dr. Strauss died?"

"I'm afraid so. Turns out 8641 can affect a larger range of ages than anticipated."

George felt the same sensation he had felt earlier, over breakfast, on the train, hanging over him like the blade of a guillotine. He finally put a name to it.


Doubt that swelled in his stomach and swept over every facet of his being. Doubt that permeated every breath, every motion, and seeped through him so deeply he wondered how he could every be free again.

Santiago continued, "We've updated the procedures. The Site Director classified it as an acceptable loss."

"Acceptable to whom?"

Santiago paused for a moment, while George thumbed through the rest of the folder.

"Is everything alright?"

"Everything is fine." Remember that you have chosen this. You are sacrificial. "That's unfortunate. Dr. Strauss was a competent researcher." George folded the incident report and set it aside. "How are your classes?"

"Stressful, but I knew it was going to be stressful when I applied."

"And you're still sure about this career path?"

"The work we do here is important. I just don't think I could be happy with anything else."

"Good." George pulled a requisition form from the folder and handed it to Santiago. "These should all be waiting in Materials. Run and grab them for me." As Santiago took the form, George couldn't help but notice how much of himself he saw in his assistant. Fresh faced, wide eyed, just happy to be involved. He never stood a chance.

"And, if you ever want to transfer, I'd be happy to write you a letter of recommendation."

"Don't worry, I'm not transferring anywhere. This isn't an easy gig to land, you know."

George chuckled, and felt the blade of the guillotine drop, in free fall and careening towards him. "I know. It's just a shame about Dr. Strauss."

Claire was only tangentially aware of her husband's occupation. She knew that his job was dangerous, scientific, and incredibly important. Whatever he did, she knew he was good at it and she was proud of him. She spent her time in their Foundation-supplied apartment, writing poems and painting.

When George came home, she showed him her latest work in progress. It was a landscape of the Alps, where they had gone for their honeymoon. As he looked at it, Claire felt an impossible distance between them. The George she loved was not here, next to her. She trusted that, whatever was happening, her George would get through it. He had always been closed off, but she had never pried. She loved him in spite of his walls.

Claire finally broke the silence: "Do you remember when you proposed?"

"I do." His voice carried a mix of nostalgia and mourning. It was the same way he had talked about his mother, just after she passed away.

"You gave a lecture on human perception. You talked about how nothing we see is real. About how light is just radiation, and our eyes can't really be trusted."

"I still can't believe you sat through that. I was boring myself."

"I hung on every word. I couldn't believe how lucky I was that a man that smart could love me."

A tear gathered at the corner of George's eye. Claire pretended not to notice.

"We got dinner afterwards, and I asked how you knew that I was real. Do you remember what you said?"

"I said you must be real, or nothing else would have a purpose. And then I asked you to marry me."

"I love you, Georgie."

"I know you do. I've never doubted that for a second."

George sat beside her and looked at the painting. He tried to remember what he felt, all those years ago. He searched, among the anomalies and procedures and theories that littered his brain, for a remnant of the spark.

He found nothing.

The next morning, George left the apartment before Claire woke up. He left her a note:

No time for breakfast today. Work called. Keep working on your painting. I can't wait to see the finished piece.

Santiago had spent the night in Dr. Anderson's office. Midterms were around the corner, and the University of Non-Euclidian Learning did not permit failure. He sat motionless for hours, pouring over textbooks that had never officially been written.

He was struggling over a passage about non-gravitational systems when Dr. Anderson's entrance interrupted him. Santiago was more than happy to take a break from his reading. "You're here early," he said, setting the book aside. "Apologies for the mess. I thought I had a few more hours."

"Don't worry about it," George responded. "I used to do the same thing."

The office had seen better days. Santiago's desk, a metal table in the corner of the room, threatened to buckle under the weight of the mountain of books, food wrappers, and empty energy drink cans. Santiago had also clearly seen better days. His hair was greasy, his eyes were bloodshot, and the smell of beef jerky and sweat radiated from his pores.

Dr. Anderson sat at his desk and tried to breathe through his mouth to avoid the smell of cheap smoked beef. "How much sleep are you getting, these days?"

"Not as much as I would like," Santiago chuckled.

"What have they got you reading?"

"Non-euclidian fluid dynamics. I've got to write a paper about how Hume levels influence the volume of a fluid."

"Really? That's Strauss's area of expertise. If you want, I could-" George caught himself.

A thick silence hung in the air before Santiago finally spoke. "How long did you know Strauss?"

"Dr. Strauss and I worked closely for almost a decade." The silence returned, and George felt a strange safety in it. As he looked at Santiago, he saw a young man whose dedication was destroying him, and marveled at the familiarity of that feeling. For the first time in years, George was compelled to share. "He was the best man at my wedding."

"I had no idea. I didn't even know you were married."

"It's not common."

"Was Strauss married?

