Loosen Up A Bit
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“I gotta say, Charlie,” Crow began, watching Gears pick at leftovers in front of him, “I can’t believe Jack let you off work so easy. What did you do, exactly? Did he owe you a favor or something?”

“No. I didn’t ask at all.” Gears eating was always quite the operation. Crow’s companion and the head research director of the northeastern hemisphere was never a big eater— as evidenced by his wiry figure— and instead had a tendency to either work through meals completely or opt to play with his food and consume most of his calories needed to function through what Crow assumed to be a kind of lab light photosynthesis mechanism. Those who knew Cog well learned not to take this personally. “I am on leave.”

“Leave?” Crow almost choked on the kibble in front of him. Gears had never taken more than a couple total days off the entirety of the time he had worked for the Foundation.

His companion nodded solemnly, contemplating. “From on-site duties, although I am to remain on-call. My understanding is that Alto has taken the liberty of convincing Jack for my temporary relief in favor of this project specifically. I was not aware when arriving that I was to remain for an extended period of time, although in retrospect the box of my clothing and blueprints arriving by mail did seem strange.” Gears gently knocked two more half-frozen peas into a straight line with the others, forming a neat boundary on the paper plate, the significance lost to onlookers.

“How did you know it was Clef?”

“He left me a gift.” Gears carefully set down his fork and removed from his medical bag a thin cardboard package.

Oh no, thought Crow, It’s going to be a dildo or something.

His companion reopened the box and removed a hand written note, and curtly read it aloud, the affectionate message lost in his monotone voice:

“Cog, loosen up a bit. Love, Clef.”

Gears set the note aside carefully and reached into the box, removing a multicolored Hawaiian shirt in his size. Crow let go of a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Gears then set the shirt aside and stoically removed a nine-inch rainbow silicone dildo.

“He also included this apparatus.”

Once Crow had gotten up from where he had reacted to Gears’ discovery and safely removed the offending object from the eyes of the innocent, they were in business. After a brief discussion of accommodation, the two mutually decided that Gears would take up residence with Crow, at the old Olympia facility that the younger had maintained as a home and personal lab since the end of the project. This was not the first time the two would be roommates; the two had roomed together on many occasions, good and bad. Gears made for a clean, quiet roommate, so long as one found the consistent keyboard tapping tolerable, and Crow didn’t consider himself too bad either.

The problem with this, of course, was Crow’s modification of his small home to better fit his needs. He’d gotten rid of the bed years ago, taking instead to a more comfortable futon, and the myriad of old rooms previously hosting staff quarters and barracks had long been converted by forces greater than his own to what the old Olympia facility was to the modern Foundation: the F-44 archives in northern Alberta, Canada.

The archives, of course, posed a problem that he and Gears began discussing once his human companion had adopted a sleeping bag on the floor next to Crow. All the rooms had been ‘upgraded’ from lab space, dorms, and containment to endless bookshelves of dusty files and metal lockers of long forgotten bits and pieces of experiments, odds and ends in decade-old biohazard containers and specimen jars. Crow’s job title of “Archivist” actually meant “Make sure no one breaks in and tries to steal irrelevant, almost completely redacted and useless files that we’ve been keeping just in case since the 50s”.

One of the reasons Crow hated paperwork more than ever now was because he knew where it would eventually end up.

“Well.” Gears readjusted so he was facing the golden retriever curled up above him. “We could rearrange. It just depends on the space we need.”

“Which depends on the project itself,” replied Kain. “So I guess the next step is…what exactly they want from us?”

“I would assume they wish for us to recreate Sophia. Or at least, modified soldiers to any extent.”

Kain cringed at the name. He missed her terribly. “Yeah. Well, the way I see it, we have a couple options. We can either use the old specifications or make new ones from scratch, and for that…shit, Cog, I mean…we need money.”

“Funding, yes. And permission for removal. SCP relocation, space, upgraded chambers. We’ll need workers and equipment, as well, unless we intend to do this on our own.”

“You seem…” Crow paused, reading what he could from his companion. It was easier as a dog, but still buried pretty deep. He never really had a good chance of getting it right. “…Skeptical.”

Gears, a person who approved and rejected funding from all over Russia and Europe on a daily basis, nodded.

“You don’t really have faith in this, do you?”

“No. I think this is a terrible idea,” Gears replied bluntly, staring at the ceiling.

“Well, I mean, don’t sugarcoat it.”

“I would have rejected this in an instant if it was my choice.”

“Again, no need to be gentle.”

“I am unsure of how to proceed with this project to the extent requested, because I am deeply disturbed by the fact that funding previously given to other, more applicable research is being redirected to this,” Gears concluded. “However, I will proceed because I have been ordered to do so.”

“Because your dad’s on the council,” Kain muttered. He could see Gears’ eyes shift from the ceiling to him, settling in the dark.

“I knew about the Brights for a long time,” Crow admitted. Might as well come clean about it now. “I mean, it’s hard not to notice if you pay attention, they’re a bit eccentric. Didn’t know there were two family lines involved until I was looking through some of the older files. Funny what you can stumble upon here if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you know? Complete accident, I swear.”

Gears nodded, and returned his gaze to the ceiling. A moment passed. Kain sensed that he had just crossed a boundary that should not have been touched. He breathed.

“I trust you will not disclose this to anyone.”

“Cog, I’ve known for six years now. If I was going to exploit that against you, I would have done it by now.”

Gears nodded again in the slow, deliberate way he did.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Crow said. “I have a question about it though. Can I ask you about it?”

