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All Your Monsters in One Basket

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1 minute past

Dana says I'm sorry, Marty at the same time as the gun goes off, at the same time that the Director screams, at the same time that the wolf gets its teeth into her neck, at the same time that the earthquake makes a long crack down the center of the platform on which they are all standing.

She manages to keep hold of the gun and it's just instinct that makes her begin to use it to beat the wolf's head into as mushy a pulp as she can manage, even though she's pretty sure that isn't going to do the trick. It's got hold of her free arm, at the shoulder, and it's pulling it, trying to pull it away from the ground, up and out of Dana's body. She doesn't feel any pain, just the pressure and the pull and when the second shock comes out of the gun and ricochets down her arm, she thinks it's just that the werewolf has finally pulled it off. But it's not. The wolf's head is disintegrating over her breast, very Jackson Pollock, except completely disgusting. All she can smell is blood. She thinks that's probably the taste at the back of her throat as well. She tries to get up, but she falls back down again.

"Dana," a voice says. It seems far away. "It is Dana, isn't it? Who am I kidding, of course I know who you are. You did it, Dana. Well done."

"What ... the fuck."

"You made the right choice."

"Fuck you," Dana says, unsuccessfully trying to keep the sob out of her voice. There is a low humming sound now filling the underground chamber. It is vibrating the bones of the creature lying on top of her, even as they deliquesce into her clothes and the surrounding stone, leaving nothing but stench and a handful or so of coarse hair. Dana is crying and the tears are stinging her eyes, or the blood is, or the powder burns.

"Marty," she says, understanding that it's pointless. The hum is getting louder, starting to hurt her teeth and jaw.

"I'm sorry about the boy. But it had to be done, Dana. You made the right choice."

The constant hum almost sounds like singing now. Singing in a minor, sideways key, gurgling up from the place beneath the platform, now shrill and now deep, like laughing at dying animal, at its pain and helplessness. Dana gets up, to her hands and feet first and then to her knees. She takes the hand that the Director holds out to her and doesn't throw the woman into the steaming hole at at edges of them, as her imagination suggests that she should.

"Come on," the Director says, taking Dana's arm and starting for the stairs, stopping only to make a tidy little move that pushes Patience Buckner into the abyss, "We have a lot of work to do."

There is a little cubbyhole that leads off the main staircase that they took to reach the Ancients' chamber. The button makes a little hiss as the Director pushes it, first once then twice as it pops back out.Two stones roll back from each other to reveal a narrow corridor lit with tapers instead of electric light (of course) and leading towards a small room in which there is a bank of computers and a single monitor, six feet across and wrapped around the crescent shape of the room's back wall.

"A secret," the Director says, turning back to smile at Dana in what she probably thinks is a conspiratorial way. "We are required to have quite stringent safeguards."

"I thought I was your safeguard," Dana says, not smiling back.

"Come on," is all the Director says.

1 hour past

"What about their families," Dana says, not bothering to add a rising inflection. "What about everybody's parents. Curt's brother and Jules's nephew. Marty's aunt. I ... I don't know about Holden."

"A scenario will be constructed."

"What does that mean?"

"Often it's a car crash, or a downed plane — "

"You can't — "

"Make a plane fall out of the sky? Maybe not. But we can make people believe that one did."

"Can you? All on your own? No staff, no control? I don't know if you noticed but everyone back there got eaten or torn apart or committed suicide. There's a whole bunch of blood to clean up. I mean, the cleaning bills alone."

"There are other Facilities. There are ... emergency protocols."

"Right. Of course."

"I've alerted the other Facilities. The nearest are Canada and Mexico, of course. Britain has agreed to fly a number of operatives in.It's harder to hide Concorde flights these days, but they have methods. And there are people who never set foot here, who lived in streets like yours and never knew where this place was. There had to be. You don't put all your monsters in one basket, Dana. We're not amateurs."

"No. I can see that."

"It is a major setback, I agree — but the alternative was a great deal worse. Surely you can see that?"

"No, I just wish I'd paid attention in philosophy class."

"You're in shock. I know it's ... hard. I know it hurts. But you have to see a wider perspective."

"Why don't you just tell me to grow up and get it over with?"

