Live Air
rating: +5+x

Having seen the fence of the Zone through the windshield of the armored jeep, Malburg sighed hopelessly and leaned back in his seat. Three-foot tall indecent inscriptions along with illustrations for them have not disappeared yet. He remembered fighting like a lion to leave memetic protection the territory the Seven and its vicinity, and almost getting into brawl with his counterpart from Nineteen over it, but to no avail. Although he understood that now there was no choice. The defense had to be removed, and instead of the dull box of Corporate Business Industries International, civilians had the pleasure of seeing the Zone Seven, resembling a huge fancy cylinder from the outside.

“There is some rally at the entrance again,” the driver said compassionately and, without waiting for instructions, turned onto a bypass road.

“Go to the back door,” Malburg ordered belatedly, nodded to himself and buried himself again in a thick, heavy file lying on his lap. It was daily schedule - a pile of scrap paper, because everything still won’t go according to plan…

His assumptions were confirmed almost immediately. At the back door there already was a large group — or rather, a small crowd — of civilians. Mostly with cameras. Paparazzi. Malburg confusedly smiled to himself in the rear view mirror and returned the bored expression on his face. The jeep stopped. The guard jumped out and rushed to the Malburg’s door, but he was beaten to it, and the head of the department, getting out of the car, almost crushed someone's leg. Flashes of cameras snapped. The reporters were excitedly talking. Malburg narrowed his eyes, not covering them with his hand, and began to smile again.

“Good day everyone, good day… Sorry, I am in a hurry, no, no, what?.. Wait for an official statement. Take pictures? Of course you can. As if I can stop you…” a lighthearted laugh, “No, I have no right to comment on this issue, wait for the press conference. Well, I sympathize with you very much, you’ll get to the next one…”

Flashes were striking from all the sides. God knows what they will come up with in the tabloids. Today's linen suit was not too expensive, but not cheap; brand shoes, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to make out the icon, but the cufflinks are a catastrophe, and why did he choose these cufflinks for the sake of all… Distracted by soothing thoughts about style, Malburg, accompanied by security, has finally reached the saving entrance and with dignity (but very swiftly) entered the building. SMACK! Something hard and brittle at the same time hit his back with a disgusting sound, the guards slammed the door behind him, but it was too late. Malburg pulled the jacket off and glared at the stain from a rotten egg.

Dammit.


The host asked another question with the expression of a butcher who damn likes his work:

"What are your comments on the recent rallies regarding the demand to release these political prisoners from 'containment' by your Foundation?"

“You see, we are not related to the judicial system. I very much respect the active citizenship of the protesters, but they were likely misinformed.”

“Well, if you were following the news, then you yourself might have noticed that people are mostly demanding the release of a person who is held by your organization as object number 11001. Judging by the available sources, he is no different from other people except his past political activity in South-Eastern Asia. Could you enlighten our viewers about the aspects of this case?”

Malburg sighed shortly.

“This is not a political prisoner. This is not a human at all. Now any research institute can request comprehensive reports in our scientific department. As I see, you had little preparation time?”

The host of the show smiled radiantly, without reaction to the quip.

“It’s just extremely important for our viewers to get opinion from a source that is reliable and close to the subject. By the way, since you yourself have already started talking about the judicial enforcement system: if the Foundation has nothing to do with it, then how do you recruit employees in penitentiary institutions? Especially since, according to the available information, almost all of them died during their “work”?”

“We really invite prisoners for voluntary cooperation, warning them that our work is dangerous,” explained Malburg, while mentally addressing not wholly decent expressions to the host and his habit of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. “But we have the right to do so, since we ourselves are risking no less.”

On the host's face appeared such interest, as if he was just thinking about whether to enlist into D-Class.

“Oh, and under what conditions do they agree to such risky labor? Don’t misunderstand me, but mass manifestation of selfless dedication among this category of people seems very unlikely.”