George laughed to himself, and felt tears welling behind his eyes. He fought them back as he spoke. "No, he wasn't. I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but Foundation work doesn't permit much socialization. I was lucky enough to be engaged when the Foundation first recruited me."

"It must have been nice to have some support while you did all this," Santiago said as he gestured to the rolling piles of books which littered the office.

"It was nice." When did it stop being nice?

After a short pause, George turned his attention to the file on his desk. "Now. Let's get to work."

George looked over the research proposal before handing it off to Santiago. "What do you think?" he asked.

"They want us to test a liquid that inspires 'sensations of euphoria, and deep emotional attachment to a loved one.' They want to know if it works when the loved one isn't in the room. Want us to use D-Class. Makes sense. Says the test should prioritize long term implications, sustainability, et cetera."

"Notice any potential problems with the proposed methodology?"

"Well, they want us to use D-Class, and test long term effects. D-Class don't tend to stick around for very long."

"Well done."

"Well, what do we do?"

George shrugged. "We can still get data for a few weeks, at least. Who knows, maybe she'll explode and we can go home early." The two shared a smile, the first they'd ever shared. "Alright, I'll get things set up. You go take a shower, and for god's sake brush your teeth. I'll meet you in Observation Room 3."

George walked towards the door, but turned before he left. "Santiago, our discussion, about Dr. Strauss,"


"Such connections between staff are generally frowned upon." Santiago's postured shifted, and George caught another flash of familiarity. Was it Strauss? Was it himself? "I'd appreciate your discretion. I don't want my objectivity called into question."

"Of course not."

Dr. Anderson hated to interact with D-Class. They carried a horrible weight that burdened everything they touched. It sat just behind the eyes, occasionally visible in the flicker of a faulty fluorescent light, or in the shine of the polished tile floor. They walked from cell to cell, chamber to chamber, knowing that they were expendable, bearing with them the weight of atonement.

The one who stood in front of him, on the other side of a thick sheet of glass, was no different. None of them were ever different.

"Do I have to drink this shit?" The voice of the D-Class crackled over the speakers.

They all chose this for themselves. They have no one else to blame. Dr. Anderson pressed the button on his microphone and answered,

"You are free to revoke your consent at any time, though I'll remind you that you're receiving a reduced sentence in exchange for your cooperation." Santiago gave Dr. Anderson a look, and he reluctantly added, "It's not going to hurt you, to the best of our knowledge."

"Fine. Be that way, doctor."

Dr. Anderson and his assistant watched the test subject through the reinforced glass. She took the vial from the table in front of her, and raised it to her lips. The liquid in the vial shimmered in the sanitizing light of the test chamber, and the subject's throat glowed as she swallowed it.

"Now, how are you feeling?"

The D-Class didn't answer. She stared at the vial in her hand, and watched the tears roll down her cheeks in the reflection. Minutes passed, and the researchers began to wonder if they had given her the wrong liquid. Finally, the test subject broke the silence, and there was music in her voice as she spoke,

"I still love him." The subject looked up and allowed the researchers to see her face. Her eyes shone, as though her tears had purified them. There was no weight, no dread. All that remained was the essence, and Dr. Anderson stared directly into his test subject's soul.

"Who?" The urgency in his voice shocked him. Why are you panicking?

"My husband. I miss him." What is wrong with you? Get a hold of yourself. "Could I see him? Can he visit me here?"

"We don't allow for visitors on site, no." Dr. Anderson felt a twinge of jealousy creeping in from the corners of his heart.

"But we're married! Why can't I-"

"There are no exceptions." His words echoed through the test chamber and the glass rattled slightly. The woman stood like the sun, blinding, radiant, and impossibly far away, like none of this could ever matter.

"Then I'd like to be released."

"You understand you'll forfeit your sentence reduction."

"I know that. I'd just like to see him again. Maybe the prison will let me see him."

The look on the woman's face, the unfiltered bliss, seemed so foreign to Dr. Anderson that he began to wonder if he had ever felt love in his entire life. Would I have done this for Claire? Just for one more look at her smile?

He felt something swelling inside him, pushing to escape. The dams that he had constructed, the ones that kept his doubt at bay, began to crack. They groaned like apocalyptic prophets, wailing doom and hellfire, until finally they burst. Dr. Anderson was swept away.

Claire had spent the day preparing for her husband to return. She made his favorite meal: seared sea bass, and set the table with a few candles. In her hands, she fiddled with a small speech she had written. She heard his key in the door, and waited for him to sit down.

"What's all this? You didn't have to do this."

"I know, but I wanted to. It wasn't any trouble." Her lip quivered as her husband sat across from her.

"I'm going to talk for a while. You don't have to respond. I know these types of things are hard for you." She took a deep breathe. In the flicker of the candlelight, George looked like someone else entirely. Claire continued.