"Dana, I — "

"And what happens to me?"

"It's up to you. You get to choose."

"Oh great. My life has been fulll of really thrilling choices lately."

"There's a whole world here. The world that you saved. If you'd like, you can go on serving it, go on saving it."

"For the children?"

"For all the souls of the earth. For everything you went through."

Dana shrugs. "What's a little torment between ... well, between us."

1 day past

They've been alone for twenty-four hours now. The little cave room is perfectly comfortable. The light is constant and bright, the heating underfloor and more than adequate against the underground cold. There is a store cupboard that reminds Dana of those weird 80s movies where the heroes stumble on Cold War bunkers completely unexpectedly and the appropriate shudder runs down the audience's back, even while they assume that they would have found there way to a bunker almost exactly like the one in the movie. Maybe a couple less wine racks. But there's coffee, Coke, Twinkies, pickled vegetables and artisan bread kept fresh by what she can only assume is witchcraft, or whatever they call it here — thaumaturgical preservation, or whatever. She contemplates the idea of asking whether there are any hard drugs, tranqs, maybe, or the kind that stop you caring whether or not you just shot one of your best friends. But she doesn't ask. She isn't sure she wants to know the answer.

The Director spends most of the twenty-four hours on video conference. The lines cut out a few times, because the giant mutant rats keep fighting the Minotaur for the privilege of gnawing on the wires, but she manages magnificently. It's an object lesson in why America is the envy of the world. She coordinates and organises and anticipates and say well, of course we had a protocol in place for that and yes they passcodes are being sent to you now and no, no survivors at this end. I need a completely new team. And she doesn't say anything about Dana. Presumably because they already know; they've done the apocalypse math on this one.

So Dana takes this opportunity to eat Twinkies when she doesn't have to ask herself exactly why she is doing this dreadful thing to her digestive system. Because nutritional issues just don't seem that important right now.

Later, while Great Britain is scrambling its best operatives and Canada is sending its best operatives down the nearest log flume, she sleeps.

There's a little cot. It's another feature that pops out of a previously featureless wall when a small button is pressed. It looks like one of those beds in Star Trek, i.e. fantastically uncomfortable and completely bereft of special features like pillows and sheets, but it's actually not too bad. Or maybe she's just in so much pain that it doesn't matter as long as she's vaguely horizontal. She hasn't asked about drugs and the Director hasn't mentioned the possibility. She's gone on assuming that being bitten by a werewolf is something she can worry about after they get out of this cave.

Her dreams are liquid things, layering in her mind in horrible technicolor until she wakes up with her mouth dry and rancid and her t-shirt (Facility issue) pasted to her by the stripe of sweat between her breasts and shoulder blades. She can't make the images congeal into narratives after she wakes up. And she checks all around the room for little nozzles dispensing soothing chemicals to smooth away the nasty dreams, but can't find any. It's just her mind, refusing.

1 week past

In different circumstances, Dana thinks she would probably have liked the Director a great deal. She's one of those women you look up to: assertive and cool, rocking the trouser suit range available to women of her age. Nifty left hook, too. She's pretty badass. That's pretty much the problem.

As it is what she mostly wants to ask is: were you always a monster?

There's something. Something ... else. Something held back. Something she isn't being told because she's still too angry, too hurt, too childish for the information. And the childish part of her is saying: sure, fuck you, I didn't even want to know anyway. I know just about all I want to about this place, about the kind of people who think that this is a great job opportunity. What was the dental like, anyway? The pension? Were all the contracts signed in unspeakable bodily fluids? Were your interns just sacrificed at the end of their term? Fuck you. FUCK. YOU.

She thinks if she had any kind of sharp implement she'd probably be trying to carve that in the wall. And failing, most likely. The wall isn't obsidian, but it's not far off.

The cameras are all back up anyway. And because there's no one else here but her, she's on watch duty. The nerve gas worked on the more organic of the creatures, though it took its time on the werewolf, the sasquatch and the giant snake. The snake had started shedding its skin and for a while they couldn't work out (blame it on the stressful environment of the last few days) why they were coming up with two snakes on the monitors, one of which seemed to be aggressively guarding the door to the Maintenance department.

