Mr. Johnson was old, that much was certain by his face and the way he moved when he cleaned. However, as the room filled with strings, Mr. Johnson seemed to shed his age in his movements as if it were no more than a practiced habit. With agility and deft, he navigated to the other side of one of the bodies pulled from Cold Storage and placed on a metal table in the center of the room.
Jophann was the last, so, naturally, he was the first. The man was still dressed in his white lab coat, although his slacks, shirt, and tie had been removed long previous. Setting a hand on his chest to feel the heartbeat, Mr. Johnson smiled knowingly as Cait asked him what to start with. Stepping back, he closed his eyes for a few seconds. Mr. Johnson had no idea how perceptive Cait was, but if she could tell, she'd be able to notice that Mr. Johnson was experiencing an episode of microsleep.
With a quick gasp, he opened his eyes and continued to smile, "'The chest. The ribs must be removed, then the spine behind, then all else spread as a web. Cut away the flesh, it is unnecessary. All flesh within may become without, it is unnecessary. Remove the cage from the heart, so that it might beat for my ears.' Or so She says I suppose! Ha ha! This is a first for me, Ma'am!" Mr. Johnson seemed, more than anything, a little shaken up by what he was saying. In his own mind, he felt voices screaming at him, calling him to, to- he couldn't tell.
So he put it out of his mind to focus on the now. This was Her work, after all, and he would be Her tool. And Miss Corby seemed to be really into this too! Making people happy made Mr. Johnson happy, that was just the kind of person he was. Or so he thought.
Things seemed to be set up the way that Cait wanted them. Of course, that didn't mean that things were right, but there was no way to find out without doing the [expletive]-ing around, was there? Mr. Johnson had been extremely helpful, and Cait didn't think L-14 was giving him nearly enough credit.
Or, rather, maybe L-14 was keeping things that way on purpose. They were a level-2 site, after all - and they were under Jupiter. He wasn't as bad as some, but he wasn't nearly as fun as Strings. She'd heard he used to be fun, which just made it disappointing. She wondered what he'd make of all this, if he were here - Jupiter, that was, not Strings. Strings would have been all in.
Mr. Johnson had a little in-and-out moment, and Cait waited patiently until he was back. Occultists had to be patient, after all. "Do you talk to Her often?" She was willing to bet it was more often than L-14 thought it was, or at the very least that the conversations were a lot more in-depth than L-14 thought it was.
"Tell Her I appreciate it, next time you talk with her, by the way." Not thank you, because in some syntaxes thank you could imply an obligation, and you didn't want to end up obligated to gods, and you definitely didn't want them to end up obligated to you. That always went badly. That was how you ended up a warlock. Cait didn't have anything against the whole warlock path, really, but... well, choosing a god as a patron meant there were a whole lot of other gods you weren't choosing as patrons, and Cait just didn't think that was fair.
Gail handled the divine obligations, but she was a contracts lawyer. The differences between contracts law and occultism were pretty much just cosmetic, really, which explained a lot about how Gail had wound up at L-9, or at least how she'd wound up staying there. There was a whole story there, but this wasn't really the place for it. It wasn't that Cait needed to focus, because Cait could multitask like a madman (or, at least, almost as well as a madman, given that she really only knew one madman) - again, neither here nor there.
And she had a corpse to desecrate. Well, she supposed if you were going up against a dead god of death, desecrating corpses was probably standard behavior. Sorry, Pepper. Pepper would definitely not desecrate a corpse. Probably. Unless she was Hades at the time, but Cait didn't really think he seemed like the corpse-desecrating type, either. Maybe he'd do some desecrating while people were alive, but she kinda felt like once they'd gone and died, he'd leave them be.
Maybe she'd ask Pepper about that, next time they got coffee. Maybe hey so does the god in your head ever desecrate corpses or does he only torture people while they're still alive wasn't standard coffee conversation, but Pepper was used to Cait, and it was definitely standard Cait conversation.
"Okay, let's do this, yeah?" Yeah. They were as ready as they were going to be. Man, Joshua was going to be so disappointed that she was cutting up people without him. Oh, well. He had other things to do with his time, didn't he? All that medical stuff. Joshua was generally in the business of autopsies to determine cause of death, and this definitely wasn't that. This was... well, it wasn't exactly the opposite of that, but it was also not the same as that.
She stood calmly over Jophann's body, drawing a silver-edged blade out of her pocket and removing the sheath. The blade itself was a good solid titanium because silver was really a terrible material for cutting up bodies, but it had occult properties and Cait had always worked well with silver.
No hesitation now. She brought the knife down, and made the first incision, vertically over the sternum. She'd open it up scraping the bone clean, then setting the knife aside and placing her palm over it, curling her fingers through the ribs and twisting her wrist to start snapping them off.
"Bit messy, isn't it? Good thing you're a janitor, Mr. Johnson."
Mr. Johnson nodded as Cait spoke, keeping quiet as he watched her think for a little while before beginning the work. She was like him, thinking before acting, and he hadalreadythoughtaboutthis- Slapped the side of his head. The voice was screaming again, ha, that was uncomfortable.