“I'm afraid I have no right to disclose the terms of contracts,” the head of external affairs confessed with a lean face, “there is such a thing as confidentiality. But I assure you, you would also agree!”

In response he got just a very satisfied smile, which did not bode well.

“Oh, no doubt. But after all the consent of the prisoners themselves is not enough, you know. It is necessary to actually get them out of detention places, and your Organization, as far as I understand, succeeds in that without any difficulty. Don’t you think that this is clearly contradicts with your recent assertions about the lack of relation to the judicial-executive system?”

“Not at all.” Malburg remained calm. “We don’t perform law enforcement functions in any way; we are scientists, researchers, not law enforcement officers and, of course, not jailers. Yes, we have treaties with some prisons, but, I assure you, prisoner cooperation has been and remains voluntary.”

“So you, being an unaccountable branch of a foreign organization, whose goals are not fully known and clear, using the “agreements” with prisons, are dragging out free the most dangerous criminals, right? And all this is explained only by vague phrases about the good of mankind.”

“With your permission, I will not disregard the theses put forward by you, so that everyone has an adequate idea of ​​our activity. First, the SCP Organization is international and decentralized. It is hardly appropriate to talk about it’s “foreignness” - Malburg smiled to the camera. “Secondly, the criminals don’t get freedom - they, let's say, participate in correctional work under strict supervision. And finally, we have educational brochures in which our goals are fully disclosed. We are ready to provide them to everyone interested.”

The presenter, smiling indulgently, looked at the guest as if Malburg had come to his house with an offer to buy a miracle vacuum cleaner.

“Well, living in Russia, we would both know perfectly, how the contents of different brochures sometimes differ from reality…”


The Department of External Affairs had got it the worst. Such blows were unheard of. Employees of the department dealt with all the hardships quickly, gracefully and cheerfully, and then continued to chuckle in smoking rooms and in the dining room over the other services, which were always running from pillar to pole. Now only pale ghosts were left from cheerful "externs", who flickered in the corridors, appeared somewhere and immediately vanished, answered constant phone calls with lifeless voices, and also made petty revenge to the other departments — the ridiculous message about abnormal activity would be transferred to the scientific service, then they would send a task force to the address of the next prank call. Ghosts vaguely hoped for suspension or dismissal, even with amnestics, but the punishment for this acts of revenge was much more cruel - they were given double load and extra charge so that there was no chance to refuse.

The externs’ revenge on their own boss was far more sophisticated, and most importantly - completely legitimate. About every hundredth call was directed to him. His secretary managed half of them, but as a result, the phone still rang nonstop. That is - at all.

Malburg anxiously glanced into his reception room. In the office the phone was already ringing. Nina put the handset away from her mouth like if preparing to begin a one and a half hour briefing, and the head of the department, leaving the briefcase at the door, hurriedly retreated.

Ten meters from the office, an indifferent “Hello” resounded behind the left shoulder, and Malburg didn’t even need to turn around and wait until the unknown and inconspicuous clerk would take off his tie.

“Tharnis, what do we have?”

“FSB Deputy Director and SMF Colonel. Need to talk to Dr. Lemis. And one more meeting.”

“Exactly in that order? For a start I’d…”

“These are appointments scheduled for ten AM.”

“But how would I…”

“Don’t know.”

Malburg waved his hand in annoyance and quickened his pace, heading for the conference room.


“Here, for example, several names of organizations” Sounded at the fortieth minute of the air, now more reminiscent of the third degree. “with which your Foundation is fighting, as you assure, trying to defend the future of the planet: Serpent’s Hand, Meat Circus2, Dr. Wondertainment… Do not take for distrust to this information, but to the majority of our viewers such nicknames will remind only of comic book villains.”

Malburg was terribly thirsty, but his throat was not dry, and taking a sip from a glass of water was like to demonstrate your own nervousness. He was not nervous, but who would believe … Familiar names made him smile again.

“As long as the Organization is in business, you can be afraid of the personalities you mentioned no more than of the comic book villains.”

