Expiration Date
Expiration Date
By: RallistonRalliston
PUBLISHED: 18 Jun 2022 21:13
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rating: +36+x

2021

Site-19, Undisclosed Location

The last thing Alto Clef expected to see at the funeral of Jack Bright was a lone, old man sitting next to a Golden Retriever wearing glasses.

Site-19's modest chapel had been reserved specifically for the occasion. A facsimile of SCP-963 stood in a glass jar atop a wooden podium. The artifact itself was still classified as too risky to handle, even though its anomalous properties had been long-robbed by the merciless cessations of the Impasse.

REST IN PEACE

Jack James Bright

1905-2021

And yet, the chapel was all but empty.

"Alto," said Charles Ogden Gears, turning his head to meet the newcomer.

"Cog. Kain," Clef said in return, eyeing the two and nodding. The dog scientist looked up and him and whined painfully, slightly wiggling his tail.

Clef suppressed a wince. The Impasse hadn't been kind to Kain Pathos Crow. His lifespan had already been halved by the accident that had placed him in the body of a Golden Retriever, but now, the death of the anomalous was taking his mind as well. One minute, he'd be as sharp as he'd ever been, the genius scientist who'd pioneered a thousand innovations and pushed the Foundation beyond the edge of all other normalcy-guarding organizations. The next, he'd be an old dog, with spindly legs, graying fur, and nearsightedness.

"Anyone else coming?" Alto asked, giving Kain a few scratches under his chin. "Or can I start drinking?"

Gears shook his head curtly, his eyes fixed on the amulet in front of them.

"I am only here to pay my respects. Others have voiced their thoughts on our departed colleague in ways I do not think are polite to repeat at a memorial service. I doubt there will be more joining us today."

"You don't have to beat around the bush, Cog. Tilda fucking hated the man," Clef scoffed as he walked over to the drinks table and took a whole bottle of champagne for himself and himself only. "Sophia, too, by the end of it all. Still. No next of kin?"

"Adam Bright has been gone for over a century now. Another Council soul sacrificed to the Factory. And his remaining kinsfolk were all either neutralized by the Impasse or want nothing to do with him," Gears said levelly, though Clef had known him long enough to suspect a note of sorrow in his voice. "In the end, he was thoroughly and utterly alone in his actions."

"Bullshit. Didn't Overwatch have a few hundred mind-clones of him running around doing slave labor?"

"Everett told me they lost all higher brain function the instant the original amulet ceased to work," Kain barked out, sitting up on his haunches. He was clearly feeling better.

"How convenient," Clef grabbed the bottle's cork. "How very fucking convenient."

He popped open the champagne and let it run onto the floor before offering the bottle to Gears and Kain, who both turned him down. He took a long swig and lounged on one of the pews.

"Where is Everett, anyways?" He asked, letting out a silent burp, much to Kain's groan. "I thought he liked Jack. You'd think he'd be here."

The question hung in the air.

"Did you like Jack?" Crow eventually said quietly, staring at the ground below.

"I did and still do like him when he gets me free champagne, that's for sure."

Kain pushed his glasses up on his snout with his paw, woofing. "Alto, quit playing dumb. This isn't a good way to approach this."

It wasn't the first time they'd been at a memorial service without a corpse. They'd been to many more over the years than they'd like to admit. The most significant of which, of course, had been for Benjamin Kondraki. A colleague. A friend. A loose cannon.

And, for Alto Clef, a lover.

"For once, I was telling the truth," Clef said. "And besides, why are you here, Kain? Why isn't Everett here?"

Kain let out a slow whine, perhaps a little embarrassed at his friend's behavior. "I felt a certain kinship towards Jack for the longest time. He was trapped in the body of a chimpanzee for a majority of our early years, and when I learned he had the ability to swap between bodies I thought, perhaps, he was choosing to wear an animal body out of a sense of respect for human autonomy or to portray a sense of kinship towards me."

Clef snorted. The champagne spurt out of his nose.

"Everett, I felt, had a similar sense of kinship towards Jack, too. Much the same I feel towards you, if we're being frank, Alto. You're a loose cannon, like the rest of us. One of our merry band of madmen. And Jack… his indiscretions were more heinous than ours, in a way. And Mann wanted to observe that. To analyze that."

Clef shrugged. "Yeah, O4 wasn't going to care too much about the several million dollars I spent on killing the occasional reality bender on the moon when they're getting twenty HR escalations a day requesting transfers out of Jack's department because he wouldn't stop offering "sexual healing" or whatever other bullshit he'd come up with. Great guy to have around!"

