No Joke
rating: +230+x

Jerry swept the floor of the hallway while the guards looked on. This used to be Mr. Henderson's job, but then his poop started glowing, and now he was in Cell 14, with Mr. Iheme. The guards would have had to do it, but they had him do it instead in exchange for paper and pencils.

"GOOD MORNING, JERRY!" the screaming man screamed.

"Good morning, Mr. Stewart," Jerry said.

"I HOPE YOU HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY!" The screaming man returned to screaming wordlessly. He could never stop screaming, though it didn't seem to matter much what he screamed. No one had gotten much sleep when he'd first arrived.

Jerry was glad it was a cleaning day. There were no tests on cleaning days.

As he passed by Cell 8, the man in black and white stripes reached through the bars and held out a cookie from his lunch. Jerry took it gratefully, and the man gave him a thumbs up. He couldn't talk, but he was still one of Jerry's best friends.

He carefully swept around the edges of the devil's circle. The thing inside the circle hurt Jerry's eyes to look at. It sometimes whispered things, but Jerry was never able to quite understand it. He was glad for that. The others said it made the most terrible promises.

Finally, he was near the end of the hallway.

"You! Boy!" A pair of haunted eyes stared from over a long, broken nose.

"Sir?" Jerry said politely. He always tried to be nice to the other subjects. He didn't have any other friends.

"Send for help! CHICANEROUS GANGSTER CONSPIRACY! The Dracula men from Venus are a constant threat, and we must be warned!"

"I tried, Mr. Decray," Jerry said. "I tried calling the police. They all left, and I got put in the time-out box." That was when the phone in the guard's break room was removed.

"Not the police, this is too big! CHICANEROUS GANGSTER CONSPIRACY FASCISTS! Call 555-727-7560! Press five, and say bixby actual to save the world. Bixby actual!"

"I don't have a phone," Jerry said. He really wished Mr. Decray would stop shouting. It was better when things were quiet (or as quiet as they could be with the screaming man). People didn't get angry. Sometimes they wouldn't even take anyone upstairs for a while.

"Then you need to find one. A phone. 555-727-7560! Five and bixby actual!" The man tried to grab at Jerry, but was just a few inches too far.

"I'll remember," Jerry said, taking a few more steps back. It was better to humor him. He couldn't get out, but he could yell, and one man screaming was enough. Besides, it wasn't Mr. Decray's fault he was like that.

"I'm not crazy! 555-727-7560! 555—" The man's voice cut off to a sputter as a spray of water hit him in the face.

"That's enough," one of the guards said, putting down the hose. "Don't make me put you in the box."

The man gibbered a bit, but then choked off the words, and huddled back in the cell. Jerry felt bad for him. He'd been almost normal when the guards first brought him in, but after a few sessions with Mr. Greenberg, this was one of his better days.

Jerry finished the sweeping, and one of the guards took the broom. As Jerry walked back to his own cell, he heard a defiant voice whisper "7560! Five and bixby actual."

Jerry sat down on his bunkbed. He had the bottom bunk. Duncan had the top bunk. Duncan was sometimes a cat, but was currently a man. "How's the gang?" he asked.

"They're fine," Jerry said. "Mr. Quiet gave me a cookie."

"He's good people," Duncan said.

"Do you have any problems for me?" Jerry asked.

"Hmm. Get out the paper," Duncan said.

Jerry pulled out some sheets and a pencil from under the bed.

"51 times 14. 714 divided by 6. Aaaaand… The square root of 1156." There was a shifting, and then Duncan was a cat, jumping down to watch Jerry.

These were hard, but they passed the time.

The door opened, and a tall, burly man looked in. He grimaced, showing off triangular, shark-like teeth. It was Rodriguez, the head of security. "Break room, now," he growled.

Jerry quickly got to his feet. Duncan would make sure the papers were put away. He didn't want to make Mr. Rodriguez mad (though, Mr. Rodriguez was usually mad anyway).

He followed the guard to the breakroom. Someone had spilled a pot of coffee. Jerry went and grabbed the mop and bucket. He began working.