He didn't respond to Cait's remark as the blood splattered out of the body. He was standing there screaming he was standing there silently, smiling, he wasn't screaming. Touching his lips, he confirmed they were closed. Mr. Johnson wasn't screaming that'snotourname- He slapped the side of his head, a little harder this time. That could cut right it, the Goddess didn't like voices. Duality was not his nature, he was singular, just like She of whom he communed.
Finally, believing himself in control, Mr. Johnson looked up to the working Cait and responded cheerily, "Yes! A good thing indeed! Haha, that's my job! Ah, yes, I speak to Her often. Not her, the little one in the facility, but Her, across the water you know. But yes, She knows of your appreciation! She likes you- or, well, the little she likes you, and that's an incredibly rare thing. Anyone the little she likes holds special privileges as far as I'm concerned!"
Mr. Johnson found himself spinning a little, the room twisting and turning as the blood from the body filled his vision and clouded his mind. That was strange, that was wrong, that wasn't real. Waving, he remarked, "I'm, I'm going to sit down. These old bones, they're, ah-" He almost tripped on a string, successfully stepped over it, and fell hard on the floor. Sighing with a smile, Mr. Johnson rested quietly.
For an ACF janitor, Mr. Johnson seemed to be having more of a reaction to all of this than Cait had expected of him. Didn't they have to clean up questionable ex-people around here? Well, maybe not, it was a level 2 location and all. Still, it had to happen sometime - certainly in the one they all called the Breach-with-a-capital-B. That was what, five years back? Locusts had just been getting started, which was kind of a shame, because oh boy would they have had a great time handling it.
Well, maybe not, they'd hardly known each other yet, except her and Joshua. Gail had been a terrifying figure - she still was, yeah, but she'd been terrifying back then, too. And Brian had been like, yikes levels of L-6 back then, before they'd smoothed things out.
And Nic hadn't been there. Because they'd still had Rachel.
The sternum snapped, and Cait let it go, reaching in to start wiggling the ribs out one by one and set them up in a neat little pile, just like building a campfire. Not that she'd ever been camping as a kid, but she'd gotten her Certified ACF Surface Team Scout badge and all since then. You never knew when you were going to end up stuck in another dimension for a while, and sometimes you ended up camping. With bugs! Cait loved bugs. If you were lucky, they ended up in your clothes and got to come home with you!
Mr. Johnson was not a Certified ACF Surface Team Scout Campfire Contendant, apparently, and he was having a moment. He managed not to mess up her Strings, though, when he decided to have a little lie down. "Tell Her I said hi!" Presumably he'd be having a chat with Her for a little while, or maybe not, or maybe he didn't have any space in his brain for Cait-requests, given that his brain space was taken up by other things.
These old bones, he'd said, and Cait giggled, wondering if she should offer to replace them.
"I~ believe... them bones~ are me.
we're born into the grave
I feel so alone,
Gonna end up a big ol' pile of them bones-"
Alice in Chains definitely felt like the right vibe here. The vibe, as she kept telling people, was important. Otherwise how did the spell know what you wanted it to be doing?
The bones Cait piled up, so nicely and neatly, seemed to spread a miasma from their marrow cores. It was not a physical miasma, no red mists or spooky voices, but a mental one. It was a fog that gently, but forcefully, blanketed the minds of those it touched. But it was not something that could touch Cait, nor could it touch anyone in L-14, save two people.
One of those two people sat on the ground beside Cait. Poor Mr. Johnson.
It was the bones, of course. Those infected bones pulled out of the still 'technically' alive Mr. Jophann. They were the correct bones for a Human, the sternum, the ribs, the hip bones, and everything else Cait was tearing out like so much unwanted foundation in an old, rotting house. But they were infected with a disease. The disease all Humans were infected with, a disease that could only be removed through means esoteric and baffling—the disease of 'belonging' to this place. Belonging to this dimension, to this plane of existence.
The disease needed to be cleansed. But it could not be cleansed by replacing the bones with another Human's. It would be like replacing a cancerous cell with a different, equally malignant, cancerous cell. The bones of animals, while similarly diseased, held strains more malleable to being suppressed. Animals could sense the things that did not belong, they innately knew of things and beings outside this plane. It was in their bones.
That's why the bones needed to be different, specifically why they needed to be animal. But even animal bones, with their disease suppressed, still carried the disease. It was for this reason the human bones Cait removed called out to Mr. Johnson. It was for this reason that Cait was doing something Mr. Johnson was physically able to do, but never mentally could. The disease called it him, it begged him to return. He couldn't, of course, not even if he wanted to.
But Mr. Johnson's symptoms, long suppressed, were returning with a vengeance, and they hurt. Hurt enough that a little bit of belonging slipped through, just a little. Rocking on the floor, Mr. Johnson muttered in a voice that seemed not entirely Mr. Johnson's.
"Wha- What the [EXPLATIVE]. What the [EXPLATIVE] am I doing?"
Blood spilled, and Cait didn't really mind. It wasn't that she was all gleeful about it or anything, it was just that if you were going to get into occultism, you needed a pretty strong stomach. You didn't get very far if you spent all your time going ewwwww! Blood was a powerful component, in its own way - just like bones. The threads she'd strung up around the room took in the splatters, drinking them up and tinting the white cotton kite string crimson.
