Old Friends, Old Sins
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rating: +17+x

Old Friends, Old Sins


A9Asterisk.png

Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming, United States of America

Wednesday afternoon


They have plunged me into darkness, he thought. They seek to confuse me, confound me, obscure their nefarious deeds with a cloak of night. He chuckled to himself beneath the thick black blanket thrown over his head. They should know better. They should know that I am the nigh—

"Something funny, champ? You breathing okay?" A pause. "Do you even breathe?"

His captor affected a note of concern. The Specter chuckled again, hoping it would throw them off balance just as they'd hoped to do to him, and did not respond. The vehicle jounced down the badly-pitted dirt road, the warm and fragrant air slowly seeped into his prison of cloth, and he knew that no matter how dire the situation, the right would eventually prevail.

"I'm serious, guy. If you're having trouble under there, we kinda need to know."

It was time. Time to let them know how badly they had misjudged him. "I am trouble under here," he seethed. "But no more, for BEHOLD THE WRATH OF THE LONG DARK DAWN OF JUSTICE!"

He threw the blanket off his head. He was sitting in the rear of an open-top jalopy. Dr. Dan was in the front passenger seat, looking back, Director Light was driving, and Rainer was seated beside him.

Dan kept a straight face. "Got a rich inner life, do we?"

"We're almost there anyway," Light sighed as the dense evergreens bounced past. "If anyone was going to spot him, it would've been back at town."

The Specter hoped his lack of face would disguise his embarrassment. "I, ah… get a little caught up in the monologue sometimes."

Dan shook his head. "The blanket was your idea, dude."

Light was right. The cabin on the hill rose up to greet them in the distance; it was time to get some answers.

The Specter expected to get a few extra.


A9Asterisk.png

They stopped in the lee of the cabin. It was a comfortable affair, warm orange wood and a generous apportionment of windows, a neatly-kept hideaway in the middle of a vast woodland.

"What a goddamn cliché," Dan muttered as he got out of the jalopy. "He might as well have retired to a Buddhist monastery."

"He's from the 2010s. We used to be big on clichés. Still, I wish we knew more about this guy." Light turned off the ignition. "Other than his name, we've got bupkus."

Dan put both arms on the crossbar and leaned in. "Wait, you know his name? What's his name?"

Light smirked. "Agent Chris. That's all there is. Agent Chris. Relative of yours, Doctor… Dan…?"

She trailed off, because he was suddenly grinning full-bore. "Oh shit! Chris! Well that's alright, then. This should be good." He swung back out of the vehicle and walked up onto the front porch.

"Wait for me, you—" Light cursed as she popped out of the jalopy, followed closely by Rainer and The Specter.

Dan was already knocking on the door before they made it up the few short steps. "I know this guy. We're the same generation."

"Olds," Rainer helpfully supplied.

"Yes, 'we' are the same generation," Light agreed pleasantly. "We all worked at the Foundation at the same time."

The Specter patted Rainer's shoulder amiably.

"Not… olds," Rainer mumbled.

"Good save," said Dan.

The door opened. An unassuming man with a mostly-healed electrical burn on his neck opened the door, and looked them over wearily. He settled his gaze on Dan. "Oh, hey," he said. "You aren't dead. Good for you."


A9Asterisk.png

"This guy was great." Dan was chattering non-stop as the former agent showed them into his cozy cottage-style living room. "He investigated, like, every damn thing. Success rate out of this world; investigations out of this world, quite literally. Flesh That Hates? Didn't kill him. Unnavigable haunted cargo ship? Didn't kill him. 093-E didn't even kill him! No wonder Wilford sent us."

Chris tapped the light switch — he tapped it, Dan noted, rather than actually flip the switch — and a warm glow filled the room from the overhead fixtures. "Wilford sent you? How's Old Piece of Shit doing these days?"

Dan flopped down on a couch, which sagged around him charmingly. "Still a piece of shit!"

"I'm very sorry, Agent Chris, but I'm not familiar with your exploits." Light selected a rocking chair, then glanced at Rainer.

"What?" Rainer said. "I like rocking chairs too, doesn't make you old."