"Fuck," Rodriguez said. "I'm needed in the office. This better be cleaned by the time I get back, you little shit."

It didn't take long. As Jerry put the mop and bucket away, he noticed someone had left their phone on the table.

He hesitated a moment, then picked it up, and dialed the number Mr. Decray had said.

"Sal's Calzones and Pizzas," said a man on the other end. "This is Sal."

Jerry's heart sank. Mr. Decray was crazy after all.

"Hello?" Sal asked. "Anybody there?"

Jerry decided he wanted to be able to at least tell Mr. Decray he'd done what he'd asked. It might make him happy. So, he pressed five, and whispered, "Bixby. Actual." He closed the phone and was putting it back when a hand grabbed him by the collar and slammed him into the table.

"Who'd you call, you little fucker? Who'd you call?" Rodriguez squeezed his arm so hard that tears started to fall down Jerry's cheeks.

"Nobody," Jerry said, trying to keep on his feet as his arm was wrenched around. "I was just…"

"Don't lie to me! You want to be put in the box? You want that?" Rodriguez picked up the phone with his other hand, and pressed some buttons, before listening. He closed it again. "You were trying to order a fucking pizza?" he asked, contempt heavy in his voice. "You little shit. Get back to your cell."

Jerry was lifted to his feet and shoved back into the hallway. He ran back to the cell. He made a tent from his blanket, and Duncan sat down and told him stories until he felt better.

"We've got a call. It's a front known to Decray, but we're 90% sure it wasn't Decray on the other end of the line."

"Trace it."

It was testing day, and Jerry was pulled roughly from the cell. He didn't struggle. It never made anything better.

Rodriguez hauled him up the stairs, and to Mr. Greenberg's laboratory. There was glassware everywhere, though Jerry had never seen Mr. Greenberg do anything with it. The Bunsen burner had seen some use, though.

"Mr. Rodriguez." Mr. Greenberg sat at his desk, wearing his lab coat, stroking his greasy brown goatee. "You are late. You know how much store I put in punctuation, and yet you cannot rub two neutrons together in your head and make it on time."

"Sorry, Dr. Greenberg," Rodriguez said. His eyes had the glassy look most people had when they talked to Mr. Greenberg.

Jerry wondered about that, sometimes. Everyone else, even the other test subjects, had trouble saying anything against Mr. Greenberg or doing things he didn't want to. They weren't scared to, they just couldn't. It didn't work on Jerry. He wondered if it was because he just didn't know better.

"You cannot imagine my exacerbation right now," Greenberg continued. "The Greenberg Anomaly Group is at the forefront of human endeavor, and you can't keep to a simple timetable. Sometimes I wonder why I pulled you back from the circle."

Rodriguez's fingers tensed. He always got nervous if you mentioned the devil.

Jerry got nervous when Mr. Rodriguez got nervous. The guard had a tendency to take it out on anyone smaller than him.

"Now, Dash Five, what is to be done with you? Speak up, now."

"Nothing, sir," Jerry said. He just wanted to be back in his cell. But he knew that they wouldn't let him, not until they'd done something to him, some sort of test. Hopefully it would be quick. Sometimes it hardly took any time at all, and he could leave. Though, that almost made it worse, because he never knew how long it was going to take. It was a terrible thing to have hope, sometimes.

"Nothing? But we must do something. Do you not realize that you are a threat to humanity? A danger to the very realities of nature? You must be studied, and we must learn your secrets. You are a nigma, and I will decipher you."

Jerry didn't say anything. He just looked down at the floor and waited for Mr. Greenberg to decide what to do with him today.

"Now let's start with a simple test. Let's test your regenerative propensities, shall we?" Mr. Greenberg pulled out a scalpel. "Hold his arm out, Mr. Rodriguez."

Jerry struggled in the heavy-set man's grip, but he was no match for the adult.

"Now, a simple incision… like so." The knife bit down into Jerry's arm, opening another cut. "Now we watch."

Jerry bit down on his lip as he watched the blood flowing down his arm. He focused on the bowl they used to catch it. He hoped this was all they did to him. It hurt, but that's all it did.