"It gave us cover to continue operating, no matter how… regrettable our acceptance of it was," Kain continued on, as if Clef hadn't just spoken. "Let me live a comfortable life, despite being a dog. Let Everett get away with a bit more human experimentation than was strictly approved. Let you commit a murder or two. For that, I suppose, we should be grateful."

"A-fucking-men," Clef said. "Thank you, Jack, for being worse than all the rest of us. An achievement and a half." He paused, looking around with a shit-eating grin. "Right, guys?"

Neither responded.

They weren't Bright or Kondraki.

They weren't like him.

Rolling his eyes, he finished the champagne bottle and threw it against the ground, burping loudly. It bounced ineffectively off of the floor without shattering.

"He… He contributed valuably, to the Foundation," Gears said after a moment, carefully. "But his greatest impacts were on our culture. He pushed boundaries. He crossed set rules, no matter what stepping over the Rubicon meant. Defined, for a time, who we were, beyond just our prison cells. The ever-changing face of the Foundation."

Clef rolled his eyes again. "Look at you, Cog. So goddamn diplomatic. That fucking list used to be a morale booster. A morale booster. Fucking ridiculous."

He grabbed another bottle of champagne. "You guys sure you don't want any?"

"I am here solely to acknowledge the memory of a colleague," Gears said. "I find it inappropriate to mourn or revel tonight."

"And I'm a dog, Alto, woof woof," said Kain, clearly articulating the woofs. His mind was fading away again. "Water bowl, perhaps? That's a little more appropriate."

Clef had expected as much, so he took up a water bottle and a plastic plate, handing them over to Gears. As Charles poured the water onto the plate, Alto walked up to the fake SCP-963. SCP-963-D, now. Calling it Neutralized felt improper; in a sense, Alto felt the weight of Jack's sins and indiscretions upon his own back. His actions and death weren't solely entropy's fault.

They'd had adventures together, yes. But many shared sins as well. And Gears and Kain could be trusted, to an extent, with dirty secrets.

On closer inspection, it was obvious that the medallion was a replica, and not a particularly loving one. The gemstone and chain were plastic. It barely resembled the original amulet that had burned in the furnaces of Site-43's Acroamatic Abatement. He supposed it made sense. The Foundation was facing quite a few budget cuts. Permanent budget cuts.

He smirked. He shook up the bottle, and popped off the cork. A thick stream of foam erupted from the bottle, splattering the amulet in bubbly champagne fizz.

"Man," Clef chuckled. "This is just like the Friday nights after Konny vanished."

"Arf?" Kain barked quizzically, skewing his head. His tail lifted up tensely.

"I know you loved Benjamin Kondraki, deeply and intimately. It was quite obvious." Gears said completely neutrally, as if the situation wasn't anything unusual. "But what, precisely, does defiling Jack's memorial service have anything to do with that?"

Kain panted, his tongue sticking out.

"You're doing a bit, Cog. Tell me you're doing a bit. You're not this fucking emotionless."

"I suspect, Alto, that Benjamin Kondraki's disappearance hurt you. I suspect, Alto, that you hid it. And we hide in different ways."

Clef looked at the champagne bottle. Most of it had splattered over the false SCP-963, but there was still enough to drink. He chugged it all in one blow, delaying his answer.

"Look, I was fucking lonely, alright?" Clef groaned at the others' lack of understanding. "I was lonely without Konny, and there just aren't a lot of people on the same level as me. Both of you can understand, I'm sure. Or at least attempt to understand. And Jack was… Jack was there. We had that work relationship, sure, but at the same time we also had a real connection."

He turned towards the dog and let out a burp. The champagne was loosening his lips and turning his stomach.

"What you were talking about, Kain. A kindred spirit. He was there, and he was up for it, and I fucking needed someone who was on the same wavelength. So yeah. There was something between us that wasn't strictly professional. I'm not proud of it. I wanted my life back. I wanted to go around shooting shit and going hogwild and god fucking help me Jack got it. He had a tendency of doing the worst bullshit and we'd just fucking excuse him and say 'oh, that's just Jack and we've done worse and thank god he's here to take the heat but don't worry Director he's outgrown these actions it's the last time we swear he's changed that was just the past' but we never really considered exactly what he was doing, did we, never did consider how he was so fucking gleeful about jumping between bodies and leaving trails of brain-dead D-class behind him and justifying for the goddamn greater good. We never fucking did, any of us. Always some fucking excuse for that," He frantically spat out those words with almost disgust.

"…Was it ever more than that?"

"He was a goddamn creep," Clef said. "He fucking sucked. Fucking undying 1920s mentality. Liked his power as much as all the rest of us. Forgot that I wasn't someone he could push around, unlike everyone else."

