"So you know what I wanna know, guys? I wanna know why the hell we're getting a spiel from the higher-ups about going back to normal."
"Read the fucking room, Maddie. My parents died down there, didn't you lose anyone?"
Dr. Dark sat in the same quarters she once kept so closed to visitors. It wasn't as if she made many invitations. But now she'd let anyone in, if just to fight.
"If I had anyone to lose, I wouldn't be working here." she said.
Dark's room was true to her name, and covered in the kind of cyberpunk posters that seriously misjudged the reality of living on a post-apocalyptic spaceship. But it was still a more uplifting room than that of most researchers, who didn't bother dressing a 500 square-foot sliver of the welded-together box they'd only be living in for a couple months.
"Let's talk about something… nicer," said Lena, gesturing to the wall. "Where'd you get these posters?"
"Something nicer? We're stuck on a flying toaster and you want to talk about something fucking nicer?"
"It's been a week, Maddie–"
"Do you think we're friends? Doctor. Fucking. Dark!", she bellowed, embers as spittle.
"W… What? We sat at the same cafeteria table for four years… It was like high school down there at the Site, of course we were friends… I–"
The door swung open and there stood Andre Carter. The notoriously grumpy "old timer", currently serving a two-month demotion for sleeping through an O5 Command briefing back at the old Site-17, gave Dark a stare as cold as death.
"You want a title and formalities? Okay, Junior Researcher Dark. As a Researcher I am ordering you to go to sleep. Shut the hell up, some of us are trying to remain sane. Go grab some booze or something, here you can have mine for Christ’s sake. The last two times you fell asleep you were drunk off your ass, it makes me think you have some dependency issues. So here."
"How the hell do you know this? Are you watching me sleep, like your power greedy bosses? Or did they take your spying privileges away too, Grandpa?"
"Sit down, Dark. You don't want to do this. You really don't." Carter said with a tone that could stop a bear.
"You're right I don't."
Dark snatched the bottle of rum from Andre’s hand. She collapsed back onto her bed, gulped a swig, gave a rude gesture to the present pair, and presumably fell asleep shortly thereafter.
"Yeah, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, eh? I figured you'd know how to get through to her." Lena said.
"I understand her, though. Some of us had nothing before, and now this is new and exciting. It’s something. Anything but the nothing we’d grown used to." Andre admitted.
"Nothing's exciting to you…"
"Oh come on, I'm not kidding. Of course most of humanity dying wasn't good, I just mean, I think we've all wondered, a lot, about what we were really working toward. It took a lot of energy to convince ourselves we weren’t somehow already dead. Don’t you feel alive now?"
"If you want something exciting, just realize they're putting our world back together complete with people! They're literally reassembling the world. Like a human skip-two-thousand."
Andre gladly kept his grouchy tone.
"Yeah, they shouldn't. Thirteen hundred refugees is enough to repopulate the world, no need to put everybody back together. What, are those freaks going to put the fucking lizard back on our planet too? We all have to keep it secret that our pale blue dot got blown to smithereens? I say we truly start over! None of this two-stepping and pining for lost opportunities."
"Yeah, it's called normalcy, it's literally our job. Though, if you knew how to be normal you'd be one of those 'freaks' by now, not demoted to Researcher! You're spending too much time with Maddie. I've never seen you question the O5s.”
"The O5s are fucking idiots. I’ve always known as much."
"Yeah, you're definitely spending too much time with her."
Lena jolted awake, the tiny room clock swiftly reading "nine in the morning", whatever that meant now.
She sprinted to the cafeteria, and found Andre waiting at their usual table. An ugly dawn of a grin spread across his unshaven face.
"I seem to remember you reminding me a lot of sleeping through meetings. But that couldn't be right, could it? You clearly enjoy it too much yourself!"
"That's enough jokes."
"All I've got left are jokes, Lena. That's all I've got…" Andre trailed off and walked up the long hall to the center bridge with her.
"Another fucking text. How the hell is Earth blown to bits and I'm still getting spam?" Lena muttered, then stopped abruptly. Many in the hallway followed suit.
"Attention all staff," Lena read the message to Andre. "SCP-294 has breached containment. SCP-294 is inanimate and does not pose any inherent risk, but please report any suspicious behavior as the object is believed to be in the possession of a rogue staff member."
"No inherent danger? Alright, I suppose nobody's gonna ask for a cup of Lena accidentally."
Andre gave in and laughed for once.
Andre and Lena packed into Maddie's quarters again, their new gathering spot, the place most akin to any semblance of a social scene left. It was hard to maintain a friendship in, as Maddie called it, a flying toaster, but there was still some rum left. Harder still with extreme lack of sleep and the paranoia that comes with being one of a few survivors of the apocalypse.
Still, there was rum.
Maddie sat in her office chair, the desk covered in junk.
"So, I was thinking about my old business back when we were just starting out, Lena."