"Sir, how long are we going to keep doing this?" Rodriguez asked. "You been at this for years. He'll bleed, and then he'll have a cut, just like all the other times." It wasn't, Jerry felt sure, that Rodriguez cared about the pain. But the guard constantly complained about having to haul "test subjects" up and down the stairs.

"Mr. Rodriguez! Are you critiquing my technique? Perhaps you would like another playdate with the class four devibolic entity!" Mr. Greenberg's eyes glowed. They did that, sometimes, when he got upset.

"No, no, Dr. Greenberg. I'll be good." Jerry couldn't see the guard's face, but he took a quiet satisfaction in his fear. Rodriguez nervous was cruel, but Rodriguez scared was too busy cringing to lash out. He probably wouldn't ask again for weeks.

"Now, it appears that nothing is happening, but when we wipe away the blood, we find… that nothing is happening. Why are you frustrating my efforts, Dash Five? We know you are anomalous, but you refuse to cooperate."

"I'm sorry," Jerry said. He wished he could do something that Mr. Greenberg wanted. Then maybe he'd stop hurting him and just leave him in the cell. The others got tested hardly at all.

"Not sorry enough. Next test, we shall determine how the subject responds to simulated respiracy arrest via drowning. Mr. Rodriguez, get him strapped to the gurney, and I'll ready the hose. Then we can proceed to some cognitive tests."

Tears streamed down Jerry's face, but he didn't protest. He knew from hard experience it wouldn't help.

Iris felt like sinking down as low in her chair as possible. She didn't feel ready. But after two months of training, Adams had given her the thumbs up, and that was good enough for the Council. Back in the old days, she could just shrink back, let others get the details down, and do whatever they told her. Now she was supposed to run the mission personally. She sat up a little straighter, and tried to look professional.

An intelligence agent stood at the front of the room, a clicker in their hand as they flashed through PowerPoint slides. "The building is three stories. Greenberg lives on the top floor and his people live in the other two. We believe that Doctor Decray is being held underground, along with the one who made the call."

"What do we know about that call?" asked Director Light.

"We believe it was a child. Teens at the oldest, younger if it was a male. There's not enough to tell anything else."

"Do we have a layout for the building?" asked one of the agents. "Blueprints would have been filed, surely."

"When Greenberg acquired the property, it was one story tall. A farmhouse. As there are no records of it being expanded or renovated, we believe it was altered by Greenberg's abilities."

"So we have no idea what's down there," Light said flatly.

"That's correct, ma'am. We could try seismic readings, but frankly, that has a good chance of tipping them off. Besides, we don't even know if this is a creation or an active manifestation."

"What?" Iris asked. She immediately flushed as people turned to look at her. "That is, can you explain the difference, please?"

The intel agent nodded. "Sorry, ma'am. Jargon. A creation is a rearrangement of matter. Think of it like a hole. The Type Green just moves dirt out of the way, and there's a hole. They don't need to do anything more with it, and when they stop working with it, there's still a hole."

"And an active manifestation?"

"An active manifestation would be more like… They don't actually move any dirt, they just project new space where they want the hole. It lasts as long as they keep working at it. If you dug in from the side of where it should be, you'd go right through without ever encountering the hole."

"Oh," she said. Her eyebrows furrowed. "That sounds like a lot more work. Why don't they just do creations?"

"Some don't know they can." The agent was comfortable with the question, as though it came up a lot. "Others find that it's easier to make changes to a manifestation rather than going through the creation each time."

A thought occurred to her. "What happens to the hole if the bender dies?"

The intel agent winced. "If it's a creation, nothing. If it's an active manifestation… Don't be in the hole when that happens. You could end up standing next to the hole, you could end up buried where the hole should have been, or you may end up nowhere at all."

"That could be a problem if we're going to have to go into the hole to find Greenberg," said one of the other agents.

"He leaves the grounds once a week to 'liaise with local governmental authorities,' which consists of a closed-door conference with the mayor and members of the city council, followed by a meeting with a local chemist. Your op will take place while he's out. We'll shut down cell and phone service on the grounds while you go in and take the property, removing all persons and items of interest from the property. You'll confront Greenberg as he returns."

