Running

Catrina Hendrick is five years old when she first learns what death is.

Her hamster lays limply in her hands. She runs a hand through the soft fur as she asks her mother when it’ll wake up. Her mother doesn't answer. Her dad does, three days later when he’s finally home after one of his many, many work trips, and explains to her how it's gone forever. He helps her dig a small hole in their suburban backyard where she buries the furry mound beneath handfuls of soil.

-o-

Catrina is 12 years old when she really learns what death is.

The hospital room smells like antiseptic. Her grandfather – the one she sees on occasional Christmas visits and the odd road trip – lays on the bed, oxygen mask obscuring half his face. She stands at the edge of the room, smoothing the fabric of her dress that is still dishevelled from a last-minute plane trip. Her father sits next the the bed, hands clasped. The machines beep and whir and she wonders what it must feel like, lying on a bed and knowing you were never going to stand again.

The funeral is two weeks later.

-o-

Four years later, she learns that she is afraid of dying.

She's exactly self-aware enough to realise this is not a revolutionary discovery, but she’d thought of death as a problem to be considered later. She knows what it is, she knows it happens to everyone, but she also knows that most people live until old age, and that was a long way off. A procrastination of fear, if you will.

Until one sunny day in early November.

The text was late in the afternoon and short, but it told her what she needed to know: her friend, Hannah Ridley, was in the ICU after a traffic accident. Hannah hadn’t been Catrina’s closest friend, but they sat at the same lunch tables and worked on projects together and Catrina had always had a mental image of Hannah being at birthdays and graduations. She tells herself that it’ll be fine – because she’s in the hospital and people get better there, right?

Three days later her cell phone rings to wake her up in the middle of the night and a tear-choked voice tells her Hannah had died, and Catrina’s mind flits from no young people don’t die this can’t be real to that could’ve been me.

She doesn’t write her driver’s test that year.

-o-

Hendrick is 25 years old when the strange woman who's been shadowing her throughout her internship offers her a job at the Foundation. On a whim, she accepts.

The orientation shatters every truth she's clung to, but she knows then that she made the right choice. The fear had been wiggling at the back of her head for the last ten years, and the existence of the paranormal — it entices her with thoughts of how maybe there's something in here that can stop-

She doesn't have much time to entertain the thought though, as she's thrust into a busy world of fetching lab results for huffy senior researchers, writing dry test logs for research directors who couldn't be bothered, and learning which cafeteria foods would give you food poisoning.

Her confidence falters a few months in, when she's assigned to help test an SCP and a file is slid across the desk to her for the first time. It's frustratingly short at her low clearance. Through the sea of blackboxes, her eyes catch on the word termination and it truly hit her I'll probably die here one day but she doesn't have time to think before she's told to enter the observation deck.

Death is treated differently at the Foundation. Most, she realises soon after she begins her work, no longer see it as anything beyond a side effect of their line of work. So mundane it isn't worth sparing a second thought. And while she knows her clearance is too low to know the full scope, she suspects that death is no longer as immutable as she thought.

Sometimes she wonders why she took the job. She had a degree from one of the best institutions in the nation, she could’ve turned down the offer and she'd be tucked away in a lab somewhere, her life no longer on the line on a daily basis.

But she stays, if only because she’s not sure the Foundation would let her leave.

-o-

She’s 34 and Senior Researcher Hendrick, PhD when she has her first containment breach.

There’s sirens, loud enough to make her teeth rattle. Red, flashing lights cast an eerie glow through the crack in her office door. She clutches her desk as the loudspeakers blare a stay-in-place order, barely audible over the cacophony of sirens and muffled shouting, praying that she’ll make it out alive even though she hasn’t been religious since she took the Foundation job offer.

Breathe.

She hears footsteps fall in the hallway. She keeps praying.

I could die here.

She curls up under her desk, heart beating out of her chest. Footsteps patter down the hallway and her breath catches in terror before they fade away. After what feels like hours, the sirens stop. The all-clear beep plays and she stands up shakily. The next day she finds out that she was lucky, her wing was spared while another suffered a near-total loss with all the personnel inside.

Some of her friends, co-workers from previous years at various sites, tell her how brave she is, to make it through the rare occurrence of a breach. She smiles at their platitudes, but she knows they’re wrong. The brave ones were the recontainment team, who walked into the wing knowing that they would die and did so anyway. What had she done?

Run.

-o-

Site-73 Research Head Hendrick, age 56, knows that she’s senior enough to be safe from worries about being assigned a deadly anomaly. This knowledge does little to sooth her.

She’s stood outside in the rain, drops splattering from her umbrella as she stares at the grave of one of her old friends from her Site-198 days. He’d asked for termination after a test gone wrong with one of the anomalies he was studying.

How?

She wishes she could ask him. The concept is still strange to her, even now after thirty years in the service of the Foundation. It’s naïve, she knows, because at the Foundation there are so many things worse than death, she’s probably seen things most people would rather die than live with, but she’s still scared.

Her colleagues are no longer the fresh-faced researchers and new MTF recruits of her youth, some sharing the same fear that still clings to her. They are hardened researchers that stare the unthinkable and mind-breaking in the eye and write it all down on a clipboard, or battle-wizened MTF squad leaders that headed into fatal missions without even a second thought. She used to think that she’d be like them one day, that eventually she’d see something that would snap her into their fearlessness, but it never came.

After all these years, these close calls and the near scrapes, she's alive and standing on the grave of someone who isn't, watching rain drip slowly off her umbrella and onto the grass. She still wonders, in these moments where the Foundation shoves death in her face, why she took the job.

Turning away from the grave, she lets herself say the answer. Because it was the closest she would ever get to really knowing — to get that answer to the question she'd been wondering all her life, to knowing what happens when she dies. Over the years she's been inching ever closer, trying to get into all the right departments, and she's close.

Catrina Hendrick is 54 when she accepts that she's scared of not knowing.

-o-

(placeholder)

-o-

Working notes: http://scp-sandbox-3.wikidot.com/simartar

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License