"Rocking chairs are for people who like to rock. I heard that on TV once." Dan put his arms behind his head, and kicked off his shoes. "So no wonder Chris has one. You should've seen him in that one 093 test, rocking out to the otherworldly elevator music. And I nearly lost my shit when you hucked that stale donut at the wall!"

Light leaned forward as Chris sat down beside Dan. The Specter hung back in a corner, and Rainer hovered awkwardly beside him. "Wait," Light said. "That was you? In the… Yellow Test? I remember that being a doctor, with a redacted name."

"Yep." Chris smiled. "Doctor Chris, who only ever existed on paper. Whenever they wanted to send me somewhere, but the brass wouldn't like it, they sent Dr. Chris and redacted the name afterwards just to be safe." The smile was contented. "Man, I miss that. I used to love exploring. Fleshing things out. Sometimes literally!" He laughed; it was a pained laugh. "There was a lot of flesh involved."

"Why wouldn't they want to send you?" Rainer asked, now standing behind Light and obviously trying not to grip the back of her rocking chair.

The smile vanished. "I didn't always get along with the golden boys. They gave me a lot of shit." He jolted on the couch, suddenly; it startled Light and Rainer, but Dan didn't seem to notice. "It was easier to pretend it wasn't me going. Of course, that also made it easier to drum me out of the service afterwards; nobody knew who I was."

"Well, I knew," Dan sighed. "But of course, I was in permanent detention."

"Been there. Seems to have worked out well for you, though," Chris noted. "Thought they'd have plugged you a decade ago." He glanced at the other two agents. "You boys going to sit down, or are you anomalously incapable?"

There was a table with three chairs up against a broad, curtained window; The Specter sat down there. Rainer shifted awkwardly in place, and asked: "Yeah, uh… you got a bathroom?"

Chris waved vaguely. "Second floor. You'll find it." He paused. "Don't go exploration logging my house, though."

Rainer nodded, and shuffled out of the room. Chris watched him go. "Seems like a good kid."

"They're all good," Dan emphasized. "A great team."

"You call two a team?"

"There's two more. An ex-UIU agent, and a Sarkic."

Chris stared at him. "What the fuck is a Sarkic?"

"Meat magician."

Chris nodded thoughtfully. "Neat." He glanced back at Light. "Why are you here?"

Light began to rock. "General Bowe returned last year."

Chris continued to nod. "That's bad."

"He's dead, now."

"That's good."

"He may have convinced the deity from 093-E to invade us."

Chris mouthed That's bad. He had clearly meant to say it out loud, but lost his wind. He blanched. "You, uh, you want some coffee? Hot chocolate?"

"Hot chocolate would be lovely, thank you. But I can make it myself; Dan should explain the situation to you further."

Chris winced. "Alright, but I'll have to go turn the machine on. There's no electricity here." He stood up and slipped out of the room, moving with catlike tread.

"'There's no electricity here'?" Light repeated.

"He means the house isn't connected to the grid," Dan explained.

"Oh. So there's a generator."

"No."

Chris returned, tossing a Coke into Dan's lap. Dan grunted. "Ready to go, ma'am."

"Thank you." Light left, sharing a meaningful look with Dan before she did.

The Specter took Rainer's former place behind Light. "Are you, by any chance, an electricity-based superhero?"

Chris leaned up against a bookcase on the wall. "Wouldn't call myself a superhero, though it looks like you might." He gestured at the table. "Sit down, would you?"


A9Asterisk.png

The Specter sat down, which always looked faintly ridiculous to Dan. The shadow man was designed for dramatic poses, and it was almost impossible to sit dramatically. Dan joined him at the table, for the simple reason that Chris didn't want him spilling Coke on the couch. "You wouldn't call yourself a superhero," The Specter repeated. "Would you then call yourself a super villain?"

Chris scoffed. "I did a lot of good in my time, and some bad, but all of it for a reason. Villainy isn't a reason to do anything. That's what I never understood about 093, or Him; what motivates a guy to do the things he did?"

"I think calling Him 'a guy' is a touch absurd," Dan remarked.

Chris nodded. "But you know what I mean. That planet was just… have you been there, any of you?"

Dan and The Specter nodded.