"Makes sense," Iris said. She was glad they'd be tackling Greenberg separately from his guards and prisoners. It made the job seem more manageable. "How will we get there?"

"You'll go over the fence. They have guard towers, but they don't seem to have enough personnel to actually keep them manned. We don't anticipate strong resistance, but keep your guard up."

There were more details. Comms frequencies, contingencies, but in the end, intel's plan was fairly solid.

The day before the op, Iris felt like she was going to throw up. She'd done things like this before, but she'd never been in charge. It had always been someone else. Sometimes him, sometimes their handler. But now she was the one who was going to be making the calls.

"Nervous?" Adams asked. She was wearing the suit again, although she'd pulled out some of the glowing light bits and put a matte coating over the previously semi-gloss surface. Neither modification seemed to affect the suit's performance at all.

"Does it show?" Iris asked.

"Only when I look at you." Adams smiled. "Relax. It's a milk run. Greenberg shows all the signs of a low-level bixby. Intel has the op planned out from start to finish, and despite what you've heard, the plan usually survives until at least second or third contact with the enemy. Sometimes fourth."

"Funny," Iris said. She knew all about plans.

"You'll be fine. Seriously. I'll be on standby if things go wrong. Your team knows what they're doing. And ask yourself this: Is there any chance this will be worse than—"

"No," Iris said. And she realized Adams was right. No matter what happened, it wasn't the worst thing. That had already happened.

Adams nodded. "You've got this, kiddo," she said. "Go kick some ass." She gave Iris a pat on the shoulder, then picked up her rifle and jogged off to the armory.

Jerry watched warily as Mr. Greenberg walked through the door into the subject's hallway. He had to stand on a chair to see through the bars, but he hated not knowing what was going on. It was supposed to be a no-testing night.

"Mr. Rodriguez, I am going to discuss the matter of our funding with the local constabulation. Please make sure that the area is secure." He glanced around the hallway and sniffed. "And clean."

Jerry relaxed. He wouldn't be going upstairs.

"Yes, Dr. Greenberg." The guard looked pointedly at Jerry.

"Oh, and set a contingency of guards to sweep the perimeter. It will give them something to do."

That night, Iris found herself huddled about a mile from Greenberg's facility with thirty-two of her new closest friends.

"Ma'am, we have confirmation that Greenberg has left the perimeter," said Jiang. He was her second-in-command. He'd been in field ops for over ten years, and had a flawless record. He was, frankly, a babysitter. He'd made it clear that he wasn't going to take over unless things went very wrong, but he would let her know if she was screwing up. He reminded her of Agent Lopez. She missed Agent Lopez. He'd always made her feel safe.

"Thank you, Jiang," she said. "We'll hold for half an hour, and then move."

He nodded. "Any words first?"

She took a deep breath and nodded. If she was going to be in charge, she needed to act like it.

Jiang motioned for everyone to gather close.

"All right, everyone. You know what we're here to do. We take it one room at a time. Most of the guards are above-ground, so we clear those first, then we'll take the lower part."

She looked them over. They were wearing body armor, most of them carrying assault rifles. A few had other equipment, things like axes, crowbars, and a portable ram with "Skeleton Key" painted on it. They had all turned to look at her. Some of them seemed to be listening intently. Some didn't seem to take her entirely seriously.

"You all know who I am. Maybe you don't think I should be here, but at the moment, I am running this op. If any of you don't like that, you should have requested reassignment. Any questions?"

"Sounds good, Iris," said one of the agents. She recognized him. Jackson. He'd been part of her security detail a few years prior.

Jiang coughed meaningfully, and Iris fixed the young agent with a cold, hard stare.

"Er, that is. Agent Thompson. Ma'am." He looked about ready to crawl down inside his PPE.

"All right, people, sit tight. We move in twenty-five mikes," Jiang said.

They didn't bother hopping the fence. A pair of bolt cutters had a hole opened up in under a minute, then everyone was pushing through.

The point man put his fingers up, and everyone crouched down in the bushes. Someone was approaching. Several someones, having a discussion.