The host grinned with anticipation.

“So it’s just that many independent sources insist that even without your Organization, humanity would have nothing to fear. For example, on the basis of the documentation that came into general possession, even such a respected in certain circles society as the club “Marshall, Carter and Dark Limited” was recorded as enemies of the Foundation. Is an antique auction a threat to the human race?”

“I'm afraid you are poorly informed. This so-called "club" is engaged in illegal trade, including anomalous drugs, weapons and even people!” Malburg shook his head disapprovingly. “Many of its members are associated with organized crime. Pursuing one goal - enrichment,
they can easily sell the most powerful anomalous weapons of mass destruction. Our duty is to prevent that.”

The counter look was no less judgmental. It was evident that both interlocutors had a worthy practice in this matter.

“I don’t think that it is appropriate to make such statements without having solid evidence. Or in the absence of the representative of the opposite side, anyway. And you?”

It has become clear to Malburg what will happen next, and he braced himself, like a predator, ready for a dangerous fight with another predator. The voice sounded immaculately courtesy:

“Ready to repeat and prove these statements in the presence of a member of the club.”

For the host’s smile, turned to the camera, for sure somewhere there were technical standards.

“Well, in this case, we welcome in our studio the official representative of the club "Marshall, Carter and Dark, Limited", Julia Lvovna Hadzhiyskaya!”

An impressive brown-haired woman entered the studio proudly and not without grace. Malburg even with his trained eye couldn’t determine her age, but he discerned barely noticeable traces of numerous plastics, cosmetic procedures, and possibly other means available to the Club. She was wearing a rather strict suit, that at the same time did not hide her curvy forms and was clearly capable of competing in cost with the contents of wardrobe of DEA’s head. Hadzhiyskaya had a pretty face of a serious, but naive girl, but in her eyes, framed by lush eyelashes, Malburg saw the cold calculus of a professional killer, who came after him. Approaching the podium and graciously greeting the host, Julia turned to Ged and said dryly:

“Hello.”

“Good evening, Julia… uh… Lvovna.” Malburg responded tenderly.

The representative of the club frowned slightly at such a greeting, but, unfortunately, did not disappear. The presenter immediately turned to her:

“Julia, you heard the whole discussion in the waiting room?”

She nodded shortly.

“Yes of course. As head of the Public Affairs Division, I can say that the club will not make any complaints against Mr. Malburg’s statements, despite numerous… incidents related to the Organization, which he represents here.”

Malburg looked at her with irony, waiting for an invitation to speak. Noticing this, the host immediately turned to the guest.

“Seems like you wanted to repeat and prove your claims?”

“Still ready to do this,” said head of external affairs, and boldly taking a glass, took a sip of water.


Dr. Lemis, had pity and moved the meeting, and the “one more meeting,” appointed by Tarnis, limited itself to an exhausted man in a checkered suit looking Malburg in the eyes for twenty seconds, then saying: “Tsagn” and leaving the conference hall. So by noon, Malburg had already managed to lock himself in his office and from time to time answered calls.
While the interlocutor was speaking (most often in an angry and verbose manner), the head of the department managed to pour in some more nutrient mixture and sign a few more papers.

- …everyone’s on strike! As soon as we learned that we are a shell corporation… I already fined and rewarded, I don’t have any idea what to do, take some actions…

Like what?

“Call shell corporation section.”

“Young man, I have already been redirected five times! Am I gonna be told anything or what?!”

“I'm actually the head of the department. Call in SCS. Have a nice day.”

Click. Overtime orders. "Due to the production requirements, I’m asking…" Quite a serious stack. Enough for two or three more calls. And here is another call.

“…come on, redirect, I’ll tell him everything right now! I will complain!”

“Good day.”

“Oh… Hello. I am the mother of Vladimir Nikitenko, he was taken out of prison, seems to be transferred to you, how is he?”

How would I know?

“In good health, do not worry.”