Gears considered for a second, tilting his head slightly. A long, still minute passed before his long time friend replied.

“It depends on the question.”

Kain exhaled slowly. “Of course. If you can’t answer it, then don’t. I don’t really…I mean…I don’t really know much about you guys, just… you know. The medical files.” And what he knew, he didn’t believe, but he wasn’t about to say that. The old archives were frequently inaccurate. “Okay. So…what is he like? Your dad. He doesn’t…I mean I heard he’s not…”

“…He doesn’t present himself often, yes,” Gears confirmed, slowly. “As is customary.”

Customary. Kain shuddered. Gears continued.

“He is…” Gears thought for a moment. “…Strict. Again, customary.”

Kain couldn’t help blurting out another question, the one he had recovered from age-old documents that crumbled and cracked in his readers. “Can you…? I mean. Did he…? To you, I mean.”

Gears did not respond initially to Kain’s half completed thought. At first, he received this response as his companion waiting for him to complete his question fully, and struggled for a moment to find the correct words to describe his conceptions of the trait before Gears interjected.

“Customary,” Gears replied, emotionless. “All is customary.”

Although part of Crow’s mind felt shock and grief in this response, a small, shitty part of himself raced with excitement at this apparent confirmation, and he couldn’t stop his tail from thumping, once, singular, against the fabric of the futon, a movement he found himself horrified at, considering the context. Gears saw this, and continued.

“…I would not be excited.”

“Yes. Yeah. Yeah, no, I’m not. Not. Not like that.” Kain wanted to make himself stop talking altogether, but somehow continued. “No. Terrible. Yeah. Like, really bad, not…not good. How you got trained to do it. Really. That’s horrible. It’s just really interesting you got assigned to the project with that kind of ability, do you think they know?” Crow blurted out, immediately regretting his decision. Oh my god, just stop it, it’s not a good topic, just stop talking about it you piece of shit.

To Crow’s surprise, Gears nodded.

“I am not sure Jack is acquainted to the extent you seem to be…” Gears studied the old dog on the couch. “…But family lines intersect in these ways, yes. I suspect he has heard something from family members, or by any stretch, believes it to be simply talk. I have never shown it explicitly to others outside my father and grandfather, as is customary.” There was that word again. Customary. Everything was customary.

Kain hesitated with the question that he felt compelled to ask next. That probably was the last thing Gears wanted to be asked. No way he was going to totally ask his best friend to answer this about his disturbing upbringing. No way. Just disrespectful. Totally out of line for him to ask that next question.

“…Can I ask you one more question?” Crow said out loud. He heard Gears audibly exhale. Not quite a sigh, but definitely something there that was exasperated.

“…Is it for me to show you?”


Gears sat up, and Crow’s heart started racing in his chest. No way. No fucking way. His tail started beating against the futon restlessly, and Gears looked at him blankly.

“It’s not a very powerful skill by any stretch of imagination,” Gears breathed. “It is simply customary in the line. The trait is carried in the blood, but, as you probably know, has to be properly propagated while the child is young.”

“Yes. Yeah. Yeah, it’s terrible, I saw the records.” Crow said this while still wagging his tail with his ears perked, and hated himself for it. “Just. Man. Yeah, that’s. Really terrible you had to go through that. Like, whoa. Shit, man, I’m really sorry.”

“It is customary, in our family, for such an upbringing. To inherit the head Overseer position is the highest honor. To be the Ox that pulls the yoke. To serve the Foundation, in entirety, for the duration of one’s life is the greatest sacrifice, and the guiding light,” Gears said. “I want you to understand that this is what I’ve been taught, the true reason for rearing children in such a fashion.”

“In addition to…”

“…Yes. In addition to that.”

“Okay. Yeah, no. Totally. So sorry.”

Gears nodded.

“Can…Can you do it?” Crow said eagerly, voice barley above a whisper.

Gears looked away a moment, back at his hands.

The little walking clockwork toy on the bookshelf adjacent to them shuddered a moment in the dim light of the lamp on next to the futon, then began to walk, slowly at first, then steadily, confidently marching tiny rubber feet across the shelf. Crow lay transfixed, watching the wheels turn in amazement, until it reached the other end and wound to a stop. The typewriter began clicking. The analog clock spun and whirred.

A moment later, Gears exhaled, and the movement stopped; the clock back at 10:43 PM, the typewriter one line farther in the page, the toy on the opposite side of the bookshelf from where it had started. His companion looked back at him expectantly.

He was speechless.

“Oh. Oh my god. Cog. Cog, oh my god. That’s amazing,” Crow stammered. “Like…Oh, fuck, Charlie, that’s the best useless power I’ve ever seen.”

Gears nodded quietly, always humble. “Not useless. Customary.”

Crow made his tail stop beating with excitement, suddenly feeling enthralled with a charge he hadn’t before. “Yeah. Customary. Of course.”

“Yes. I trust you with this information.”

“Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Oh, my god. Yeah, of course.”

“In that case, I propose we begin review of the materials in the morning.”

“Yeah. Of course. Yes.”

Gears nodded once more, and burrowed back into the sleeping bag. Crow repositioned himself to the best of his ability for sleep, and then reached out for the long cord attached to the lamp.

It clicked off on its own. Charlie looked at him from the floor, face neutral as always, and Crow grinned.

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine,
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine,
To carry man up into the sun…

…As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over the rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.

Leonardo steels himself,
Takes one last breath, and leaps…

-Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine by Charles Anthony Silvestri

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