"Think it's gonna rain?" the first voice asked.

"I hope not. Hell of a night for patrol if it does," said a second.

"Well, it's not like the rain's going to wait for a more convenient night," the first voice said.

"I didn't say it would. I'm just saying it'd be a shame, is all."

"The real shame is that we got picked," said a third. "Out of everyone in, why us?"

"I don't know about you, but I think Rodriguez has it in for me ever since I was watching that shark show," said the first voice.

"I think he's oversensitive, personally. Not everything's about him."

"Try telling him that. Idiot thinks that—" The second voice stopped. "Did you hear something?"

Iris held the photo out and waited for it to finish developing. The guards were just turning towards her when the first one tripped. The second felt a tap on his shoulder, and then the third found his hat falling down over his face.

The MTF members had them bagged up before they understood they were under attack.

Snapping the shutter felt right. Reaching through the polaroids felt right. Every time she used her powers, she felt like herself again. Ironic, she thought, that the thing that made her feel the most like 'Iris Thompson' was the same thing that got her named 'SCP-105'.

Five agents hung back to keep watch, while the rest moved forward towards a side door.

The team breached the door like clockwork. They'd done this similar times at all sorts of compounds. This was nothing new. Even Iris had done this a few times, though in her previous experience, it mostly meant cleaning up after Able tore through the opposition.

They were in. She moved in with the rest, camera at ready. The first two in already had a prisoner, a skinny man in a grey and black security uniform. His hat, she realized, had the emblem of the SCP Foundation on it, but with the points of the arrows replaced by two capital Gs and an A.

She motioned for the rest to keep moving forward. The rest of her team streamed in behind.

There were two casualties as they cleared the rest of the ground floor, both of them guards. The rest were tied up and bagged for later removal.

The second floor was mostly asleep, and there were no problems capturing the personnel there. The third floor contained several spacious rooms, most of them with expensive furniture and random pieces of art. There was also a fake looking laboratory that looked like it had been made for a movie set; there didn't seem to be much actual scientific equipment. Finally, there was a large door.

"Break it down," Iris said.

Several of her men took the ram and pounded on the door. It ended up taking three tries to break it down.

Inside, there were… filing cabinets. And kittens.

"What the hell?" One of the agents crouched down for a closer look. There was something wrong with the faintly mewling kittens. They were bloated, and their fur was patchy, with open sores in places.

"Careful," Jiang said.

As the agent reached out to touch the kitten, it suddenly doubled in size, then exploded with a loud bang, knocking the woman back.

"Shit!" Jiang grabbed the wounded agent by the back of her collar and pulled her out of the room.

"Fall back!" Iris said.

As they moved, she took a picture of the doorway. As soon as it developed, she started flicking at the living bombs through the photo, detonating them far enough away to avoid anymore injuries.

"How is she?" she asked Jiang.

"We've got the bleeding under control," he said, "but I'm not sure she'll keep the arm."

She felt a twinge in her stomach. She'd lost teammates before. But now she was in charge. The agent had been under her command. It was her responsibility to keep them all as safe as possible.

"Fuck those things," one of the other agents said, spitting towards the smoking remains of the kittens.

"Keep moving, but carefully," she said. It was also her responsibility to get the job done. She steeled herself. They were there despite the risks. She could get them killed just as easily by not doing her job.

They took it slowly once they entered the room, but there didn't seem to be any explosive kittens left.

"Montoya, start going through those files," Iris said. "See if you can get a Cliff's Notes version of what's in the basement."

"Yes ma'am."

"Be quick. We're going down as soon as we have this floor secure."

There was something wrong. There was shouting and shooting upstairs, and Jerry wondered exactly what was going on up there.

The guard, Mr. Busby, kept by the door. "Don't pay any attention," he said. "Just keep sweeping. The guards upstairs have it covered."

That was when Rodriguez came down. "We're compromised," he said. "It's time to liquidate the assets."


"Kill them, shithead! We can't let anyone else take them. Dr. Greenberg is not going to want to see his investment in someone else's hands." He gestured to Jerry. "Start with that one."