“Oh, can I see him?”

“Not yet, visits are prohibited. Have a nice day.”

“I have rights! I will com…”

Click. Ring.

“You already here? Good news.” The voice of a friend from the group of effective interaction with the population sounded unexpectedly joyful. “Another D-Class wife assures that he called her. And he has been missing in a space-time anomaly for three years now.”

“Awesome! Redirect to the science department.”

Click. Malburg stretched with pleasure and rubbed his hands. That's better. The phone rang again - just three seconds of respite, well…

“Hello, Malburg. Did you receive the documents?”

“Um… What documents?”

“Oh, Jesus.” The interlocutor sighed irritably. “This is from the Nineteen. Did the documents arrive?”

“WHAT documents?”

“O'rite, we’ll send them again. Check out immediately, we are waiting for a response. And you understand that you need to work on inter-regional correspondence coordination? Well, good luck.”

Click. And silence. Malburg, without thinking twice, stuck to the bottle with the nutrient mixture. There was a Cognac Lheraud label on the bottle - reputation had to be maintained. The phone rang again.

“Hi! We have an object here, it needs to be… phaha… contained… Send a task force!”

“We ain’t going to contain your dick, young man.”

“Do you remember me?” Rejoiced teenager on the other end. Somewhere nearby, his friends giggled.

“I was told. That’s all, don’t bother us.”

Click. Ring.


It has been almost an hour since the beginning of the broadcast. Malburg, having already drained his glass of water and no longer having the opportunity to cool down, went on the offensive.

“I hope you will not deny that your… firm uses methods that are not completely clean, including morally?” With obvious irony, he asked Julia.

One of the immaculate eyebrows of the Club representative rose up. An expression of misunderstanding appeared on her face.

“What do you mean?”

"Blackmail, bribery, political killings, trade in prohibited types of goods … I think you know better than me."

Now the other eyebrow has risen.

“Why so? Some of our clients have actually gotten into quite delicate situations, but in all known cases their membership was suspended until the final resolution of the issues that arose. We by all means support the impeccable reputation of the Club, otherwise it would not have existed for so long. With regard to the rest of your claims, all of our activities, unlike other organizations,” A shadow of a scornful smile slipped across her face “has always been and remains absolutely transparent and is controlled accordingly.”

“Well, we all know how long the cosa nostra existed, don't we? Unfortunately, not only honest organizations survive in our imperfect world. I remember how one club have put up an interesting thing at the "antique auction" at a modest price of more than a million euros - a collar with handcuffs, in which every day there was a random person.3 It could be you.” Malburg looked at the host. “Or me. Or any of those who now hear us. Few died their own death… Gentlemen love such entertainment, don’t they, Yulia Lvovna?” He looked at the camera. “This object is stored by us. Because our goal is to secure, contain and protect, and not to indulge in disgusting barbaric entertainments.

"Indeed, in these turbulent times, it is very difficult to conduct honest business." Julia sighed with regret. "For example, some time ago, some bandits attacked one of the club’s warehouses. They cruelly killed the guards before they managed to report the attack, picked clean everything that was stored there. We were saved from bankruptcy only by the fact that everything was insured. So, among the stolen items, there really was an object very similar to that described by Mr. Malburg. The working conditions of such artifacts are sometimes very specific, and due to the fact that the Club, as a matter of principle, does not involve people in the testing of items with dangerous or unknown properties, a large number of them remain gathering dust in warehouses in an inactive state, of course, in no case being put up for auction. However, if something had such terrible anomalous properties as those that Mr. Malburg had previously described, then all forces and means would be thrown at destroying or deactivating it. Undoubtedly the Foundation did the same as soon as it received this artifact, did it, Mr. Malburg?” With these words, she looked him directly in the eyes. The cold calculation was still read in them, but Julia's lips were touched by a smile, visible only to the head of the DEA. “You don't let these poor people die in these handcuffs day after day, do you?”