"Hold on, hold on, a business?" Andre stared blankly, wondering how Maddie ever ended up in the Foundation .
"Yeah," Maddie went on. "Back at 17 when I got my first assignment, and it was just some Wondertainment stickman in a box, I started thinking, why don't I have more fun with the skips? Then I started thinking, why don't I have more money, I'm working for the literal illuminati here, okay? So I got the idea to sell the safe-class SCPs, to pay for keeping the other ones contained. We all remember '52 when our site forgot to secure money and we were paying for our own meals in the field. The higher-ups didn’t want to know what it took to get those Euclids and Keters contained; they were happy to report it to their supervisors. Who gave a shit about a little Safe out for testing a tad too long?"
"That isn't a business, it's the fucking black market!" Andre's eyes bloodshot and he spoke with panic and indignation. "I'm old, okay, but if they don't explain to you what Safe class is anymore, why do we even have a Foundation?"
"Hey, hey, hey, I didn't say they were safe to sell because they're Safe class, I'm saying they're safe to sell because if we can keep them from breaking out and killing us all, then so can anybody that can afford to buy an SCP."
"And what if your buyer works for an enemy organization?"
"I don't give a fuck." Maddie spat defiantly, yet looking up as if to check for cameras.
"Is that why you're still a Junior Researcher when you've got more years than Lena?"
"Fair point. So, y'all want drinks?"
"By ‘drinks’, you mean more rum?" Lena was quick to answer, the long days starting to take their toll on her.
"Oh, no. Anything you want, really."
Maddie walked to the back of the room and pulled a tarp off of what she had earlier claimed was a new cabinet from the storage bay.
"What the fuck, Doctor Dark?"
"So let me get this straight…" Lena couldn't believe her eyes.
"You crawled through the fucking air vents, pushed a goddamn anomalous vending machine through the site covered with a tarp, and dropped it into your bedroom?”
"And I only poured seven bottles of champagne because I ran out of bottles. You're drinkin' the bubbly, bubs. Quit complaining or I'll order a cup of Lena. A lovin' spoonful."
"I feel like you never really stopped being a junior in high school, much less a junior researcher."
"Certainly lets me occupy a niche. That's what I don't get about the others. About the thousand-and-change stuffed shirts –"
Maddie turned to Andre, as if to say this meant him.
"— that want us to wait obediently our turn to die in the dark, for fun people to live in the light. It's always some legal, some paperwork bullshit with them. Literally who is harmed, what could happen if I or anybody else uses harmless anomalies for our own quality of life? Don't get me wrong –"
"I'm in." Andre interrupted.
"Oh, no, I'm not actually doing anything with it."
"Bullshit. You've got two-nine-four up here for champagne? Why not? Let's set up a goddamn bar in here, mañana I'll go tell Williams and –"
"Don't tell Williams!" Maddie snapped.
"Well, then you can get locked in one of the humanoid chambers since we don't really have a brig up here. If you want to get away with this, not get in trouble for stealing a contained anomaly, you're gonna need to get the whole ship drinks on the house. See, then, if the 'stuffed shirts' take away everybody's source of infinite expensive booze, they'll really have a mutiny on their hands."
"Shit, you should've been a general."
Lena cradled her head, her guilt pouring into each pore like mud.
"Hey Lena!" Maddie said, pointing to her.
"What? No, I'm not gonna be your bartender."
"No, no, that's not it, it's just, your apartment has a lot more space and character than ours, it's the size of a whole break room, and… it's kind of out of the way, so nobody will see if some of the staff visit for drinks."
"You can use my room when pigs fly."
"There’s a skip for that. Come on. You’re only fooling yourself here.”
Well, I suppose I didn't have enough fun in college.
"Nope, shift change. And we know these people wouldn't fix a damn thing a sixty-ninth of a second after their shift was up."
"I mean, I only ask because I know they're not showing us respect by getting back to work. We can barely get a 'yes, sir' out of them, I really expected more respect out of people who never would’ve seen an O5's face without the literal apocalypse happening."
"Yeah, and we're paying them six hundred grand a year."
"I suppose that's fair pay to have to fly to space, never see your family again, and risk getting eaten by eldritch abominations every day." O5-6 remarked sarcastically.
"They could at least stand up straight when they see us, though."
Lena walked into the next room, an empty break spot for a technical crew. It was time to advertise the new establishment, which would in fact be opened in her quarters.
Evening came, and an unusual number of tech staff headed down the main staircase between the first deck and the ready deck; and with a haste that surprised certain high-ranking passersby.
"Sure wish they'd run that fast when a pipe bursts in the Level 4 Bathrooms!", O5-8 quipped.
"Maybe they are fixing something." O5-6 came to their defense.
When they finally reached their destination, the repair crews gave SCP-294 its best use since the night before, when Maddie put her mouth under the dispenser and ordered "SCP-999 flavored chocolate syrup."