Jerry's mouth dropped. The mop fell from his hands.

"What? C'mon, Marco. He's just a kid."

"If you're too much of a pussy, I'll do it." Rodriguez pulled out his gun, and Jerry looked around desperately for someplace to hide.

Busby punched Mr. Rodriguez in his mouth, and a few shark teeth went flying. "Run, kid!" he shouted.

Mr. Rodriguez shot Busby in the stomach, and was leveling the gun at Jerry when something foul smelling and brightly glowing hit him in the face. "What the fuck?" he shouted, as he tried to wipe it from his eyes.

Mr. Quiet made a throwing motion, and an invisible rope snagged Mr. Rodriguez's arm, making the gun fall to the floor.

Jerry tried to grab it, but he accidentally kicked it down the hallway, past the devil's circle. He began running after it.

Rodriguez bit at the air, and Mr. Quiet fell back as the cord snapped. The burly guard began running after Jerry. "You're fucking dead, you freaks! Starting with the brat!"

Jerry was running as fast as he could, but Mr. Rodriguez's legs were much longer than his. He started to skirt around the side of the circle when he realized Mr. Rodriguez was just behind him.

With no other choices, he jumped through the glowing circle.

There was a sensation of something trying to grab him, but somehow slipping past him. He fell out the other side, and rolled to his knees. He heard a scream, and looked behind.

Mr. Rodriguez was halfway through, and he hadn't escaped the grasp of whatever was in there. His body began to grow longer. His mouth was a grimace, and it kept getting bigger, until his jaws were stretching the sides of his face unnaturally wide. His skin was turning grey, and his clothes were tearing. His arms shrank and flattened until they became fins, and a tail began to grow from his rear. In moments, a ten-foot-long shark was thrashing on the floor. The last thing to change were his eyes, going from brown to pure black, the panic fading from them. The thing struggled within the circle, trying to find water, until it finally stopped, exhausted, its gills gasping.

Jerry sat there panting for a few minutes longer, then he carefully made his way past the other side of the circle until he reached Mr. Busby. The man was still alive, if hurt badly.

"Fuck," he said. "He shot me. Why'd he do that?"

Jerry reached into Busby's pocket and pulled out his keys. The guard offered no resistance.

He was about to start unlocking the cells when he heard the door to the stairs kicked open, and suddenly men with guns came streaming down. He stood up and grabbed the only weapon in reach: his mop.

"Found something, ma'am," Montoya said, handing her a file.

The file simply had a -5 at the top. A quick glance showed it was about a young boy. "Our caller," she guessed. The report was thick, with pages and pages of revisions. She wondered how long Greenberg had been holding him. There were a few pictures. He looked so scared.

"We're ready to breach the basement," said Jiang.

"Right. Let's do it," Iris said. She followed him down the stairs back to the first floor.

The breach team was ready, and on her signal, they proceeded down the stairwell and broke through the door.

On the other side, they found themselves confronted by a short, skinny little boy holding a mop, standing over a guard bleeding out from a gut shot. Behind them was a… a shark? In some kind of glowing circle? There were doors along the hallway, and faces could be seen looking through little barred windows at them.

"Don't… don't hurt my friends!" the little boy said. He was obviously terrified, but nor was he making any move to back down, despite his shaking knees. Iris recognized him from the file.

"We're not here to hurt you," Iris said. "We're just looking for our friend."

"Then why do you have guns?" he asked her.

Jiang looked at her for orders. Even a ten-year-old could be dangerous, depending on his abilities.

Instead of answering directly, Iris opened the file again and glanced through it. "'Subject refuses to reveal anomalous abilities. Proposing further experimentation.' What kind of tests… 'Exposed to open flame… aggressive dogs… low-to-mid-level interrogations…'"

Iris looked back at the little boy standing between her and the other prisoners. There weren't many scars. Not that showed, anyway.

She walked forward, knelt down, and pulled the mop aside. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she said, "It's okay. We're not going to let him hurt you anymore."

The little boy looked at her solemnly. "You promise?"

"I promise," she said.

"And you have go help my friends, too," he said.

