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Malcolm Willis was lounging somewhere in the vicinity of his bed, staring at the TV through tired, half-closed eyes.

"Hi, I'm Joel Whittaker, reporting from the site of what we're led to believe is the human race's first fully mechanical FTL engine; that's 'Faster Than Light' for any viewers not yet up-to speed. I'm here with Cogwork Orthodoxy preacher and project leader Mr. .5 A1 Bevel — Bevel, what do you have to say to those who doubted your team's plans?"

"Well, Joel, I do not blame them. It is only natural to be sceptical, and I have to confess that even I have had my reservations at times. The engine we see before us stands as a testament to both the ingenuity of humanity and the will of MEKHANE; I think it is important to remember that we are all still people, regardless of composition, and that rather than focusing on the misgivings of the past we should look more towards a better future."

"Inspiring stuff. What's the next stage in the engine's life, now construction is over?"

"Testing, testing, and more testing, I am afraid. Superluminality is a tricky business, and we will need to be certain there are no adverse effects before putting it into commercial use."

"Reasonable and pragmatic as always, thank you."

He fumbled for the remote, cursing the unreliable artificial gravity as it spun across the room. He leapt after it, crashing into the wall and very nearly dislodging one of the not-so-tasteful nautilus-shaped light fixtures.

"We have a few minutes left, so before we switch back to the studio, do you have any comments to make about the recent surge in forced conversions by members of the so-called Free Clockwork Groups?"

"The Orthodoxy has no statements on that issue to make at the current-"

— Click —

"Aliens."

"Yes, aliens."

"Right here in our own solar system?"

"Exactly right, Paul. Creatures evolved to survive in, on, and around other planetary bodies, right under our noses for all these decades of searching."

"Wow. And, tell me please, can our viewers be expecting an abduction — with or without probing — any time in the near future?"

"Hah, it's a scary thought, certainly. Thankfully, of the dozen or so species so-far located, none of them display traits immediately hostile towards humans. As long as we play our cards right, we should be safe from a sci-fi invasion."

"But the so-called Normalcy Groups are still putting contingencies in place?"

"Oh yes, can't be too careful. As far as we know, the Federal UIU are planning diplomatic correspondence with the more sentient species, the Galactic Occult Coalition are constructing security countermeasures, the British government has founded its own Ministry for Extraterrestrial Activity, and the SCP Foundation, secretive and tentative as always, have just publicised their dossier on an HG-Class 'War-of-the-Worlds' scenario. You can read all about it on our website, 'https://what-could-go-wrong.com', forward-slash 'aliens'. Oh, and keep an eye out for the next episode of our W.C.S. podcast, airing this Saturday-"

— Click —

He could see aliens from his window, for gods' sakes. It just wasn't that interesting any more. Being the bioluminescent semi-sapient hive-mind-esque community that they were, the native Ceresians had responded to the construction of the water treatment facility as if it were simply an unfortunate geological protrusion. Diplomatic efforts had faltered as soon as humanity had discovered their cities: it was easy to remain open-minded towards a race of beautiful glowing squid-creatures the lengths of trucks, but less so when it turned out they practised slavery on a planetary scale. Sure, one could argue that no individual Ceresian was any more intelligent than, say, a dog, but it was off-putting enough that nobody except space-mad Earth-natives spared them any more than the minimum amount of thought necessary to successfully share a planet. They didn't bother us, and we didn't bother them.

Malcolm flicked through a couple more channels.

"For years now, people displaying abilities or qualities outside the realms of science have been hidden away for the good of humanity."

Hello! FoundationTalk, always good viewing.

"Since the Lethe events started targeting humanity as a whole, this has changed. No longer will we die in the dark so you can live in the light. Now, the veil has broken. Light permeates all."

Eurgh. He was wrong. It was another one of those bloody propaganda pieces they sent out every couple of months in a vague effort to convince the rest of the human population to forgive them.

"That's why we're opening our doors to all of you who out there who are still in hiding. We won't hunt you down. We won't lock you up. We want you to come to us, as equals, so we can work together to keep the universe safe."

Wait, no. It was an… infomercial?

"Some of you hate us, with good reason to. We've done awful things in the name of keeping the rest of you safe."

Visions of declassified documents flashed before Malcolm's eyes. They'd all read the censored versions of Special Personnel Requirements, and the weeping angel thing, and that borscht factory. There had been riots in the streets. And then the unkillable lizard and the fire demon had come out, and it was amazing how much people had been ready to forget.

"But, as of June 12th Anno Terra, Orbital Site-03 is opening its doors. We'll welcome you in, add you to the database, and then? You'll be free to go. We'll pay you handsomely for your time, provided you really are anomalous, and who knows? We might even offer you a job. Task Forces are requiring more and more specialised personnel these days, and someone who has reflexes ten times better than average or can fire bullets from their hands — well, we're not idiots. You'd be welcomed here with open arms."

"So please, take the trip. See the sights, and the sites-"

Malcolm got the pun, but only because of the subtitles. Someone at the Foundation's Media Department needed to learn the difference between speech and text.

"-all expenses paid, and help us keep humanity afloat. Secure, Contain, Protect."

The screen faded to white, with a Foundation insignia at the centre and a telephone line at the bottom. Slowly, Malcolm clicked the remote, and the image froze. With trembling hands, he pressed down on his wrist, wincing as the skin parted to reveal bone. He pulled it back closed, and tried with the other. Yep. He could still take himself apart, just as he'd been able to since he was twelve. He could do it to other people as well, although he didn't do it often, and never while he was being watched.

He rummaged for a notebook in his bedside cabinet and jotted down the number, as well as 'orbital site 03' and 'task force?'. Gods that would be awesome. For all the SCP Foundation's misgivings, for all of their flaws, they were still an aspiration for most. Every kid dreamed of being in a task force when they grew up, and most adults had daydreamed about the moment they developed anomalous powers and were put on their radar. Fighting monsters, exploring planets… it was like something out of a TV show. Unrealistic, but always there at the back of the mind, niggling away.

And here it was, an opportunity. They'd have to have him. Someone who could take people apart in the field, performing impromptu surgeries to save his comrades' lives… he'd be a hero. A genuine, actual, bona fide, real-life, action-movie superpowered hero. Principles were all well and good, but compared to being in a Foundation task force? No contest. No contest at all.

Malcolm lay back on his bed, stared at the ceiling, and listened to the slow drip drip drip of the pipes. After a while, he turned off the lights and climbed under the covers. After a little while longer, he fell asleep, and dreamed of clockwork men soaring through the stars.

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