Smoking on Company Time

rating: +42+x

I’m a researcher at bio-site sixtysix. I’ve never been part of the most important stuff, I’ve never been one of the big-shots. Hell, I don’t know what the most important stuff is. It’s not my clearance to know. But that’s a comfort, not a curse. I have gotten the faintest inklings that it’s better not to know. We die in the dark so you can live in the light type stuff. Well, I like to die in the dark with at least a flashlight in hand, so to speak. So that’s why it doesn’t bother me when I get assigned to the small stuff. It’s what I’m good at, the pay is amazing, and I get a fair bit of downtime too.

I was between things when they assigned me to skip-thirteen. I always expected the lower numbers to be more important, so when the errand boy slid the little pack of cigarettes and its associated paperwork onto my desk I got a little nervous. But when I read it over, my concerns were eased slightly.

They were straightforward little things. I played with one or two in my hands and looked them over. Apparently, all they did was make the smoker start to think of themselves as a woman. Not just any woman, but a blue woman. With blue hair, blue lipstick, blue dress, the whole shebang. A simple perception-affecting anomaly. Hell, it was basically a more specific psychedelic. Harmless. Suspiciously so. You get a healthy helping of paranoia working at the Foundation, no matter how close to the bottom you are.

My first question was what I was even supposed to do with it, so I looked over the attached memo.

And when I was finished, I laughed out loud. Of course, what else was I supposed to do with it?

The SCP-013 research team has concerns about the breadth of their test subjects, it read. So to make sure they weren’t just testing it on D-class criminals, it looks like they wanted someone with a little more going on in the noggin. Of course, no one on the team smoked, so that naturally meant they were mine.

The note said to smoke them at whatever pace I liked, and return a self-evaluation to the skip-thirteen research team upon the depletion of my supply. Oh, and to take plenty of notes on the progression of its effects.

Of course. Why not? I was probably an unknowing guinea pig to any number of unidentified cognitohazards in the site already, it was about time it was made official and I got a pay bonus for it. Fine, I thought to myself, I might even enjoy it.

So I leaned back in my chair, and decided to begin the process promptly. I retrieved my trusty lighter, flicked it on, and brought the white paper to my mouth, pulling in a deep drag of the hazy blue smoke that resulted — and what a nice feeling it was. Smoking on company time, in my office. Hell, the taste wasn’t half-bad either.

I looked at my fingers. I looked at my chest, my legs, my feet. I pulled out my phone, and looked in its reflection. Hmm, I thought to myself, I guess it doesn’t work that fast. I turned on my phone, and began a note that read: “First pull, no effects.”

That was my Friday. After that, I packed my things, said goodbye to the few coworkers who mattered to me, and all along the drive home I fondled the new toys in my pockets.

I’ve never been the modest type, so I liked my property to match my income. After stepping out of my car I was in essentially the middle of nowhere. When you’re a part of the Foundation, it paid to not have neighbors to worry about. Or connections in general.

I walked past my front yard’s fountain and fished the keys out of my pocket. When I unlocked my door, I stepped inside, and the temperature dropped several degrees. This was it. My house.

It was roomy. Two stories, and the foyer had a chandelier. I didn’t have much to fill it with. Mostly bought it because I could. I had little other than some cat towers here and there for my pets to play around on. They were the only other residents in my manor. I liked it that way. Dogs were too attached at the hip for my liking.

Missy came up to me and started weaving between my legs, but I ignored her. I had a weekend and a pack, and I was going to have to get through them.

So I walked through the dining room, past the kitchen and up a cramped staircase that led me to my room. My room was rather Spartan. A queen-sized bed took up nearly a quarter of it, and the rest was graced only with a desk, a closet, and of course the door to my bathroom. I decided to pull my chair over to my window. I opened the thing, sat down, and made it my goal to smoke until I noticed something.

Should be easy enough, I thought, and took my second long, drawn out pull. It took a few minutes of sitting and puffing to go through a whole cigarette. I was slow and methodical with it. And all throughout it, I was repeating my process. Looking first at my hands, then my chest, then my legs. Just to see if anything had changed. By the end of that first cigarette, I wasn’t noticing anything. My hands were still mine, my body was still mine. I had remained unchanged. So I pulled out my phone, went to take a note, and that’s when I saw it.