"We'll do our best," she said. She wished she could promise him more, but it all depended on what the Foundation decided. She was still sure, though, that they'd be better off with the Foundation than with Greenberg.

She turned back to her team. "Agent Jiang, please inform the Director we won't be able to bring Greenberg in alive. We've determined he's too dangerous."

"Yes ma'am," the agent said grimly.

I can help you She felt the voice as much as she heard it. It reverberated inside her head.

"Greenberg?" she asked, warily.

I am not Greenberg The voice was almost painful. I help people

She realized the voice came from the glowing circle. She could almost see… something in there, but she couldn't tell quite what. It was watching her, though.

"What kind of help?" she asked.

Joseph Greenberg wanted to contain me I told him how I could be kept Here I am

She realized suddenly, that it was sending whole concepts to her directly. Her own brain was translating it into words. She realized that what it meant by contain and kept were not quite the same thing.

"Why is there a shark there?" she asked, stalling.

He wanted to be stronger I made him stronger He is at the top of the food chain

"He's dying," she said. She felt pity for it. She wondered who it had been before it had been transformed.

He will not die He would not be strong if he were dead I keep him alive in the circle

"Miss?" said one of the prisoners, a twenty-something black man. "It can't do anything to you if you don't let it. Don't pay it any mind, and stay out of the circle."

That seemed like good advice. "Everyone, keep clear of that… whatever it is. Get all civilians and anything that looks important out of here. I think we've got what we came for." Of course, that left the harder task for the night.

As they exited the compound, the little boy looked around, bewildered. Jiang frowned, and started to say something, but Iris motioned for him to be quiet.

"Those are stars, Jerry," she said.

"There's so many," he said. "How can there be so many of anything?"

"Keep looking," she said. Whatever happened to him, she wanted him to have a chance to see it now.

"Ma'am?" Jiang said. "We have Professor Decray. He's a bit addled, but he seems to be doing better now that he's out of the cell."

"He gets better when he hasn't seen Mr. Greenberg for a while," the little boy said.

"Thank you, Jerry." It was sad, she thought, that he referred to such things so casually.

Helicopters were arriving to take the prisoners back to a Foundation site for debrief, study, and hopefully, at least for some of them, amnestics and release.

"Some people are going to take you someplace safe," she said, putting a hand on Jerry's shoulder.

"Are you going to kill Mr. Greenberg?" he asked.

Iris was caught between the easy lie and the hard truth. "…Yes," she said. "If we can."

He seemed to think about this for a moment, and then nodded. "Good."

She saw him into the helicopter, and then watched as he and the others were flown away.

"Are all assets in place?" she asked Jiang.

"Yes ma'am. Observers are currently watching Greenberg. So far, he's keeping to his schedule. We should expect him in two hours."

"So we wait," she said.

He nodded. "We do that a lot."

"We didn't, back in Omega-Seven. Able would charge in, and it would all work out. For him, at least." She shivered. "I prefer waiting."

"Mmm. Beats dying," Jiang said, his expression unreadable. She wondered if he practiced his poker face in the mirror.

"You ever take out a reality bender before?" she asked.

He nodded. "Twice." A faint smile crossed his lips. "Makes me an expert, just about."

"Well, let's try to make it three."

It was just past midnight when the Rolls Royce approached the gates of the facility.

The first assault happened about five feet in, as a concealed charge detonated under the car. The entire vehicle jumped nearly ten feet in the air, tumbling as it fell back to the ground, smoking pieces of wreckage falling off. It bounced before coming to rest right-side up. A broken, bleeding body slumped over the steering wheel.

The rear left door opened, and a balding, greasy-looking man in a sweat-stained shirt and unwashed labcoat stepped out. A— No, a very professional looking man. Well dressed. A researcher. A doctor.

"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded.

Iris made sure the flash was disabled, and took a picture. There was still a whir as the camera released the photo.

"Who's there? I heard that! You are interrupting the noble and virtual work of the foremost authority on megaphysical phenomenals in the world. Do you not understand the imprecations even the slightest interruption has on my inquiries?"