She sang quietly to herself, or hummed, or tapped out a rhythm with her fingers when they weren't busy, because she'd learned a lot from Strings, and music was a force in and of itself. She might not have had quite the angelic voice he did, but she was a decent first soprano anyway - or so she was told, by people who knew those things - and she had perfect pitch. Of course, all the Locusts had perfect pitch; it was a requirement. Nic hadn't, at first, but they'd fixed that up. That had been fun.
She kept working, not quickly. These things took time, and she wasn't about to rush any of them. Bones were slowly replaced with other bones; a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The figure on the floor stirred, and woke with a curse.
That was fairly normal, around the Locusts. A lot of people who woke up around them started cursing. Cait grinned, then answered the question. "You're doing magic! It's like doing science, only it isn't. You can just chill on the floor though if you want. I've got this." She flicked her hands, the traces of blood suddenly gone from them as if they'd never been there at all, giving Cait a moment to reach into her dimensionally-enhanced pocket and take out a little folded paper packet.
It held several strands of long black hair, carefully liberated from a hairbrush. Cait teased a couple free, twisting them together and threading them through the eye of a needle to start stitching up her latest project.
Mr. Sturgeon stood abruptly while Cait answered his question. He started touching things, grabbing strings and pulling on them, laying his hands on everything from the tables to the walls to the chairs. Anything not nailed down, he flung or tore at violently. While Cait finished sewing up, he raved, "What?! No! You shouldn't be doing any of this! What-"
A wave of vertigo hit Mr. Sturgeon and, stumbling, he fell to the floor again. Holding his head, he spoke just barely loud enough to be heard, "This is devil's work, everything I've done in this god-forsaken place. It's all devil's work." A sudden look of clarity overcame the man's face and he looked up at Cait, "You, I remember you, you work here! Please-" He tried to stand and failed, "You have to tell my family! Tell them I remember them! I'm just trapped in this [EXPLATIVE]ing cage! I'm going to get out, just as soon as finish whatever it is the devil wants from me! Don't let them forget me- please!"
Then, once Cait had finished sewing up her little project, the thing that used to be Mr. Jophann gasped. Breath returned to his body and his fingers splayed wildly as his skin reformed and healed over the repaired stitches. The hair used in the stitching faintly glowed as it was overtaken by skin, slowly disappearing. He did not sit up or open his eyes, but he struggled to breathe as if he had just been revived from a near-drowning experience.
Mr. Johnson woke up someone else. Well, briefly, anyway. He was someone else but then he wasn't, but he still was and it was just a matter of which reality one chose to believe in at the time.
Cait believed it was fascinating.
"No, no, there's no devils. I left them back at L-9," Cait responded, in the distracted sort of tone that people who didn't know her well enough believed meant that she was actually distracted. Technically, plenty of locations had devils, or something like them - there was a whole field of study. This was ACF, after all. And Cait was an Occultist, anyway.
She was less pleased with him messing things up, but she supposed that he was a janitor, and he'd clean it up again when he came back to his nonsenses. Right now, she had something else she needed to finish. The strands of hair sank in, as she'd thought they would, creating a special little binding to a special little someone. The former Mr. Jophann gasped, and Cait placed her hand on its chest, over the sternum, quite gently. She didn't shush it though, because that might have been considered a command, and that wasn't what she wanted the command line to be.
Gail would have had some sort of eight hundred page monstrosity, legally binding in all forms and dimensions, but Cait wasn't Gail, and this was her project, and she was going to do it her way. She'd gotten advice, of course, but in the end she'd decided not to try to close every loophole. She didn't want a set of commands anyway. Sometimes that just led to confusions, contradictions, complications. Cait liked complications as much as anyone who ended up at L-9, but she had a feeling that she was going to create plenty of them without a legal document.
She wanted it to do one thing, and do it well. So she leaned over, carefully, and whispered in its ear:
If Mr. Sturgeon had the physical strength to do, he would have thrown himself at the woman before him in an attempt to force her to help him. She was doing something even more than not understanding him, she wasn't caring! That was the most egregious sin of all. He wanted to spit, to shout, to rage against this darkness encroaching on his vision.
But it was too late. As Cait whispered into the new thing's ear, Mr. Sturgeon felt his control over his own body slip away once more. Perhaps Cait knew more than she let on, perhaps she did not, but either way, her command came at a most perfectly timed moment. Specifically, it came before Mr. Sturgeon disappeared. It came before Mr. Johnson returned. It came before She could listen in. That special little command, that truth Cait instilled in the fledgling Husk, would be known to only two beings in the whole of the multiverse.
Cait, and It.
It did not know how long it had been asleep, but the time for rest had passed.
It was waking up, and It knew only one thing.
ONE- It had been asleep for a very long time.
A whisper graced Its ears, a command.
It knew two things.
ONE- It had been asleep for a very long time.
TWO- It was to protect her from Herself.
Of course, it knew exactly what it was being asked, its very being was imbued with the information it needed to accomplish its task. Its body, filled with the inoculation to the disease, had no confusion filling up Its head. However, instead of control and command flowing through him from The Goddess, nothing at all came. It was not connected to Her, it was connected directly to her via a thread never before introduced in the process. An entirely new process with an entirely new reaction.
Dr. Jophann's memories and personality came back to him at that moment, and the doctor smiled as he opened his eyes.
