Part 1

Here's where it starts: 3 AM in a Waffle House.

Adam Saxon sits alone in a booth with his complimentary glass of fluoridated tap-water. He pretends to read the laminated menu while observing the restaurant's six other patrons: an elderly couple snuggling in the corner. A trucker at the counter, devouring a steaming pile of eggs, bacon, and naked waffles. A trio of exhausted teens in ratty clothes. None of them spare Adam so much as a glance.

For this occasion, the retired field agent wears his least conspicuous head: a blind man with sunglasses and a face wrapped in linen. Adam is particularly proud of the nose. He sets the menu down to quickly adjust it right as the door jingles.

Jeremiah August is a short, slender black man in a dark suit. His hair is trimmed down to a dense layer of short charcoal curls, and his face is full of piercings. Once he reaches Adam's booth, he removes his jacket and neatly folds it over an arm. He then gracefully slips into the seat across from the ex-agent who has called him here.

"Mr. Saxon, I presume." August speaks like a fencer. Each syllable is a jab; each pause, a feint.

Adam finishes tweaking his nose. "Yeah."

"Why did you call me?"

Adam leans back in his seat. The cushioning's plastic sleeve squeaks under him. "You're going to make me say it?"

"Humor me."

"I worked as a Foundation operative for over twenty years, son. I know when I'm being tailed."

August lifts a pierced eyebrow.

"Really?" Adam feigns a sigh. "Fine." He gestures. "Elderly couple in the back. They're good. Too good. Nobody's that sweet on each other at this hour in a goddamn Waffle House. The trucker? Hasn't touched a thing besides his plate. No salt, no pepper. No butter, no syrup. Not even ketchup. I've yet to meet a night-hauler who doesn't drown his eggs in ketchup. And the teens? I look like I'm on my way to a casting call for The Invisible Man, and they haven't so much as snickered."

The eyebrow creeps higher.

Adam continues: "Not to mention that, for the past fifteen minutes, I've been pretending to read this menu — despite clearly presenting as blind. Waitress didn't even ask if I wanted one in braille. As for this water…" He nudges the glass toward August. "I'm guessing, what — some new experimental amnestic? Nano-tech, maybe. Something you think will work on me."

August looks at the glass, then back at Adam. He tilts his head.

"There's no ice," Adam explains. "They always add ice." He folds his arms across his chest. "So, yeah. That's why I called: to ask you straight to your face. What does the Foundation want with this old washed up agent?"

August taps his lip-piercing against the front-row of his teeth, pondering. With a feline grace, he takes the glass, brings it up to his lips, tilts it back — and gulps it down. Once finished, he returns it to the table with a sharp clunk. Then, he plucks a paper napkin out of the nearby receptacle and dabs his mouth.

Adam stiffens. "Okay, so maybe I was reaching with the water, but —"

"Mr. Saxon." August folds the napkin and sets it down. Despite being the man's senior, Adam's chest constricts beneath the weight of that flat, merciless tone. "Are you familiar with the phrase, 'wilderness of mirrors'?"

He doesn't reply.

"Counter-intelligence officers are trained to recognize patterns and identify threats. Every shadow can hide a dagger; every smile, a plot — every cup, a dram of poison. In the world of espionage, perceiving agency behind seemingly random occurrences is what keeps you alive. But out here, in the wilderness? It's just paranoia."

"This isn't —"

"The elderly couple is just affectionate. The trucker just has terrible taste. The teenagers are just polite. And I doubt the waitress even cared enough to notice that you are pretending to be blind."

Adam leans back farther. His shoulders slump. "You mean that no one's —"

"Tailing you? No."

"So I just —"

"Called a senior Foundation official to a Waffle House in the middle of the night for no good reason? Yes."

"I — fuck. Jesus. Fuck." Adam wishes he could rub his temples, but the paper-mache is far too brittle to risk it. "Fuck."

Something that might resemble sympathy flickers over August's face. "I've reviewed your file, Mr. Saxon. Your performance was exemplary. Prior to your, ah, incident, you were a highly valuable asset. But now you're retired. This is a time for you to enjoy the fruits of —"

"I need to go back in the field."

That shred of sympathy gives way to an ocean of cold conviction. "Not an option."

"You said you reviewed my file. That means you know what I did — what I gave up — to keep working. To keep serving the Foundation."