Iris almost apologized to Dr. Greenberg, but she focused on the developing picture. "Open fire," she said over her radio.

Guns flashed, and Greenberg twitched several times as bullets hit his center of mass. But a moment later, he was standing, unharmed. "My internal dampener slows the momentum of your bullets! My science is impeachable!"

She reached through the picture, and tried something she'd been asked many times before, but had always refused before. She grabbed at his head (so much smaller in the picture, and somehow much less handsome, respectable, and intelligent-looking) and tried to twist.

"Anomalous meddlers, I see how it is! Always trying to ruin me. You're just like the rest, you ought to be locked away!" he said, trying to resist her pull. He pulled out a piece of metal, and suddenly Iris's hand burned. "Element 246 will block any telecaster's abilities!"

The photograph caught fire, and Iris had to drop it to the ground.

"Aha! There you are," Greenberg said, turning towards the fire. "You thought you could win, but I am vicarious!" He marched towards her. "I am Joseph Greenberg. Did you think you could possibly beat me?"

Iris looked down at her feet. She wanted to just give up. Go to one of his cells. He was the better man, after all. But she gritted her teeth.

"I'll bet," she said, "nobody ever wanted to play with you on the playground. Especially not cops and robbers."

"Are you mocking me?" he said. "Don't you know who I am?" He shoved her in the chest, knocking her to the ground. He stood above her, hands on his hips, a sneer on his face.

"Yes," she said. "And I know how you work now. Take the shot."

"Take the shot? What are you talking ab—" Abruptly, his head and the upper part of his chest disappeared in a shower of red gore, staining the grass behind him.

"I wasn't talking to you," she said, shaking slightly as she stood up. "Asshole."

"Did it work?" Adams asked over the radio.

"He's not getting up," Iris said.

"Then it probably worked. I don't think he'd shut up if he could still talk."

"…and the body's being sent to Mann's lab. He might be able to learn something useful, though there wasn't much brain left." The intel agent closed his notepad. "That does it for the debrief."

"I'll try to leave him more to work with next time," Adams said.

"Please don't. He's much safer this way."

"Greenberg or Mann?" Adams asked.

"Take your pick."

"What's going to happen to the prisoners?" Iris asked.

"Most of them aren't demonstrating any anomalous properties anymore. Our best guess is that those were active manifestations. They'll be debriefed, given amnestics, and released with plausible cover stories. Enough money to start again if necessary."

"What about the boy?"

The agent looked down at the cover of his notepad, avoiding her eyes. "Greenberg was unable to affect him. That's anomalous in itself."

"So one reality bender couldn't do anything to him. Maybe Greenberg had a hang-up about changing children."

"We administered mild amnestics for the ride onsite, to keep the subjects from finding their way back. They had no effect on him."

Iris glared. "Agent, at worst, he's unaffected by certain anomalies. That's the opposite of a threat to normalcy."

"Ma'am…" The agent fidgeted. "The thing is, he could be an important asset when dealing with exactly the kind of threat we saw tonight."

"Bullshit. He's ten."

"The GOC spent millions of dollars and hundreds of hours to make Clef resistant to certain anomalies. This boy has it naturally. Can we just let him walk away?"

"He's a child!"

"Well, that's a decision for someone else to make. I can only make suggestions." He turned and walked away.

"Fucking weasel," Iris muttered. She packed her camera back in its case and latched it shut.

"Eh. At least he's on our side," Adams said. "By the way, you said something back there about cops and robbers?"

"What? Oh, Greenberg. He was reacting. He'd see what was hitting him, and then he'd have whatever 'science' he needed to survive. You ever play cops and robbers as a kid?"

"Um." Adams's expression was blank for a moment. "I… not that I remember."

"Well, everyone points and says when they shoot. You're supposed to stop when someone 'shoots' you. But some kids won't do that. They'll insist the other kid missed. Or if they're very imaginative, they'll say they have a bulletproof vest, or a force field."

"Heh." Adams smiled.

"Or…" Iris frowned. "Or a clone."

Adams stopped smiling. "You don't think…"

"I think… I think I want to go back to my room now. It's been a long night."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License