"I am worried about you. I have been for years, but something's changed. I thought you would always work it out for yourself; that's what you always say. I thought that I loved you because you were so independent, but" Claire began crying in earnest, "I feel like I've abandoned you. It's not fair to expect you to be fine without me." There was more to the speech, but Claire was crying too much to read it. "I feel like I've pushed you away."

"Claire, I don't know what to say. This isn't your fault. I'm going to figure this out."

"You don't have to figure it out by yourself. Why won't you let me help you?"

The candlelight flickered and George could see Claire perfectly. Her face twinkled against the dark backdrop of the dining room, a beacon. It was like he was lost, drifting in the midnight sea, and could see a lighthouse miles in the distance. The destination was clear, but there was no hope of reaching it. Who could possibly overcome such a strong current? George wondered if it might be better to drown.

"I'm sorry, Claire."

George watched as the light in the lighthouse dimmed, until it was no longer visible. Claire left without another word, and George was truly alone.

George decided not to drown, whatever it took.

He took the last train of the night to Site-37. The tracks rattled beneath him. I can fix this. I can love her, like I used to. There is a way.

There was virtually no one on site when George passed through security. He walked down the halls, half running from the cascade of murky water that poured down behind him.

He threw himself into his desk chair and scrambled to find the file for yesterday's experiment. He found it, and quickly scratched out a new proposal. They want long term results? I can give them long term results.

George started to leave, but stopped himself just as he began to rise from the chair. He picked his pen back up, and wrote a letter of recommendation for Santiago, along with a note:


You need to get out of here. I know this seems important. I promise you that it isn't. Get out there, into the world, and live a real life. I won't let you waste away in this fucking facility. There's nothing worse than regret. You don't want to end up like Strauss. Or me.

He left the letter and the note on his desk, and hurried to the office of the Site Director, with an experiment proposal in hand. The flood had followed George this far, and was gaining every minute.

The Director sat behind his desk. He was a large man, and his presence dominated the room. The storm raged. George struggled to keep his head above the water. Lightning cracked, and he swore the Director looked like a kraken, waiting to drag him under.

"Good morning, Director."

"Good morning, Dr. Anderson. I don't believe we have a meeting today. Can I help you with something?"

"Yes, sir. I know this is highly unusual, but I have a proposal. I would like to volunteer as a test subject for SCP-9721. I've drafted an outline of the proposed experiment here. I can li-"

"Dr. Anderson, if I may-"

"My name is George."

"Fine. George, what you're asking is completely against what our institution stands for. I'm shocked, frankly, that you would even suggest this. Don't you remember your oath? You swore to dedicate your life to the protection of humanity. You and I both know I can't approve this."

George remembered his wedding vows, remembered the love he might never get back, remembered how Claire's sobs filled their small kitchen. He remembered Santiago, his bloodshot eyes, his unquestioning obedience. He remembered the suit that Dr. Strauss had worn at his wedding. His doubt receded, replaced by a burning hatred for everything he had worked for, hatred for the man sitting across from him, and everything he represented.

"This place has taken years of my life. It took my sanity, huge chunks of my memory. How many times have you people reached into my head and ripped out some secret? Strauss is dead. How many other people have died, people I cared about? And now you've deprived me of the only love I have ever felt. I've given far too much and never asked for anything. I haven't had a day off in my entire career. I'm offering to be a test subject, long term documentation, the kind you can't get from D-class. Is that really so unreasonable?"

There was a long pause, and George realized that he had been shouting. His anger struggled to suppress the ever-present doubt which again threatened to overtake him. It rushed over him, and he was submerged.

This time, however, there was no stormy sea, no ripping tide, no threat of drowning. It was all out of his hands. He had handled it as best he knew how. He had proved his dedication. He had chosen to try to love. Come what may, he could live with that. The tension dissipated from the silence, and all that remained was peaceful stillness rippling over the water.

The two sat for a while, and George basked in the calm.

Finally, the director spoke.

"Where would you like to live, George?"

"I'm sorry?"

'Where would you like to live while we observe the effects?'

"Andermatt. Switzerland. In the Alps."

"I think we can do that for you."

"Thank you, sir."

The sound of George shutting the front door woke Claire. The sun had just started to peek over the horizon, and cascades of orange light baked their bedroom. The glow of the dawn illuminated George as he entered, and Claire saw the man she married glowing like an angel.

"Good morning."

"Good morning, Georgie. What've you been up to?"

"I just needed to handle something. What would you like for breakfast?"

The two sat in the warm light of the morning sun and ate. George made his ritual breakfast, bacon and two eggs. Claire reminded him to watch his cholesterol, and George chuckled.

"I really should be more careful, shouldn't I?"

"You should. What would you do without me?"

"I have no idea."

George looked around the kitchen, coated in the shining light of a new day. He saw the light in Claire's eyes, just as bright as it had always been. A beacon.

"I love you, Claire."

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