Dr. Felix Jophann was not considered 'brilliant' by any means. 'Clumsy,' 'Air-headed,' and 'Scatter-brained' all suited him quite well. It wasn't exactly his intention to stumble into ACF-1003's field seven years ago, but it had happened. Within minutes, he had died, but in those precious few minutes before his 'death,' he met someone. He met her. As a result of that meeting, he had died, but he hadn't truly 'died.' Rather than pass on to heaven or hell, he felt more as if he had simply been allowed to take the greatest, longest, most restful nap of his life.
And now, it was time to wake up. Sitting up on the metal table, he blinked a few times before smiling and attempting to get his bearings the only way he knew how- talking. "Ah, hello! Oh excuse me ma'am I seem to- OH GOODNESS!" At that moment, he noticed his own nakedness and scrambled to look for a sheet or something to cover himself. His shame overtaking his common sense, he attempted to hop off the table and snatch a sheet he saw laying on the ground.
It was at that moment, feet in the air, he knew what was coming next. He was going to slip on the cold tile floor, or miss his feet entirely on the way down, or trip over one of the thousands of strings. No matter what, he was going down. So, with eyes closed, he braced for impact. Except that impact never came. Eyes closed, Dr. Felix Jophann landed perfectly on his feet and picked up the bloody sheet off the ground, tying it around his waist like a little privacy skirt.
"Oh," He remarked, genuinely surprised, "That's new."
Of course, it was not precisely a resurrection, so it might not precisely go wrong, but Cait knew that there was going to be a yet in all of this, and she was really fascinated with the idea of what it was going to be like when they got there.
But yet was not now, and right now there was the matter of dealing with the cleaning up. There was always quite a lot of that, though in some cases it was spectacularly more than others. There had been that bit with a frogs, after all...
But she had avoided any amphibious assaults in this particular instance, and had merely stepped back while the awoken one tumbled off of the slab in an attempt to preserve his apparent modesty, as if Cait hadn't been up to her elbows in his innards for most of the afternoon.
Admittedly he seemed a lot more concerned with his outards than his innards, given what he was trying to cover, which seemed to her to be a little silly. Maybe it was a guy thing. Nonetheless, she hadn't really expected him to be concerned. She let him have the sheet and tie it on in a way that was undoubtedly very fashionable somewhere, though probably not at L-14. Where would such a look be fashionable? It wasn't L-9, despite what some people might have thought, though Cait couldn't really pinpoint why. It would have to be one of the Level Ones though, wouldn't it? Not L-6; even Cait's mind recoiled in horror at grappling with that concept. Probably not L-7, although the mental image of Jupiter in a bloody sheet and his anomalous trenchcoat was definitely worth a giggle.
And one just didn't think about Leviathan like that. So it'd have to be SV-2, then, which made her wonder if the butterflies would hold up the sheet or if it would have just Always Been There. Probably the latter, but it was hard to say. Cait didn't muck around much with reality directly. She preferred to go at it tangentially, with occultism. Some would have said magic was mucking about with reality, but Cait thought it was a bit like pushing things into a woodchipper. You really wanted to do it with the end of a really long stick.
Gail would have had a great segue from that back to the topic of the guy in the sheet, which would have made everyone present blush, so maybe it was good that she wasn't here right now. "Accept no other commands."Juuuuust in case, because Cait might not have been a lawyer, but she did work with one - and maybe that statement was unnecessary and would just confuse people, but hey, Cait loved confusing people, so that was a win, right?
She gave the guy a cheeky grin. "And maybe have a seat. Which is not a command! But it is a suggestion, and it might be good for you, you were out a while. Hi! I'd tell you that everything was going to be all right and not to worry, but it probably isn't and you definitely should. And that's what makes it fun! So! Let's play ten questions - I'll start: Who are you, what are you, where are you, when are you, how are you, which are you, why are you... five, six, seven... um.... what is your favorite song, who's the guy standing behind me, and what is the unladen weight of a European swallow?"
Dr. Jophann laughed awkwardly as the woman -a researcher-? an agent-? Well she was definitively staff and that's all that mattered he supposed- spoke again for the first time. 'Accept no other commands'? He instantly understood wasn't sure he knew what she was talking about, but she was cute and it was normal for the Foundation to have a few quirks!
Walking a few steps away, he made his way over to a cabinet where he knew a few extra lab coats would be stored. He barely noticed his body deftly and expertly navigating the strings about the room, that was strange but it felt too natural to be worth thinking about too much. Then, with a cheeky grin, the woman rapid fired off a bunch of questions. Laughing awkwardly, Dr. Jophann pulled out a fresh lab coat, slacks and a t-shirt from the cabinet. Using the door for privacy, he changed quickly while attempting to respond.