“No, we do not allow it, Julia Lvovna,” Malburg reassured her. “And tell me, when the police take drugs and guns from the bandits during a raid, is this called a robbery?”

“Well, I am very glad that this time you deviated from your usual methods in favor of common sense.” Julia parried coldly, “As for the robbery, the police arrest people, not pump them full of bullets, and certainly they don’t brainwash witnesses. Do you have anything to say?

Malburg had a lot to say.


"Have a nice day", two more signatures and another call. This time, nothing articulate from the tube came. The phone suddenly burned his hand and Malburg, throwing it on the table, found that the white plastic began to melt and turn blue. This has really infuriated him, and before he could even think with gloomy joy that now there could be no calls,
when suddenly the phone rang again. He automatically took the cooling handset. Someone’s terribly familiar mocking voice reported:

“… if anyone asks, we do not plan any actions in relation to the CBG in West Africa. Reason: The Sahara is large enough, and the sand grinds gears well…”

Malburg threw the handset down, took a sip from the bottle and, running his fingers through his hair, continued to sign the papers. Ignoring the locked door, an unknown clerk poked into the office:

“Breaking in from neighbouring dimensions again? I’ll fix it.”

Watching the clerk turning the blue-colored phone in his hands, Malburg thought with anguish that if it continued that way, he wouldn’t last long. He needed a break. With such a load it was impossible to handle it all with just a glass of whiskey. A respite, just a day, half a day, a few hours - and he will be back in the ranks, fresh, determined, energetic …

The Savior entered without knocking. In this hour of despair, he became a blonde in a black suit, strangely similar to his secretary Nina.

“Sorry to interrupt” The Savior said, casting an indifferent glance at the clerk. “In two hours you should be in the studio. Live air. Here are the materials.” The Savior threw a red thin folder to Malburg, who has brightened right along.

Nina went to answer the calls, the clerk kept turning the phone around, and Malburg, flipping through the materials, thought about how well things sometimes turned. Live air. This is a decent program, without stupid calls from the viewers, which means that he will have a maximum of a couple of interlocutors, and a buffet table behind the set, and a sweet TV host,
whose pretty head is probably not crammed with gloomy rumors and prejudices, and a couple of hours after the broadcast, waiting for the return plane …

A miracle, miracle indeed.


“You’ve mistaken us for someone else,” Malburg once again said sincerely, looking at Julia. The dispute about who has started it all was already about fifteen minutes. Yulia's voice was ringing with metal, the head of the Organization's DEA chose the tactic of condescending kindness. “Our combat units always act strictly according to the protocol, I read reports.
Your people were the first to open fire, and it was all so typical that I was surprised that they were shooting not from tommy guns.”

Guest’s answer was full of resentment.

“Well, of course, the reports of your operatives should be believed unconditionally, because there is no one to refute! You’ve probably also awarded them for the murder of people armed only with batons and their own courage!”

The host put his hand on her shoulder:

“Julia, you shouldn’t, just remember why we are here.”

The eyes of the woman which were absolutely dry a second ago, as if on cue, filled with tears and glittered in the frame. There was a heavy sigh.

“Yes of course. It just hurts to remember. The club provides adequate compensation to the families of the deceased workers, but for some things it is not enough. One of the killed guards had a four-year-old son, Petya, his father was trying to earn enough for his operation.”
Fingers with a perfect manicure got a silk handkerchief and a small photo out of her pocket. The first Julia pressed to her eyes, the second put under Malburg’s nose. “Here! See who your thugs have doomed to a slow and painful death!”

The head of external affairs became gloomy when Julia began to resent, realizing that from an emotional point of view he had little means against female resentment, and even less so against tears. He glanced briefly at the photo and then automatically looked away, feeling the characteristic light dizziness and confusion of thoughts. Tone, in which he addressed the host, now sounded a bit reproachful:

“Please, this turns into a farce. People with photos of little sick children go through trains, and don’t participate in live broadcast.”