August's lips pull into a thin, dark line. "On behalf of the Foundation, I commend you for your sacrifice. That being said, we cannot —"

Adam lunges over the table and seizes him by the collar. This motion is sufficient to dislodge the ring of glue around Adam's throat. The paper-mache bust wobbles over his neck like a life-sized bobblehead. "Fuck your commendations! I gave you fucks everything — and all I'm asking is a chance to go back to work!"

The elderly couple draw their service pistols from each other's holsters. The trucker pulls one out from under the counter. The three teens lift theirs over the table. The waitress kicks open the kitchen door, lifting her Benelli M4 semi-automatic shotgun — cocked and ready.

Seven fingers curl around seven triggers. Seven barrels aim for Aaron Saxon's heart.

No one speaks. No one moves. No one even breathes.

Adam's fake head continues to wobble. Eventually, it bobs too far to one side, peeling free from the metal pedestal at his neck. It hits the floor with a whump, then dribbles away.

Site-Director Jeremiah August regards the space where the ex-agent's head used to be. Adam's neck ends with a flat metal cap. A 6-inch steel rod extends out from its center, with a small metal sphere at the top.

"Release me, Mr. Saxon."

The headless man lets go. He sinks back into his seat. "No tail, huh?"

August stands, straightens his collar, and gestures to the other patrons. They lower their weapons. August then follows the path of the linen-wrapped bust, halting its roll with the tip of a well-polished shoe. "As I said: no one has been tailing you. But when a retired Foundation field operative calls and demands a late-night meeting at a Waffle House, one is inclined to take precautions. Particularly when it's an operative with your reputation." He retrieves the head, then returns it to Adam.

Adam reluctantly accepts it. He slides it back down on the rod, making some rough adjustments. The head no longer fits right. On top of that, he's pretty sure the nose is ruined. "Okay. I'm sorry. That was —"

"Perhaps we can find something for you to do," August interrupts him. "Nothing in the field, I'm afraid — we can't have you gallivanting about like you used to. But if you just want something to keep your mind occupied —"

"Anything." Adam's voice quakes. "I'll take anything."

"Given your comprehensive knowledge of the Foundation's history, I think I know just the place for you, then." August retrieves his folded coat from the seat, slipping it back on. "Tell me, Mr. Saxon — what do you know about Oh-Seven-Six?"

"So… you a robot?"

Agent Angela O'Hara is a pretty, petite woman with thumb-thick curls of copper-red hair that reach her jaw-line. Right now, she's driving the small electric cart that carries Adam Saxon through Containment Area-25b and toward SCP-076's chamber.

"No. Just the head." Adam has traded his usual paper-mache head for, well — his actual robot head. It's a steel-plated egg, with a halo of plastic and circuitry surrounding the central camera-like eye. Unlike his other fake heads, this one is semi-functional. It can pivot and even bob.

"Just the — wait, what?"

Adam sighs. "Just the head. It's a prosthetic." He tries to focus on reading the documents in his lap — there's a lot of catching up to do.

"Your head is…" O'Hara doesn't look away from the corridor in front of her, but it's clear she wants to. Researchers in labcoats slip by as the shuttle hums down the hall. "Like, a prosthetic arm or something?"


"So you… don't have a real head? No actual brain?"

"I have a microchip. Base of my neck."

O'Hara puzzles over this. "How do you eat? Or drink? Wait, wait — how do you even breathe?"

"We're going to have a great professional relationship," Adam replies. "Want to know how I can tell? Because you know when to respect my privacy."

Agent O'Hara scrunches her nose up, shakes her head, and suppresses a grin. Adam returns to perusing the file in his lap.

Reading Task Force Omega-7's history is like watching a group of school-children dump gasoline on themselves while playing with packs of EZ-Light Sure-Strike matches. Every step of the way, you just want to grab and shake them: Oh, no. No, no. Why are you — no, don't do that, where did you get those, put that down — oh, no. And then one of them gets ahold of a flame-thrower, and you have to look away.

At the very least, the file demonstrates one of the Foundation's perennial truths: It can never tell the difference between its monsters and its heroes.

"What's Oh-Seven-Six's status right now?" He leafs through the documentation, skimming over the containment procedures. "Christ, you're using kill-boxes? A close-in weapon system? Partitioned flood-chambers? I get that this thing's some sort of bad-ass, but there's gotta be a more efficient way to kill a guy."

"That's the old documentation," Agent O'Hara replies. "We still have some of that set up for a contingency plan, but these days? We just flood his chamber with a high-yield burst of neutron radiation. Instantly fatal, extremely short half-life. Clean and easy."

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