"Then you know. It's oppressive. The dead hand of a damn heavy past on your shoulder. It's the worst of all possible Earths, with the worst of all possible versions of us doing cartoonishly evil shit. Honestly I'm glad we shifted to sending agents and MTFs in there, towards the end, because the D-Class had some real bad mojo. You know the disc was picking destinations based on personal traits, right?"

"Guilt," said Dan and The Specter simultaneously. Dan winced.

"Right," Chris agreed. "Mostly guilt. I don't know who thought going to The Murder Place or The Child Murder Place or The Drugs and Murder Place was a good idea."

"I have asked this question several times," The Specter interrupted, "but I will ask it again. What are D-class?"

"We'll talk about that back at base." Dan cracked his knuckles. "Now, about th—"

He saw the blur of black, felt the rush of air, and turned to look down the muzzle of one of The Specter's guns. It quite took away the urge to finish his sentence. "Perhaps it was my phrasing that confused you. I shouldn't have made it a question. Tell me what D-class are."

"Cannon fodder," Chris replied. He was watching their little tableau with mild interest. "Folks they send into the dark places, folks they get to fiddle with the things-what-no-man-should-fiddle-with. So nobody important gets hurt."

The Specter moved his thumb, and there was a click from the attached pistol. Dan couldn't even see what had clicked. "Slaves?"

"Not slaves!" Dan put both hands up, slowly. "Uh…" He looked at Chris.

Chris put both hands up too, mockingly. "Hey, don't look at me. I wouldn't know how to end that sentence either."

Dan tried not to gulp. He hated that cliché, too. "They're not slaves. They're… what are they, Chris? Help me out here."

Chris shrugged. "Depends who you ask. Some of them are hardened criminals, death row; Foundation likes to think they're giving people a second chance. Of course, it's mostly a second chance to die horribly."

The Specter didn't respond.

"Some people think that's what they all are, but it's impossible. Sheer logistics won't allow it. We might snap up the odd fellow on his way to the Green Mile, but—"

"The Green Mile isn't a general term, it's specific to that movie." Light walked out of the kitchen, holding a steaming mug; she stopped in the doorway. "Oh, are we shooting Dan?"

"Help," Dan said.

Light sat down at the chair between them. "What're we talking about?"

"D-Class," The Specter whispered dangerously. "What they are, and what they make you."

"Oh, that's easy." Light took a sip out of her mug; Dan thought she took her time with it. "They're vat clones."

"See, I've heard that," Chris chimed in again, "but that's a whole other logistics problem. Clones don't grow that fast, and they don't have such specific personalities — I've seen lots of exploration logs where the D's are real characters. Did someone manufacture that shit, or what? Memory creation? Seems like a lot of trouble to go to."

"Maybe it's to make us comfortable," Light suggested. "Make us feel like they're human."

The Specter swung his pistol around to point at her head. Dan relaxed slightly; Light remained relaxed. "You feel comfortable sending humans to their deaths?"

"Of course." Light sipped her hot chocolate again. "That's what I did with your mission to 093-E."

"That's different, doctor, and you know it. Myself, friend Rainer, and the others signed up to do this dirty duty. If we're helping to support a… human trafficking ring by doing it, well! That's dirtier than any of us knew."

"And that's not even getting into the question of monthly termination," Chris added.

"Chris," Dan grunted.

"Monthly termination." The Specter's voice was deadly cold now.

"Yeah, some folks think they kill the whole population off at the end of each month, so's to keep them under control. Personally I think that's stupid — how could we cover up that many disappearances? Me, I always figured that was just a rumour they started to keep the D's in line, make 'em feel like they need to prove they're worth keeping around, maybe even some day get out of their cells."

"You keep them in cells."

"Oh, absolutely. Secure, Contain, Protect, Imprison. Surprised we don't get prison riots, but maybe they mind-wipe 'em all every once in a while, take away their testing trauma and their sense of impending doom in one go. Our own little human recycling system. 'cuz here's the deal." Chris stepped forward and knelt beside The Specter's chair. "When I started at the Foundation, they had D-class for every dang thing. Go touch the funny cube. Go open the creepy black door. Go ahead, eat this and tell me if you explode."

"'Tell me if you explode'?" Dan repeated.

"But that was then. Been a long time; maybe they've changed. Then again, they always were too up their own asses to admit their faults."

"Not helping," Dan half-sang.