"Oh wow, that's- woo! That's a lot, uh, ok. Well first hello, and yes I'll come sit down one seeecond-" Pants on, the rest could be put on while sitting. Felix expertly made his way back, picking up a chair that had fallen to the floor at some point and taking a seat. He sat with the back of the chair facing forward, allowing himself to rest his arms while he continued to reply, "Well judging from that start I suppose something anomalous must've happened to me! Ha, well, that's the job! Ten questions, right, ah, I'm Doctor Felix Jophann, I'm a human, I think this is the Cold Storage wing of L-14? Unless I'm mistaken, mhm. When am I-? Uh, well, it should be March- uh, 5th? 2016. I feel really good, thank you, which am I-? Why am I? Well that's deep. I suppose-"
He paused for a moment, closing his eyes. In that instant, his head bobbed and his eyes snapped back up, "Ohmygod!" He shouted, startling himself, before laughing and resettling himself into the chair, "I'm sorry, narcolepsy! I've been struggling with that for a while! Where was I- oh, right! I feel compelled to tell you I am the first servant unnamed, and the why based in that which you made. I hope that makes sense to you, cause it doesn't to me! I don't know why I said that, haha..." He didn't seem upset, just confused, but Felix continued, "My favorite song is 'Dream On' by Aerosmith, that's an easy one. I'm not sure I know the gentleman behind you, and assuming our unladen European swallow is of average weight and size then I'd say 0.7 ounces or 20 grams."
Then, with a grin, he added, "No, it could not carry a coconut, unless it was an anomalous European swallow! In which case I'd very much like to study it and the theoretical coconut it could carry to a temperate climate! Ah, now! Do you mind answering a few of those questions for me as well? My memory's a bit foggy, it's coming back but I'm afraid I don't know who you are Miss-?"
Mr. Johnson had stood up during Dr. Jophann's responses, stone-faced and quiet. This was wrong, this whole scenario was wrong. Everything had gone horribly wrong. Not only had he passed out during the process, unable to surrender memories of what happened to Her so that She might see what happened, but this man remembered who he was. Dr. Jophann should've woken up and asked for commands, he should've asked for who he was and received a new name, a new purpose.
Instead, Cait had simply, somehow, revived the man. Deciding to, as the kids say, 'play it cool,' Mr. Johnson smiled and asked, "Well ain't that a sight! Should we do another?"
He went and put clothes on first. Cait noticed mostly because it was a very human thing to do, and she hadn't known if she was going to expect that or not. She didn't stop him, though. He picked up a chair and took a seat, so Cait hopped up on the slab he had previously occupied, folding her legs criss-cross-applesauce (Gail had said that when she was in school this was referred to as "Indian Style" and hooo boy had there been a lot of Undertones in that statement and Cait could absolutely see a little Kansa girl deciding to become a lawyer one day because [expletive] those guys). There was quite a lot of Mr. Jophann left on the table, but Cait was already a hot mess and that hadn't changed in the last several years and wasn't likely to any time soon. She picked up a rib, tying a bit of string around either end and wondering if you could make it into a bow - but it would probably just break, unless you shored it up with something, and that would ruin the aesthetic. Also, it was tiny.
"Wow, those are great answers." All answers were great, really, but these ones were especially great. He seemed to know who he wasn't, and not really know who he was. Which was also really neat. The narcolepsy wasn't really unexpected, after Mr. Johnson, who was watching all of this with something that was either dread or jealousy. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference, even from the inside.
She pointed the rib at its previous carrier. "What if it were an anomalous coconut?" Because it was entirely possible that a normal swallow could carry an anomalous coconut, if the coconut anomaly affected the weight of the coconut. Which wasn't actually a nut. Then again, most of them weren't, except the ones at L-9.
Cait giggled. "Actually don't answer that, we both already know. You can call me Cait. Or Agent Corby if you want to be formal. And yes, I'm authorized to be here. They always ask that, you know? I mean, you probably don't know, but you will after about five minutes. Or less! I'd say I don't know why, but I definitely do." She untied the string and replaced the rib on the pile with the rest of them, considering whether she could stack them up into a little house. And the fourth little piggie made his house out of bones and the wolf left him the [expletive] alone, because really, who does that?
She targeted Mr. Johnson with another one of her mischievous grins when he asked about another, and shook her head. "Not yet. We have to figure out what went wrong first. They always do, you know. And if you don't figure out how, the next one isn't going to be any better - you'll just be repeating the same mistakes. Besides, I want to see how this one goes for a while. It's a learning experience. I love learning experiences. Mostly because I'm usually the experience that other people are learning, but hey, it's good for them!"
Just as quicksilver, she turned back to the creature in the chair. "So! I told you what you can call me; I am a prodigy or so they tell me; I am, in fact, currently at L-14; I am never late nor early but precisely when I mean to be; I came about in the usual way for humans, or so I'm told; I'm not a good which or a bad which; I am because someone shouldn't be and you always need someone who shouldn't be something; favorite song is currently "Dead Promises" by Tarja, though believe me that changes by the minute and also I think that came out in '19 while you weren't? Whoopsie-daisy. The man behind me in a metaphorical sense is probably Strings, but the guy over there goes by Mr. Johnson and he's a fantastic janitor; and it's not polite to ask a bird about her weight. Any other questions?"
Dr. Jophann's initial impenetrable smile began to fade the more and more that Cait talked. It was not what Cait was saying that caused his mind to wander, rather, the memories that slowly pulled themselves free from the quagmire of his very long nap. Then, of course, the mention of a song that came out in a time where he was not. Finally, at her response of 'any other questions?' he broke.
