The Hermit, Death, and The Devil
rating: +74+x

Dr. K. Stuff yawned and tried again to wipe the stubborn sleep from his eyes as he made his way to the operating room. It was 3:30 AM, and he was cursing his luck for being the only veterinarian on call. The yawn ultimately failed to remove the soupy haze of sleep from his mind, and he just kept putting one foot in front of the other. He looked again at the brusque email that had shocked him out of bed just minutes before.

What kind of dog is so important it needs to be hooked up to life support machinery? In his daze of half sleep, he didn't stop to ponder the use of hooking anything up to life support systems.

"Good morning, Doctor." His eyes lifted from the screen of his phone and settled on a surgical aide, holding a clipboard and a paper cup, its dark brown liquid steaming in the cool air of the hallway.

"That had better be for me." His words sounded as though they had journeyed from the groggiest depths of Hades.

"It is." The annoyingly chipper aide offered the clipboard to him. A look of betrayal spread across her face as he snatched her steaming cup of coffee and started pouring it into his savage, gaping maw.

"Aaahhhhh!," he howled after downing half of the nearly boiling coffee, trying to cool his mouth with a yell.

"B…but… this." She offered him the clipboard again, pouting at her purloined drink.

"Yeah, you should probably read that to me." He stared at the scalding liquid and performed a quick cost-benefit analysis in his head before pouring more of it down his throat. He decided the bitter, brown nectar to be worth the pain.

"Well, it's just his medical history and vitals we to-"


"-ok…" She pressed the clipboard into his hands and snatched the cup away from him for his own safety. "Look, it's nothing out of the ordinary, biologically, just…"

"Yeah, yeah, this ain't my first rodeo." He walked past her, flipping through the few sheets, and pushing his way into the operating theater. An old golden retriever looked up from its croissant-shaped snooze to regard him with eyes beginning to turn milky. This was the part of the job he really enjoyed.

"Oh my goodness look at you, you're such a cutie!" He leaned in, smooching the sleepy dog's dry nose and patting his fluffy ears "Oh yes you are! What's your name, you pretty boy?"

"Professor Kain Pathos Crow," the dog replied gruffly.

It is worth noting that even biological computers can throw up a blue screen from time to time. Dr. Stuff stared at his patient for several long moments as an "uhhhhhh" leaked from his slack jaw. He looked back at the clipboard as his assistant folded her arms and rolled her eyes.

The intercom from the observation gallery piped up. "Taught him that trick myself."

"Shut up, Elias."


Elias Shaw stood in the surgical observation deck, overlooking his friend's procedure below. General anesthesia was, of course, out of the question, but liberal use of local anesthesia and paralytics made the process of inserting the modified medical equipment into the old dog's body bearable. So intent was he on the operation unfolding below that he didn't notice the door opening behind him.

Alto Clef took a loud sip of his coffee to announce his presence.

"You have a disturbing penchant for lurking in doorways, Alto," Elias said without taking his eyes off the events below. "Can't let an old woman have a peaceful morning alone with her dog? Figured you'd be off firing wildly into a gathering of anomalous schoolchildren at this hour."

"Why does everyone think all I do is kill people? I have a Ph.D., you know." He stepped into the room and rolled his hat more comfortably onto his head.

Elias saw the man's reflection standing behind him. Why was this bastard always smiling? The fluorescent light and hat contoured his face in shadow, all but that damnable white crescent… Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but the sharpness he saw to those teeth - like a shark - Elias mused he could discern Clef's true nature only in his reflection.

"Fine. Then what are you doing here?"

"Can't I drop in to check on how my old buddy's surgery is going?"

"No, I don't believe you have that ability, as it would require you to be friends with someone."

"Has anyone ever told you you're funny, Elias?"

"Quite a few people, actually. Remember that list of things I wasn't supposed to do while on the job? Fun stuff."

"Well, those who tell you that you're funny don't have your best interests at heart. But would you like to know what's funny though, Elias?"

"A mime strangling a clown?"

Neither moved a muscle.

"What's funny is how there's now a Site Director-level block on the access logs of a few anomalies there shouldn't be."

"Is that some kind of gun-fucker joke?"

"Heh. As I was saying, I can't stop asking myself, 'Just who the hell are you loyal to, Shaw?' 'Cos it sure as hell doesn't seem to be the O5s."

"My loyalties are where they have always been, Alto, which is more than I can say for you."

The pair was silent for a moment, and Shaw looked on as an assistant wheeled the walker into the room below.

"I'm going to get those access logs eventually, Elias. When I show the Council you're covering Kain's tracks… Well, 2 and 8 have been around long enough to remember Olympia going to shit."

"Olympia was discontinued because we weren't able to—"

"Because he wasn't able to control it. Crow was meddling in things he shouldn't have."

"You never gave him a chance to correct it!" Shaw spun to face his accuser. "He built it, body and soul, and at the first unexpected twitch, you killed it."

"You can't 'correct' a god, Elias! You can't control it! We were lucky enough to have a chance to annihilate it, and I took it."

"Your trigger finger was itching the moment you found out about Olympia. Old habits must die hard, huh?"

"It would have slaughtered us! That damn dog has an obsession for building Gods, and I'm not going to sit by and just watch it happen this time." Clef hissed coldly from his clenched teeth, his predatory smile long-since faded. He stormed from the room, though his menace hung, cloying in the air.

Elias suddenly felt very old, and so very tired. None of this was right. He turned back just in time to see his friend immersed into the green slime filling the tall cylindrical glass tank mounted to his walker.

Time had never been his ally.


Junior Researcher Sheppard was exhausted.

He stumbled his way through seemingly endless hallways and elevators all the way to the staff sleeping quarters, all with his eyes half-shut. Essentially growing up in Site-19 had its small perks. Sheppard merely shuffled onto his assigned bed in a room he shared with three others. There was no time for a shower. There was no time to eat. He was asleep by the time his head hit the pillow.

A column of blinding light shone into the pitch black room, rousing him from his fitful sleep. This would be the fourth time it happened, so it couldn't be either of his roommates. Squinting, he saw a silhouette in the thin, blinding rectangle, wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

"Luke, my boy."

In an instant, the young junior researcher sat upright, his pulse thundering in his veins. "Did you do as I asked you? I know you wouldn't want to disappoint me."

"Y-yes, Doctor Clef." Though the facility was full of monsters, none scared him more than the one that freely walked the halls. "The failsafe you told me to install, it's…" He fished around frantically in his lab coat's pocket, withdrawing a small black remote. "It's where you told me to put it."

The demon grew closer, its body blocking more of the light. It took the device gingerly from the trembling youthful hand. "You know what makes you valuable, Luke?"

"I…I—" He stammered, unable to judge his worth in the shadow of this predator.

"You're loyal. As long as you have that going for you, you'll go far, kid."

He hated it when Clef smiled at him. Doctor Clef. He feared his trembling nod wouldn't be enough to hide his thoughts from the eyes looking at him from the dark. After some time, the bright rectangle of light disappeared.

Sheppard sat still, eyes wide and trembling, long after darkness and solitude returned.

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