It had not been ten minutes into the serving of drinks, when the crowd of twenty began to fight. 294 was somewhat slow, so people were irritated about waiting before they could get drunk.
Weeks of stress had come to a head at the first social event since the loss of earth. And at last, a loud crash rang out as one of the glasses Maddie stole from the cafe went from a Researcher's hand, into a navigator's face.
"Woah, woah, woah, break it up, break it up!", Andre shouted. He struggled to pull the notorious Dr. Elaine Welch off of her target. Welch spun and inadvertently neared Andre's face with a glass shard. He ducked, dropped the doctor, and let the more youthful two technicians he'd hired as bouncers solve the problem.
Andre climbed up on the counter itself and made an announcement.
"Give it a rest, everybody! Give it a rest! Let’s not ruin a good thing before it gets started!"
The leaderless mob, who had no actual reason to be angry, followed his order.
"I ordered one cup of drunk!" one younger man shouted playfully, still in a lab coat. "Not technically alcoholic!”
"Maddie!" Andre shouted. "Maddie, did you actually give this man a cup of drunk?"
"We reward cleverness here, Andre," she said, preening from the back of the room.
Andre muttered as he jumped off the counter.
The now fifty-odd staff in the room spilled out into the hallway. Lena and Andre went back to serving up custom drinks. The proprietor, Dr. Dark herself, disappeared into a small side room for purposes unknown.
"My god Lena, this isn't a bar, it's a free for all. It's like an anomalous Starbucks down here! We're taking fucking orders! I just had some son of a bitch ask me for a tomato and sex soda!"
"Maybe you're right, should we charge for sex in drinks?" Lena stuttered, somewhat puzzled.
"Fuck, I don't even know!" Andre sat back down. "This was a mistake, I think you were right the first time. Most people can't be trusted to use the anomalous just for fun, to not make trouble."
"Yeah, let's just close up soon, get these bums out of here." Lena said, resigned to the fact she had gotten people hurt in her improvised fight club. "I thought I would be able to be less paranoid, but I keep seeing the O5s in the crowd.”
A formally-dressed administrator stood in the door. Every heart in the room sunk when twelve suited figures appeared behind her, pushing aside the overflowing crowd, and heading straight for 294.
"What, Overseers aren't welcome? Why the long face?"
Most patrons weren't sure whether the joke was a good sign for them or not.
"You two!", O5-7 shouted, pointing at Andre and Lena, still obviously running the show.
"Stay right there! The rest of you can leave.”
“Without your drinks.”
All obliged quickly, the stony faces of thirteen angry overseers burning hot on their napes. In the old days, this arrangement of faces was something only seen by those soon to face termination. Nobody was inclined to stick around to find out if that was still true.
As soon as the room cleared, O5-7 spoke up.
"We would like to inform you, that thanks to your highly irresponsible actions, which include theft of an anomaly from containment, betrayal of Foundation objectives, dispensing intoxicating anomalous substances, misuse of valuable resources, and inviting numerous staff to participate in the same activities… you are hereby subject to serious disciplinary action as decided by the O5 council."
Carter was as still as 173; as eager to escape at the slightest blink as well.
"However, we will instead inform you that we need a drink after a week of working hard, at, you know, altering reality."
The laughing of the Council was enough to summon Maddie Dark and Kara Reyes from the side room they entered an hour before.
"Fuck me, it's the O5s!", Maddie yelled.
"Oh, I'm sure Dr. Reyes did that well enough already." Seven replied.
"Just be glad that they have a sense of humor!" Lena euphemized the situation from behind the bar, where she was quickly serving O5-3 a cup of oak-aged thaumaturgy.
As the last Overseer left the trashed room, satisfied, Lena shouted over to Maddie.
"So, my theory was right!"
"And what's that theory?" Maddie yelled back.
"That the higher up the buyer, the more responsible they'll be with the product. Did you see any O5's ordering a tomato and sex soda? No, you didn't. Three needed a cup of thaumaturgy, that could get us off this ship even faster! We need to go for a more… selective clientele."
"Are you suggesting we try to sell anomalies to the O5's themselves? They are more than capable of just taking them if they want 'em."
"Of course not, I'm saying once they've patched Earth back together, reassembled everybody atom by atom, there will be rich people again. I'm suggesting that rather than sell tomato and sex sodas to random drunks on the streets, we could get collectors some… interesting artifacts. A billionaire isn't gonna just let armageddon break loose again, because money's no good in hell. Plus, 'anomalous auction house' sounds way classier to me than 'tomato and sex soda joint'."
"Yeah, okay." Andre interjected. "We'll need a new name, one that'll appeal to these 'collectors' you speak of."
"Oh I know, we'll need a new name. Let's see, there's me, Lena Marshall, Andre Carter, and Maddie Dark. It sounds nice, like lawyers or something."