A laugh clawed its way up from a deep place in his chest, a terrible, painful laugh elicited from an attempt to not break down crying. Of course, the laughter only made the tears hotter and more painful. A few more seconds passed and Dr. Jophann ended up barely able to keep himself in his chair. Holding his head in his hands he tried his best to calm himself down.
Mr. Johnson frowned. Cait was favored by her, this gave Cait a free pass in his mind to do and act as she pleased. Despite that, he felt strangely angry that the first one had gone so wrong. It wasn't personal anger, he knew that, it was righteous anger from a being beyond. It was akin to seeing someone irreverent in church, it simply wasn't to be done.
But Cait in this metaphor might as well have been the pastor's kid, and Mr. Johnson no more than an emotionally sensitive church elder. Sighing and relaxing, he knew it was best to just let this go. If She decided to punish Cait for these transgressions, then it would be right. If She decided to forgive, then that too would be right. In the moment Dr. Jophann seemed to break, Mr. Johnson smiled and felt a calm wash over him.
"I understand where you're comin' from Miss Corby, completely understand. But I'm afraid I don't really remember what you did, you know? So I don't know if I'm going to be-"
Dr. Jophann screamed, interrupting Mr. Johnson, then fell completely silent. Breathing deeply, he snapped his head up and smiled at Cait. In the tone of someone barely holding it all together, he declared, "I get it now! I GET IT now! Fantastic! Superb! Phenominal! HAHAhahahaHAAHAAA!" It was crazed. It was maddening. It was complete. Everything was falling into place for Felix and he understood it all!
Standing from his chair, he started rapid-firing questions, hot, salty tears still streaming down his face, "What year is it? Who is the current council member over L-14? Who are the current managers? Are you anomalous? How did you wake me up? Who's the president? Did that gameshow host burn America to the ground? Six-er, seven, what's Strings doing nowadays? Are you part of a surface team? Was The Last Jedi any good? I don't know if I wanna see it if it's bad. Oh, and yes! YES I DO owe you twenty questions now!"
Wow. That was certainly a reaction right there. Strings would have been fascinated, and probably had a lot of things to say about psychology and breaking points and other insights into the human mind - which was still human, Cait supposed, even if the skull around it wasn't. She ought to know, after all, given that she'd been holding on to it a couple hours ago.
She was, however, not a psychologist, and so she just shrugged and turned to Mr. Johnson instead. "Hey - none of that now, yeah? You're everything a Girl could ask for." Not a girl, necessarily, but he wasn't here for the little one. She was assuming he had the ability to hear in capital letters just as much as she could speak in them. There was a trick to it, it was sort of a vocal thing you did - or, at least, a vocal thing Cait did. Cait was very good at vocal things, though. She could imitate all sorts of sounds, a number of which had never been meant for humanity - but that just took a little more practice and a little more magic than a few other things did, that was all. And somewhere along the way she'd probably gotten a little Eldritch-scrambled when she'd learned the Languages, and that made it easier.
Whether or not his Goddess still considered Herself a Girl was a matter of theological debate, but that wasn't really Cait's thing either. She left the debating to Gail and the psychology to Strings and focused on the things that she was scarily good at, adjective very appropriate.
The questions spurted out of Mr. Jophann much like the blood had a while ago, but that was also fine. Curiosity was meant to be - actually, where was she, she wasn't here, was she? Because some things got awkward if your little god child was watching - but no, she wouldn't be here. Cait had put enough Don't-Look-Here spells into the area that anyOne considering the idea would think of something way more fun to do than hang out with a bunch of dead bodies. She didn't need any interlopers, after all, not when she was working on something like this.
"Currently it's 2023. SV-3 is Jupiter, location managers are Redd and Cotta jointly. I am not anomalous although people do ask me that a lot. I woke you up with maaaa~gic, no, really. President? Of what? I've been to eight countries and three dimensions this week. America has not yet been burned to the ground by anyone but if that's something you need I think I know a guy? Strings is on the security council as SV-5, which surprised everyone else too because he's a madman, yeah? And yeah, I'm on a surface team - Hocus Locusts, out of 9. We started up as a team in '18, so you haven't heard of us yet. The Last Jedi was... okay? I don't know, I grew up reading Young Jedi Knights, so there's a part of me that will always think the sequel trilogy is Wrong and Bad because it doesn't follow the EU. Yes, I am aware that the EU is also Wrong and Bad, especially in some places, oof. And please don't say you owe me things. Theological obligations get messy and it's usually the wrong sort of messy, like the sort where I end up in a room with my team lead talking about contracts and Eldritch tort laws, and once she gets going on Eldritch tort laws, it is at least an hour and there are footnotes and cross-references and it suddenly all makes sense why SV-4 signed off on her in the first place. And she's scary. Where were we? Oh, L-14. Anyway. What do you get now?"
Mr. Johnson didn't respond to Cait's quick aside, but Dr. Jophann did.
By clicking his tongue and pointing finger guns.
Dr. Jophann followed along closely to Cait's rapid-fire responses, nodding and smiling along the whole time. In his head, he ran through what Cait was telling him.
'Its 2023, so I have been asleep for what, seven years? I don't definitively remember a Jupiter but that might be my memories slowly returning. Redd and Cotta were managers- good for them! Cait wasn't anomalous, doubtful. Magic is real, that's amazing, and it woke me up! I can believe that. Ok so I've never been terribly politically active so the current president isn't really important. It just felt like a question I should've asked. Strings was on the council-'
'Oh boy who thought that was a good idea?'