He mimed vomiting but stopped when he felt his stomach churning for real.

"But do you regret it?"

Once again, silence hung in the chapel. Alto joined Kain in looking at the floor.

"I fear," Gears stated, "that I must share some of the blame for his indiscretions."

"Don't be ridiculous. You're only on that goddamn list because Jack said your name instead of Mann's when he was doing a four horsemen joke."

"War, Death, Famine, Pestilence… but also Conquest. Some count the number of horsemen as five. And, I fear, so will history," Gears said, looking down as well. "I was there for all the worst of it. I, the supposed voice of reason. I saw the worst of his behavior — your behavior — and yet, did nothing to stop it. And, perhaps, in some sense, I even wanted to not see it. To always have some excuse. To tolerate it." He paused. "Because it was just easier than admitting I wasn't as unmistakable as my legend dictated."

He did not sigh, though he paused for longer than was characteristic. "I wonder, perhaps, if I could have convinced him to change, or if his mannerisms were too far calcified by his power and his immortality. I think Everett must feel the same. As you do."

Alto sighed. "Is this about your daughter again? One of them, anyways. Misplaced survivor's guilt over how you could have saved her from herself?"

"I have always been conscious of my own legend, Alto. Doctor Gears. The man without emotions. I have not let that define me. I continued as I always had, no matter how much I agreed or disagreed with it," He turned his head, looking directly into Clef's eyes. "But have you?"

Clef didn't answer. He was just a Type Green, or an anti-Type Green, or Alto Clef, or Agent Ukelele, or Adam the first man, or Lucifer, or just a clever liar with enough charisma to outrun the real him. It was easy, for so many of those years, in the wake of loss, to wrap his own legend around himself like a security blanket. To allow his reputation for mad chaos to excuse his indiscretions. But eventually, he came down to earth. He remembered things that mattered. His losses. The faces of the people he'd hurt. His daughter.

He had shared those concerns, those fears, with Jack in their wilder days. A kindred spirit, after all. And Jack, to an extent, had understood. He'd spoken little of his own family, but seemed to hint they were under the Foundation's 'care' as well. And it seemed he'd grown to dislike the List, in a sense, hate how it painted him so unfairly in his eyes to those who had never even met him, he used to say, lying right through his teeth. And the others, they swallowed those lies easily. Because it was the most simple way out.

But then, one day, those concerns just vanished. Evaporated, as if they were never there, unnoticed by anyone after all those deceptions. Or perhaps they'd always been lies, just like everything else. Because at some point, Jack Bright had seemingly embraced his legend.

He himself had made a choice, to be the monster he could've fought back.

Kain pushed himself to his feet, giving out a whine, and walked towards the podium. Clef gave him a few pats on the head. The Golden Retriever whined — there was enough intelligence remaining in his partially animal eyes to feel the agony of losing parts of himself. Despite this, though, he wagged his tail once more.

"I wonder" Gears carefully said, staring at the ground below him. "With someone as important and numerous as him gone, who will replace him in the projects he was assigned to?"

Clef looked it him, rising his eyebrow. "You… You do realize that he didn't actually do anything, right? Towards the end, at least. He had no projects, Cog. He did nothing." He looked away, focusing solely on Kain through bitten lips. "Except use his illusion to abuse power."

And while looking at Alto Clef, as if for reassurance, Kain Pathos Crow did not say anything — he simply raised one leg and began to piss on the funerary podium of Jack Bright.

They all knew had work to do. And so, eventually, they departed. A storm of thoughts overtaking each of them, they moved to wherever they were needed, still thinking about the man that brought them together for one final time. They weren't exactly nice thoughts. Not after all he'd done to all of them.

When the others left, the man that had once been Agent Ukelele remained, cross-legged before the last remains of a man that had scarred the world deeply. He felt no sorrow — just the cold truth that in the end, the only justice Bright's victims would get was the knowledge of his death. And perhaps — but just perhaps — the hope that his legacy will not be remembered by the new generation that was about to staff Vanguard. That they will make their own world, one where people like him can be given the only treatement they deserve — being forgotten.

For the first time in a long while, Clef felt a sense of morose clarity. There was nothing to say. No words would change the situation. No Kondraki to take his mind away from it all. The only kindred spirits he'd ever truly had were long since destroyed by their own personalities.

There was only one honor that felt appropriate. Alto Clef pulled out a permanent marker from his pocket and gave one last tribute to a fallen colleague.

REST IN PEACE PISS

Jack James Bright

1905-2021

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