"I'm not here to help, I'm here because this is my house." Chris peered at the gun with a collector's interest. "I've heard not all the Sites use D-Class. Any truth to that, or just more lies?"

Light nodded, still somehow ignoring the weapon pointed unwaveringly at the orbit of her left eye. "It's true. 43 and 91 have no D-class at all, and never did. Plenty of Sites send drones or MTFs right from the start; there's also that one immortal D-class, and don't even get me started on the whole planet of them we found once."

The Specter did not lower his gun, but neither did it produce further ominous sounds. "You are defending your mad science of yesterday by claiming to engage in slightly less mad science today."

"No." Dan reached across the table and put his hand over the muzzle of the pistol. "We know what we've done. We know who we are, and what we have to atone for. Some of our monster-minders became monsters in the process, and some didn't. The latter have to police the former. They have to find a better way. Is the Foundation inherently good? Of course not. Is it necessary? Of course. So it needs to become good."

The pistol swung back around. Dan tried to press it to the table, but The Specter's grip was like iron. "And how do you do that?"

"By bringing in people who point guns at people they think might be evil," Light suggested. "People who have a moral compass. People who are better than we've allowed ourselves to be."

The Specter's hat tilted ever-so-slightly forward, and Dan felt the temperature drop. "You are using me. You are debasing what I do. You were right to say that I know what is in your hearts, and that it lurks."

Dan shook his head. "We're not going to drag you down. You're going to drag us up. Don't you get it? Alpha-9 is all our sins remembered. Every mistake we've ever made, crystallized into one supreme act of arrogance. The idea that one small group of people can change everything. But it matters who the people are, buddy."

Dan could almost feel the sneer in the air. "I am not your buddy."

The Specter didn't jump when Rainer put one hand on his shoulder, but his fedora did tilt back. "I am," Rainer said quietly. "And I think we need to let them let us make them better. Did I say that right? I'm worried I might not have said it right."

"You did. You definitely did. Being a hero isn't about shooting people." Dan hoped that wasn't too obviously on-the-nose. "It's not about ZAP-BAM-POW, or rules for crime-fighting. It's not about capes, or hats, or magic pistols or whatever the hell it is your friend here's got going on. Being a hero is about showing everyone that things can be better." He took a deep breath. "What did we call you guys? MTF Alpha-9: what? It wasn't a reference to stopping an apocalypse, or fighting a war, it was about a permanent course correction. The last one was a bald-faced acknowledgement that we were making a huge mistake: Omega-7, "Pandora's Box." Pessimistic from the get-go, before we even got started. So what do you think our expectations for you lot are? Say it with me now. MTF-Alpha-9?"

The Specter remained silent.

"Last Hope," Rainer said.

The Specter's glove moved faster than Dan could see, and he braced for the impact.

The pistol was gone.

The Specter nodded once. "We will save the world," he said. "We will be that hope. And then we will talk about the D-class, and how to save them together. Finally we will save you, who set yourselves outside the world, above the damned. If I think you're worth it." He paused. "And if there's time."

Dan exhaled heavily. Chris stood back up. Light finished her hot chocolate. Rainer gripped his friend's shoulder tight.

The hand snapped back up, and the gun with it. Dan stared down that empty black barrel once again. "'All our sins remembered'. I almost forgot! Tell me who you killed, and why." The pistol swung back in line with Light's eye. "Both of you."

"We never should have answered his first gun-question," Dan sighed. "Now he knows it works."


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They were able, with some effort, to convince The Specter that one revelation was sufficient for one afternoon. Chris invited them to stay for dinner, which he cooked himself. He barbecued steaks, which made sense given the lack of electricity, but also fried up some potato wedges on his oven, which did not. When he touched his appliances, they came to life; they eventually died again, but only when he wanted them to. Light was too polite to ask about it, and Rainer was too shy, but The Specter hammered away at it relentlessly.

It was therefore no wonder that when Rainer offered to do the dishes and The Specter promised to "lend all aid and succour to my chum and ally in his hour of need," and Light said she had to go back to the jalopy to send a few messages, Chris popped out the rear of the cabin for some fresh air.

Dan joined him. There was a wooden bench on the back porch and they sat there for a while together, watching the sun sink below the evergreens.