'But that was believable, Strings was an ambitious bastard. If I'm remembering him properly, that is. Cait was on a surface team with an amazing name, and from how she talked about them it seemed most, if not all, of her companions were still alive. Surface teams surviving for a while meant they were skilled, good to know. Young Jedi Knights, file that to read later, don't watch the new movie, got it. Don't owe anything either, theological debates and all that which shouldn't make any sense to me except it makes PERFECT SENSE!'
Sitting back down in the chair, he wiped his face clear and laughed merrily. His body was wracked with pain, emotional and physical, but he felt as though he was recovering. Holding the back of the chair and grinning, Felix nodded and responded, "I get everything! Do you know what happened to me? Is it in my file? Of course it wouldn't be I wasn't awake to write it- that's ok! Ok ok ok, let me, let me breathe."
And breathe he did for a few solid seconds, taking in air and letting it with deliberate motions. Like a toddler learning to breathe for the first time, but with less screaming and crying... Ok, roughly the same amount of screaming and crying had occurred, but they were past that! Looking back to Cait, he spoke, "You're Cait Corby! The man behind you is Mr. Johnson, and I'm Doctor Felix Jophann! I get it! I get it so you should ask me whatever you want to know because I get it! What'd you ask, what do I get? IT! I get her! I get what she wants! Oh it all makes perfect sense to me now-! I'm so glad you woke me up, Cait! Oh goodness, can I call you just Cait? You can call me Felix if you'd like!"
Mr. Johnson said nothing.
His body filled with terror as, while still awake, he could hear Her.
"I did say you could call me Cait," she answered, with some amusement. It was like watching a show, really. Most of the show was happening on the inside, though, where she couldn't see it, but enough of it slipped through. Strings would have gotten more out of it, but Cait...
...Well, Cait had to do things her own way, didn't she? And she'd learned a lot from him, and she still had a lot to learn, but that didn't mean she could exist in his shadow all the time. After all, if she was planning to take over L-9 some day, she needed to be her own person and not just Strings 2.0. No matter how cool that would be!
But Cait was going to do her own thing, just like she always had, and maybe the world would even survive it. And if it didn't... well, she'd just have to do a little bit of resurrection. Could you resurrect a planet? Who knew? Well, not Cait, but maybe-
She smiled benevolently at her creation. "So, first things first - just to check, who is she?" Because even though Cait was pretty sure she knew, she needed to be absolutely sure, because she was absolutely sure something had gone wrong because Resurrections Always Went Wrong, and that meant finding out where the wrong had gone and whether this was it. "And what does she want? And can you resurrect a planet? Oh, and do you know Pepper?"
Cait was asking the right questions but also she was asking the wrong questions. They were right and they were wrong but they were questions and it didn't matter because every question was the right question! And of course he knew exactly what Cait was asking because it was the most obvious thing in the world! Like explaining the color of blue or why bees could fly!
Is this what going mad felt like?
Resting his arms on the chair, Felix blinked deliberately a few times before responding, "she is she, the one we both know! Our ACF-1003 -the one we know- but not the one our friend over there knows though. They're different and they're not, but they're more different now than they have been in a long time! Having a spat- maybe? I don't know! Not my place to know!"
Leaning back so far as to nearly fall out of the chair, Felix laughed again. It was a lighter, breathier laugh, the kind of laughter one had when they were calming down from a particularly good joke, or a particularly long cry. Wringing his hands of invisible water, Felix sat forward and continued, "I get it, I get it all it's just, so simple. ACF-1003, I remember her name but I don't feel comfortable saying it yet, wants- her wants! They're so simple, oh-! Pepper! I do know Peppers! Oh my goodness she's a lovely kid, wait, it's been seven years- oh my god she's not a kid anymore! She can DRINK now! Hahaha!"
Then, smacking himself, Felix realized he wasn't answering the question, "What she wants, of course. It's simple, she wants friends. she's lonely."
He had disappeared.
Not in the anomalous way, not in the way of something that should be there but yet wasn't. No, it was in the normal way. Mr. Johnson had walked out. It was not a storming motion, nor an enraged slamming of doors, nor even a fearful escape. Mr. Johnson had simply, as normal as he had always been, grabbed up his cleaning materials and walked out.
Okay, so something had gone right. Felix knew who she was, and what she wanted was... not a surprise, actually. Cait had already suspected it, which was one of the big reasons she'd decided to take this in the direction she had. She could have told the guy to be a friend to her, but that hadn't been quite right. Ira wasn't going to want friends made for her. She was going to have to make her own. Whether that statement was social or existential was somewhat up in the air, really, but still - some things you had to do for yourself.
But Ira needed someone looking out for her, someone with her best interests in mind. Since Cait had definitely once been a kid in a situation where she'd desperately needed that, she might have had some feelings about the situation. Sure, occult revivals weren't the usual way to go about this sort of thing, but Cait was unusual in all sorts of ways. Gail had referred to the situation as a guardian ad litem thing, which meant 'legally obligated to have her best interests in mind' in Latin, just like Felix meant 'luck' in Latin and Ira meant 'wrath' in Latin and Cait meant 'I told you it was relevant, Agent Cotta' but not in Latin.