The host gently turned the guest, not tearing the handkerchief from her eyes, to the exit.

“It’s true, Julia, go, you need to calm down.” In response, she sobbed and withdrew readily, and the presenter turned back to the main interlocutor. The photo remained to lie in front of Malburg. “I apologize for the scene, however, the fate of Petya, although not directly related to the topic of our conversation, is very important to our audience.” He sent a look designed to melt a stone heart to the camera. “Dear TV viewers, little boy Petya is very seriously ill, but fortunately, he is curable. He really needs your help. Right now in the upper right corner of the screen you will see his photo, send a text message with the word "Petya" to the short number below it and make a modest donation for a good cause. Together we will save the boy's life!” After that, the host turned to the guest again, instantly returning his face to the former hospitable expression. “Well, with this finished, back to the subject of the broadcast. Tell me honestly, Mr. Malburg, do you like working in your Organization?”

“Indeed. It is my honor to protect the safety and tranquility of the citizens of the whole world.”

Slow ironic applause would be best suited to the response indulgent smile.

“Well, quite commendable. And how did your parents and friends feel about the work so respected but full of dangers?”

The guest blinked, trying to concentrate. His head was spinning more and more.

“Parents? Well, of course, they were glad…”

The host's smile widened.

“Really? Would you tell me then when have you last seen them? Or talked to them? As far as I remember from the leaked data, your Organization has very severe restrictions regarding contacts with relatives and friends.”

Now Malburg himself wondered why, for the first time in many years, he even remembered the existence of his parents. However, he has lied unperturbed, as always:

“Well, at this New Year’s eve we had a dinner… Two hours.”

“Why so uncertain?” Asked the host not without venom in his voice. “Hard to remember? This is no good way to treat rare meetings with relatives. If there were any meetings. Mr. Malburg, did it seem to you that for organizations with such size, number of options and such level of secrecy as yours, it would be extremely impractical to keep control of what slips from the tongue of employees at home? It is much easier and more convenient to make sure that they do not have a home. You never thought that with the presence of amnestics, potent memagents, and other things, you could make anyone into your present self - unconditionally devoted and not thinking about anything and anyone except work?” The smile became wider and wider. “Don’t lie to yourself, Mr. Malburg, you haven’t met your parents for many years and you don’t even remember them, and they don’t know that they even had a son. If they are still alive, of course.”

During the monologue of the host, his interlocutor leaned forward several times, trying to interrupt him, but he didn’t succeed - the microphone was muffled, or what? At some point, he again squinted at the picture of the boy. Something painfully clenched in the back of his head, and the mental images that he held in his head began to blur. Malburg forced himself to look away and collect his thoughts. "They are still transmitting the photo." As a past field agent, he sensed great danger, but he needed to respond, and he answered, not really delving into what he was saying, concentrating on assessing the situation.

“What kind of horrible assumptions do you make? I remember my parents and I am sure that they are alive. Yes, we communicate little, and I regret it, but I work a lot, and they understand it, understand why I never talk to them about work… The essence of our secrecy is that a person capable of giving out confidential information family will never be accessi…
have access to this information. Failures - one in a million, and then we, of course, try to hush up the matter. But it never happened that we would use violence if we can do without it.”

However, the host didn’t even pretend that he was interested in the guest's answers anymore. As well as in the camera, viewers and ratings.

“Calm down, Mr. Malburg, there’s no need for scenes and melodrama. Your time is already running out. And even more so, why be so nervous when everything has changed so much?” On this phrase, in his grin, for the first time on the air, sincere joy finally flashed - the joy of a madman. “No more secrets, no expunged data and denied access to protocols, memory erasing and everyone’s lies. Now everything is open for everyone, and the world will never be the same.” Without interrupting his speech, he went to the podium, stood opposite Malburg, leaning his hands on it and stared into his eyes with a look full of strange curiosity.

“So, Mr. Malburg, in this regard, if you please, answer on one simple question. Are we cool yet?

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