She cried when the unicorn died. Just because it was beautiful, and the only thing that was beautiful in the whole place. She kinda thinks of its predilection for skewering personnel was just a searing indictment of what it saw as appallingly lax morals. She'd be safe, right? She was the Virgin after all.

But the clean up is progressing. Like the Director always says, they're not amateurs; they do have protocols.

The British Special Ops unit only lost half their men (and the right hand of the guy in charge) and apparently they consider that a very good result. The Canadians were predictably stoic and frighteningly effective. They didn't apologize even once. The crew from Mexico are out there now. She's almost rooting for them. It's only scarecrows and snowmen and the Angry Molesting Tree now. Fire does the trick.

She watches the teams clean up the corridors and offices and labs and feels young and frightened and dirty. Despite the other excellent amenities on offer in the cave room sanctuary, there is no shower, and a basin of hot water just isn't all that effective for washing off several pints of blood. She can smell it. It's making her sinuses hurt. Which makes her laugh, sometimes, when she stops watching herself closely enough. Her sinuses hurt. Poor baby.

1 month past

She couldn't swear to it (of course) but it looks suspiciously like a standard contract.

The Director had explained it this way: there were usually three options (of course, there would be three). A survivor a) worked for the Facility in some capacity determined by their aptitudes, interests and abilities. Standardized testing and number 2 pencils might possibly be involved. b) the survivor was given a new life somewhere else, somewhere pretty far away where no one had any chance of knowing them. Once all relatives and friends thought they were dead, this was thought to be a fairly straightforward option: just witness protection with added magic. The survivor was under a geas, a magical prohibition, not to speak or disclose in any way. Dana thinks of this as the I Will Become A Lighthouse Keeper in Saskatchewan option. c) The survivor stays on at the Facility at which they had their ... experience and signs themselves over to the keeping of the management there for study, for testing, for the pleasure of playing a ten year (ten years is the standard term, so sayeth the Director) game of Portal 3: Apocalypse! Dana can't imagine anyone actually agreeing to do this, but, hey, different strokes.

Dana feels that there is also an unspoken fourth option that hardly needs expanding on. And she wonders how many people —

how many people whose throats were full of screaming and whose fingernails were still stained red, girls, just girls like her, young women who were stupid enough to think that they had a future, that they had some right to a future with something in it other than unspeakable pain and ancient demons, who got away with their lives (just about) but were holding their souls in both hands, shredded and bleeding and crying out, and it's dripping through their fingers, the blood, it's all they can make their senses process anymore, it's all there is anymore

— opted for Door Number 4.

She reads it carefully, because that's what she was brought up to do. She doesn't know why she's bothering, since there's only one option that a sane person would pick. But she isn't so sure that that term applies anymore. But she's glad she can sign it in ink (it'd better fucking be ink), anyway.

1 year past

"You've changed. Matured." the Director says, over the long table at which they are eating breakfast. They do this now. Every day. In another company it would probably be called 'mentorship'. Dana doesn't know what it's called in her file here; she can't read ancient demonic runes yet. But there's still time.

There are a number of answers to the Director's remark. They run through Dana's head like this:

- and you're still lying to me
- no, I've just got better at lying
- please don't say that to me
- I just know where the exits are now
- I know what day it is, you know, you don't have to be all subtle about it

She goes with the last option.

The Director smiles, sadly, Dana thinks. She's not a monster; neither of them are. And hey, they should know, right? They're just trying to do a difficult job to the best of their ability and with one eye on the seasonal bonus and the annual performance review.

And Dana doesn't cry, even though she thought she would, thought she wouldn't be able to stop herself. So maybe that means she has 'matured'. Maybe that's just what happens: you save the world and you grow up and a little switch in your guts turns itself to 'off' without you even asking and you try not to notice the other kids you walk past in the street, with the glammer pasted to your face and your heart trip-hammering away loud enough to annoy surveillance because they can't hear anything over the sound of your breathing. You try not to notice the days passing, turning over and over. You don't count them on your fingers, in your head. You don't think about anything except the job in front of you, not yet, anyway.

She hasn't quite started to understand, sadly but completely; to rationalize and abstract it for herself. Not yet. Not yet.