The statement on Pepper just made her giggle. The idea of Pepper drinking made her giggle even harder. Pepper was definitely in the "not allowed to drink" club, on account of the whole situation with Hades, but Felix didn't need to know that right now, because you didn't out your bestie as having a dead god in their head to a guy you just met. Pepper was also definitely not a kid any more. She was... twenty-two, Cait supposed, and always would be. The Project didn't need to know that, either. "Pepper's a researcher now," she said instead, because that covered a lot of bases without giving away anything personal. "And she's probably my best friend at 14, so be nice to her. Which is not a command! But it is a request, yeah? And I will do unspeakable things if you're mean to her and I know entire unspeakable languages, so believe me, I have a lot of options."
That was a threat, and Cait didn't bother pretending that it wasn't, she just gave him a cute little smile, because Cait was ridiculously good at cute when she wanted to be, which explained how she'd gotten away with an awful lot of things - or a lot of awful things, depending on how you looked at it.
Right now, though, she had another issue, because Mr. Johnson had decided he'd had enough of Cait's charm for a little bit and walked off.
"Oh, there it is." It was kind of a relief, really, when something went wrong, because she'd known it would and now she wasn't waiting for it. Waiting was boring. Cait held up a finger at the Project, pausing the questions long enough to pull out her cell and call it in to L-14.
"Hey, yo, Mr. Johnson's having a moment. Not that sorta moment - I mean, he did have one of those earlier but it's a different sorta moment and I need to keep an eye on this bit and haven't figured out how to be in more than one place at the same time - working on it - but, anyway, can all y'all have one of your people keep an eye on him? Or I can call back to 9 and have one of them come keep an eye on it but then you'd have more of us here and, yeah, I know, who wouldn't want that? Boring people, that's you. Anyway! Get someone on it please and thank you, my team's on standby if you need them because they're used to me!"
She hung up without waiting for arguments, because that was the best way to avoid them, and Cait had other things to do. "Aw, man, I guess I have to clean up without a janitor now. Bummer, yeah? We'll have to use magic. I mean, we could just leave it, but Dr. Harriet would not like that one bit. So! You're with me for a bit, so you might as well make yourself useful. They've got rubbing alcohol around here somewhere, I'm sure, how about you find me a bottle?"
“Peppers is a researcher now…” Felix seemed a little shocked at that. It wasn’t a bad shock, more a ‘I’m so glad things turned out that way,’ kind of shocked. She had been through a lot as a kid, and Felix hadn’t been there to really help her. He felt bad about that now, but he also supposed it was too late to really make a difference. He’d need to apologize when he saw her, or at least tell her congratulations.
Cait’s threat had been unnecessary, but Felix understood entirely why she made it. Nodding and smiling in response, he found himself saying something and he wasn’t entirely sure as to why.
“Of course! I would never hurt Peppers, she’s precious to us now. It goes the same for you and our little she as well. I may not know unspeakable languages but I’m pretty sure I’m terrible now! Haha!”
While Cait made her call, Felix stood up and began touching his arms and legs through his new clothes. His bones were shaped weirdly, like spirals, they hadn’t been that way before, right? No, he was a scientist, he definitively knew the correct way bones were supposed to be and this was not correct. But- this felt right. It felt like the way it should be, even if it was the way it wasn’t before.
Looking around, Felix smiled and made his way over to the medical cabinet. It wasn’t as if he had some supernatural or otherworldly desire to help Cait, rather, he just thought of himself as a helpful person. As he retrieved a bottle of rubbing alcohol from a medical cabinet, he started speaking.
His voice sounded far off, like someone who was accidentally talking to themselves out loud, or someone who had been recently deafened by a loud noise and didn’t know they were talking.
“Cait, do you want this one here, or there? If here, where? If there, do you want to bring him to me?”
Cait nodded a little at his assurance that he wouldn't hurt Pepper, although there was definitely a little bit of my precioussss in there that probably would have worried someone who wasn't Cait. Cait was not the sort of person to worry about that, she was the sort of person to think it was funny and make surreptitious references to it in the future. "Which little?" That could refer to... well, several things that Cait could think of, and it was probably good to figure out which one was being referenced before it came back and bit someone in the butt. Not that it wouldn't be funny, but it was good to know where to be so you could be there to laugh about it.
Cait accepted the bottle of rubbing alcohol, pulling up one of the bloody strings and sticking the end of it in the bottle. Most people would have expected it to go slowly, but instead there was sort of a shlorp and the rubbing alcohol was gone from the bottle and it was, instead, full of all the blood that had been in the room. Cait screwed the cap back on and set it next to the bones, because it was definitely going to be useful for something later on. Felix was conveying a question, which definitely hadn't originated with him.
"Hi! Oh my Word, hi!" Well, that was delightful, it was like a walkie-talkie. And it was walkie and talkie, all by itself, so that was just great. Cait waved, quite cheerfully. "I'm gonna bring it by in a little bit, yeah? I have to get everything put away here first though. You got here when it all went kinda waaaa~aaaaagh, right? With the-" She waved her hands around in a way that somehow referenced the whole miasma that had been there for a bit.