My reflection, on the black screen. It was different. But with the glare of the sun coming through the window, the specifications on that difference were lost to me. So I stood up, with more than a little excitement, and made my way to my bathroom to get a nice look in the mirror.

Oh, what a look it was. They weren’t lying.

She was so blue. So blue it attacked the senses. Her bright blue lipstick, her hair. Her nails. Her dress. Her eyes, too. Blue from top to bottom, except for the hue of her skin, which was this pale, pale white. Her hair and dress made me think she wouldn’t look out of place in the roaring ‘20s. That, and her posture. The way she favored one foot, and how she held her cigarette in such a fancy, seductive way.

But then, I realized, I was doing that.

I quickly corrected. Right. This was my reflection, even if it looked different. I held my hand out in front of me. No, in the real world, my nails weren’t painted. In the reflection, however, my movements were copied exactly by the lady.

I let out a laugh.

What could I say? It was novel. I took out my phone and opened my notes, chuckling again as I saw her long azure nails whenever the screen turned black. “First full cig,” I wrote, “reflection looks like her.”

Her. I paused at the word choice. Looking back up at the mirror, and leaning over my sink, I got a good look, deep into her eyes. Who was she? Did she exist at some point? Maybe, maybe not. With skips, it was of equal likelihood that she could be a ghost or an invention. Maybe these cigarettes were supposed to be some kind of work of art. Who knew. That wasn’t my job to know. My job was just to test it out.

And so it occurred to me, because I was trying to record all the mental effects, that maybe I should write down that she looked familiar.

I walked out of the bathroom, and took the cigarettes with me down the stairs. I opened my front door, and decided to take a short stroll around my house, just walking through my mismanaged gardens I’d let overgrow. Suddenly, for some reason, I decided that I didn’t want to be cooped up in that place.

There was a feeling I was trying to ignore, and I thought maybe a change of scenery could make it go away.

I took out my phone, and made a note: “Woman feels familiar. Beginning second cigarette.”

I lifted the thing to my mouth, and took a pull. The blue smoke that came out of my nose dissipated into the late afternoon sun, which was soon to set over the trees, making the shadows long and the air chill.

Her. I thought it again. The documentation never specified any emotions that subjects felt towards the blue lady they slowly began to perceive themselves as. Was this an entirely personal experience? It was strange. Of course, with stress tinting my thoughts, I began to instinctively bring the cigarette to my mouth.

Familiar. She seemed intimately… familiar. Which was odd, because I definitely didn’t know any blue women, nor was I very versed on the ‘20s. So it must have been something else. Something in her face, then.

I caught myself looking at her face in the reflection on my phone. Yes, that was it.

She faintly resembled someone I used to know.

A crush, actually. From high school.

I figured out where she took her lunches by asking around. Wasn’t very hard to find. What I was surprised to find out, when I walked behind the gym to take my first peek, was that, there on the asphalt of the basketball courts, she smoked.

It wasn’t peer pressure. Not directly, anyways. I just wanted to impress her. I wanted to infiltrate her group, and you know what they all did? They smoked. So, my dad had cigs, I figured hey, there was an easy solution to my issue.

And when I did eventually ask her out, she said no, of course, ‘cause I was some weird short kid who she didn’t know at all, or maybe she was just mean, I don’t really have the energy to spend to reason that out. But that was that. She moved, and then sophomore year and onward I just. Still smoked.

I still smoke now. Habits die hard, or something like that. Looking at her reflection, it wasn’t even an uncanny resemblance. They were different people, certainly. But wasn’t it a strange coincidence, that the woman who made me smoke looked like the woman I was smoking?

It bothered me. So I put the phone away. I rose the cigarette to my mouth, and puffed.

Someone more reasonable than me might have been self-conscious about smoking in the first place, but I’ve never felt particularly upset at the self-destruction. No. What bothered me about smoking was that it never felt like me. It always, inevitably, felt like her.

That was one thing I truly appreciated about working at the Foundation. The privacy of it all. Hell, I barely interacted with other human beings entirely. They were nearly cut out of my life. Paperwork and high risk for good pay. Sounds like a deal made in heaven even now.