"Did you believe all those lines you fed the fedora?" Chris broke the silence first. "That 'take me back, baby, I can change' crap?"

"That wasn't crap, Chris, I was telling the truth. My prose might've gotten a bit purple, but you try keeping terse around that guy. His verbosity is infectious."

"So is lying to yourself. You've got it, I've got it, the whole damn Foundation's got it. They haven't changed at all, Dan. They're still the same."

"Beg to differ. No, actually, I'll go one step further: beg to stand as an example to the contrary. The fact that I'm still breathing is a testament to the fact that they're trying to fix their mistakes."

Chris laughed. "If they ever had it in them to fix their mistakes, you'd be dead."

Crickets, actual crickets filled the intervening moment.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Think about it." Chris ran one hand along the smooth log exterior. "If you haven't already — which, by the by, would be damned unlike you. What didn't you tell the fedora in there? Why did you really let 096 off the chain back in 2010?"

Dan didn't answer.

"I saw your face after you'd been working with the thing for a month. You looked like you'd never be able to sleep again. What did it? The bathysphere test? It was straight-up murder, can't have been easy. Is that what made you snap?"

"I wish," Dan muttered.

"You wish what? You wish sending someone to die in the Tonga Trench had been enough to prick your conscience? The Foundation is a deadening force, Dan. It does that to us, like it does that to them. The anomalies. But there was still a bridge too far for you, like there never was for Clef, never was for me. What was it?"

"Deepwater Horizon."

The crickets returned.

"What?"

"The BP oil spill in 2010. You know how often the oil industry voluntarily increases its safety standards? How much money they willingly spend on preventing environmental disasters, as opposed to economic ones? Not very often, and pennies on the dollar at best. But that didn't matter, because we needed oil to keep us going, so we didn't want to push too hard. The collective 'we'. Man-fucking-kind. It wasn't 'til BP got caught with their dribbling dicks hanging out over the Gulf of Mexico, turning one of the world's densest environments into a pitch-black dead zone, that we all had to face reality. Had to grasp the consequences. We needed to see the thing for what it was, to recognize that it needed to change." He leaned back against the cabin wall, and closed his eyes. "I see patterns, I think abstractly. I make connections. That's my deal. Well, I made the connection. 096 in a city would have been like oil in water. There'd be no cleaning it up. The mess would spread and spread and spread, and all we'd be able to do is wring our hands and say 'We didn't know' or 'What could we have done?' while it all went to shit. I decided… Oleksei and I decided that there was, I don't know, some nobility in making that point for the Foundation. It was the most important gift we could give them all. We were their Deepwater Horizon."

Chris put one hand on his shoulder, and Dan felt the static charge. "But you weren't, were you? Or rather you were, in the sense that what you did, your staged disaster, didn't actually accomplish anything. Tell me, buddy: why aren't you dead?"

Dan opened his eyes and looked at the former agent, his former friend. "I don't know what you're asking."

"Sure you don't."

"Just fucking… say what's on your mind already, Chris!"

Chris was still holding his shoulder. "How did that statement go again? 'I can kill 096, but I've killed myself in the process'? How'd that pan out? Did you kill 096? Did they let you do that, then put a bullet in you?"

"They let me draft my plans…"

"For how long? A month? A year? Two? TEN?" The hairs on Dan's arms were standing up now as the agent's temper rose. "We're the SCP Foundation, for Christ's sake. We don't need to think that hard about how to kill some mouth-breathing wallflower with troll regeneration. A good old-fashioned acid bath would've done the job in a jiffy. I don't know why people act like these things are invincible. We didn't not destroy them because they were indestructible. We didn't destroy them because we didn't want to! The goal wasn't ever to keep everyone safe, Dan, so it didn't matter that you showed them how unsafe it was. The goal was to keep all the doors closed and all the locks locked and the keys in thirteen decrepit old hands. They were never going to kill their prize monster, no matter how dangerous he was. Even if he could never be tamed or trusted. Even if he killed people. Because he was their monster, you know — you KNOW — and they're monster collectors at heart. Gotta catch 'em all!"