So it began to weigh on me, as I rounded the corner on my house, that I had just unknowingly committed to a weekend of… reminders.

I pulled out my phone: “Second cigarette. No noticeable difference. Will update when something changes.”

I ended up circling around to this old fountain that was on the property. It was full of water, but it wasn’t running, because it, like the rest of my house, was left relatively unmaintained since I purchased it. The stagnant water had some little fish in it and I was always slightly curious how they survived.

I nearly raised another cigarette to my lips, but… no. I tucked it back into the case, and pocketed it. Usually, smoking calmed my nerves. That day, things were different. I stood up, went inside, and went to bed early.

I think, in retrospect, that might have been a bad idea. Because that night, I had my worst dream in a long, long time. Mind-affecting anomaly plus sleep? The time when your mind is at its most vulnerable? It seems so obvious looking back. It’s been difficult to sleep ever since.

In fact, excuse me, but. I don’t want to talk about it.

Besides, you’re likely more interested in what happened next.

I woke up, as people often do from nightmares — screaming.

Sweat was so thick my clothes were sticking to my body, except I couldn’t quite tell where. My body map was so… I couldn’t tell where my clothes were, or what I was wearing exactly, I could just feel that horrible sticking to skin, that moisture that had collected from everywhere along my body. And I found myself on all fours, hands straddling my pillow that I was screaming down into, knees behind me, and as I looked down, all I could see was the barely moonlit darkness of my room and the… the smudges on the pillow. When I came to enough to realize I was awake, that things were… better, if not okay, I uh, I reached my hand over, and I pulled my phone off of my nightstand, and I couldn’t help but turn the flashlight on, and that pillow, so smudged, I saw…

Ash. Little bits of ash, all around my bed, and, uh. Stains. Blue… stains of blue lipstick.

I wiped at my lips instinctively, and I accidentally, I uh, ah god damn it. I accidentally s-scratched myself, with the nails, right? I had — she has such long nails, right? Thank fucking god I lived alone, because I couldn’t handle it, the file said that a full, uhh that a full transformation would take, like. Well I don’t remember but this was fast. So much faster than I was expecting.

So I wasn’t thinking straight, and the first thing I do when I’m not thinking straight is I take a smoke because that’s just the kind of guy I am. So I grabbed the cigarettes, I scrambled for my lighter, and when I flicked the flame on, I flinched and dropped it, because in the reflect— in the — ahem, sorry, in the reflection the face I saw wasn’t fucking, it wasn’t, well it wasn’t her exactly.

But it wasn’t me either.

It wasn’t… well, it was…

No, I don’t want to talk about it. Well and truly. It doesn’t mean anything to you, it won’t mean anything to you. Except.

There’s a reason that my door’s always closed and locked, and that I take my lunches in my office. The paperwork, sprawled across my desk. There’s a reason my house is big and empty. There’s a reason I’m not going to like you and you’re not going to like me.

I hate smoking because she made me do it. Every time I bring that thing to my mouth, I’m just reminded. Reminded that if she hadn’t smoked, I wouldn’t have smoked. Reminded that if my dad hadn’t had cigarettes, I wouldn’t have had cigarettes. That if my mom didn’t tell me to wear polos, I never would have. If my teacher hadn’t told me how to do math equations, I wouldn’t know.

So what did I do? What part of me… is me?

So that’s what I saw, looking at the reflection in the lighter. I saw, I saw her in me. But not just her. I saw everyone.

So that first scratch? I uh, I guess I uh, I exacerbated it, didn’t I? She has such long nails, you know, such… long nails. And I thought if I didn’t want to look like her, than I’d rather look… like no one, right?

But it didn’t work. Every time I look in the mirror, she’s there. Pristine. It’s just my face, my skin that’s gone. I’m still her, in a way.

Well, there is one good thing that’s come of this. You know, smoking, terrible habit, right? Well now, I can’t even look at them. Isn’t that crazy? Just thinking about them makes me nauseous.

So that’s a good thing, right? Heheh. Self-improvement or, or something like that. And she made me smoke, so, that can’t have been her right? I did that. Right?

I’m not sure, to be honest with you.

I don’t know.

I hope it was me.

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