A bolt of electricity ran through Dan's body. He yelped, and stood up. "Fuck off," he snarled, and walked to the cabin door. The Specter was telling a story in the kitchen, waving his arms theatrically; Rainer was listening attentively, while Light scrolled on her PDA.

"They would've let me," Dan protested. It sounded weak, even to him. "They would've let me kill the monster."

"I wasn't talking about 096."

Dan refused to look at him.

"I'd love to believe that they have it in them, Dan. That they really can move on, and start making the right choices. But the fact that you're standing here today tells me that they either don't know how to let go, or they can't, or they won't." He stood up and walked to the edge of the porch, looking up at the stars all the way. "Maybe come back and see me when they let you decom the shy guy."

"The shy guy is toast."

Chris turned around. "What?"

"He's up there." Dan pointed at the stars. "He's in the sun. Moon Champion put him in the sun."

Chris blinked. "Moon… Moon Champion. Moon Champion did that. Like… at random?"

"No." Dan leaned on the doorframe, letting the light of the kitchen spill out beside him. "He was helping us. He was helping me. It was coming for me, my mistake was coming to collect me, and… yeah. Moon Champion swooped down out of the sky and took it out to the cosmic ocean."

The crickets had gone, but the silence remained.

"Moon Champion."

"Yeah."

"Moon Champion saved you."

"Yeah. Sauelsuesor sent him."

Chris mouthed something in the moonlight that might have been, and probably was, What?

"This is what I've been saying, man. Maybe you're right. Maybe we don't have it in us to save ourselves." Dan jerked a thumb through the door, to where Rainer was now miming The Specter's waving arms and Light was laughing. The Specter himself was shuddering with obvious pleasure. "But maybe we save everybody else, and they save us."


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It was nearly ten o'clock when they decided to go. Light was certainly disappointed; she'd hoped that someone who'd been to 093-E might have some insight into that alien world which their own research and brief expedition had missed, but it seemed to be a bust. She was fishing in her labcoat pocket for the key to the jalopy when Chris came walking down the stairs with a bundle of papers under one arm.

"What's that?" she asked, pointing, as Dan and the two agents filtered back into the entrance hall.

"I have four things for you," Chris replied. "Every year, someone from the Foundation breaks in and tries to see if I've got something incriminating or anomalous squirreled away here. Don't try to deny it, if you were going to, because we both know there's shit going on you're not privy to." He separated the sheaf into two stacks. "Luckily nobody ever thinks of looking under the floorboards on the second floor. Movie troves are always hidden on the ground level." He extended both hands, and Light took the two thin piles of paper.

She glanced down at them.

She glanced back up, in shock. "Jesus Christ."

Chris nodded. "The first one is the unabridged Yellow Test. The second one is the Indigo Test."

"There's no Indigo Test," said Dan.

Light tapped the sheet. "Mirror Test 6, remember? The one we couldn't access?" She looked at Chris again. "How… why did you…?"

"Because what's in there, they don't want you to know. They don't want anyone to know. You ever wonder why we stopped going to 093-E?"

"Moon's haunted?" Dan suggested.

Chris blinked. "I don't know what that means, but sure. You wanna see haunted, read the Indigo Test, which was pretty well destined to disappear from the database as soon as the O5's caught wind. And I, well… I knew that. I saw what they did to the discovery docs." He grinned. "But maybe I don't think of you guys as 'them', per se."

Light shook her head, bewildered.

"You said 'four things'," Rainer pointed out.

"The kid listens." Chris nodded. "The third thing is a tip: like I was just saying, if you've read the 093 file, you know the earliest documentation was lost in a facility fire."

Dan nodded back. "Right. We don't know how we got the Red Sea Object, because all those files are gone."

"Well, I'll tell you this: that facility didn't burn itself down. It wasn't an accident. And if my suspicions are correct, whoever was responsible took those files before they lit the fuse."

Dan whistled.

"What's the fourth thing, fellow crime-fighter?" The Specter asked, some of his old verve having returned since the tense moments earlier that afternoon. "What final boon do you have to bestow upon us?"

Chris walked to a closet beneath the stairs, opened the door and rummaged around a bit. He withdrew a battered old flak jacket with the logo conspicuously scrubbed out. "Me," he said. "I'm coming with you, and I'm gonna show you how to get one last colour out of that ruddy old disc."



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