The Square Root of Negative One

Dr. Cotton leaned back in his leather office chair, adjusting the vest coat of his three-piece suit, looking very much the picture of a quintessential psychiatrist. Nearby, a pair of large orderlies watched over the room with the passive vigilance of bar bouncers. "I think we should talk about Edgar today," the doctor suggested, calmly, pushing his glasses up his nose as he watched Patient 46 sitting across from him, arms wrapped up in a straitjacket, "don't you?"

"Edgar is dead," sniffed Patient 46. "I blew a hole in the back of his skull, and then I fucked that hole with my fist."

For the umpteenth time, Dr. Cotton suppressed his overwhelming urge to sigh heavily. It was always like this during the sessions with Patient 46 now, and had been for at least three months. "Alright," Dr. Cotton said, "but let's talk about him regardless. What do you remember about Edgar?"

"Weak-willed, pussy-pants little fuckshit," said Patient 46.

Dr. Cotton asked, "What makes you react with such hostility towards his name?"

"He was useless," spat Patient 46. "Self-important, too-smug, cowardly little pussface."

"Tell me about your earliest memory of Edgar," pressed Dr. Cotton, firmly but gently.

"Why do you give a shit?" yelled Patient 46, becoming increasingly agitated; the orderlies gave a wary look, but Dr. Cotton shook his head at them. "Why don't you ask me about something interesting," continued Patient 46, "like how to kill SCP-682? It's actually much simpler than you'd think. I devised the method years ago. Elegant solution, like Fermat's Last Theorem."

"I think it's important that we talk about Edgar," said Dr. Cotton. "Why are you so angry with him? What did he do to deserve so much spite?"

Patient 46 leaned forward, as if to point with his bound arms; his eyes were faraway with burning rage. "He challenged me. You understand that? He challenged me. Nobody, nobody challenges Dr. Alto Clef."

Dr. Cotton nodded once, slowly. "How did he challenge you, exactly?"

"Tried to kill me," hissed Patient 46, squinting his eyes. "Tried to take me away from the Foundation. From my job. Unprofessional. Couldn't allow that. Had to eliminate the little shit."

Dr. Cotton nodded again. "How was he able to accomplish this?"

"He got to them!" shouted Patient 46. "He's a wiry little fuck, treacherous, sniveling. He got into their heads. First it was Gears. Should have seen it sooner, twisted him 'round, turned him against me. Had to hide, Gears was too powerful. He runs the Foundation directly, you know, under the direction of the Oversight committee."

"You've mentioned that, yes," said Dr. Cotton. "Dr. Gears is a fantastically brilliant scientist, an intellect without equal, presented behind a cold, calculating, terse veneer."

"He got to him," repeated Patient 46, bobbing his head up and down. "Had to hide, but I knew where. Had an ally in Rights, always helpful. She's got this whole mother-figure thing, can't help doing things for people in need."

"And then she turned on you, too," mused Dr. Cotton.

"Yes!" Patient 46 shouted. "He turned them all against me! Yoric, Bijhan, Iceberg, Break, all of them!"

"Doesn't it seem a little strange to you," asked Dr. Cotton, "that a man with the intellect and emotional detachment of Dr. Gears could be so easily tricked by a man you claim to be useless, cowardly, pathetic?"

Patient 46 stopped, peering at Dr. Cotton in terse silence, trying to gauge this new direction, his eyes suspicious and piercing.

"It doesn't make sense," continued Dr. Cotton. "You told me that the Foundation was a powerful shadow agency with sites all over the world. How could one useless coward take you away from—"

"He poisons their minds!" shouted Patient 46, cutting the doctor off. "I can see he's poisoned you, too, hasn't he? He hates me, he wants me dead!"

"'Hates' you?" posited Dr. Cotton. "That's present tense. You said you'd killed him. How can he hate you when he's dead?"

"Lies," hissed Patient 46, rocking back and forth in his chair, "lies, all of it! You're in league with him, you treacherous fuck!"

"Because Edgar's not dead, is he?" pressed Dr. Cotton. "He's right here in this room. He's sitting in your chair."

"NO!" screamed Patient 46. "Edgar is dead! He deserves to be dead! It's me, Dr. Alto Clef, who is alive! I will never die! NEVER!"

"Dr. Clef isn't real, Edgar," continued Dr. Cotton. "You made him up, as a character in a game you and your friends played. Your best friend, Leroy Fiedler, came up with the idea: a secret government agency to handle threats to the human race. He played the character of Dr. Gears. His girlfriend, Tabitha Collingwood, played Dr. Rights. Your friend James Bailey played the rogue agent Bijhan."

"Lies, lies, lies!" shouted Patient 46, over and over. "Filthy son of a bitch, you can't kill me!"

"Gradually," Dr. Cotton went on, "you found yourself slipping away from your best friend as more of his time and attention was given to Tabitha. Depressed, you retreated into the fantasy of the game, becoming increasingly obsessed with it, insisting on more frequent game nights, until your friends couldn't abide your unreasonable demands. They abandoned you, and your fraying sanity finally snapped…"

"I'll fucking kill you!" screamed Patient 46, lunging out of the chair. The orderlies grabbed the wiry little man, restraining him as he thrashed and shrieked in blind fury.

Dr. Cotton allowed himself a long-deserved sigh. "I can see we're not going to make any more progress today. We'll try again tomorrow."

With a motion from the doctor, the orderlies took Patient 46 to his room. As they dragged him away, past the muted stammers and mad shouts of the other patients of the ward, Patient 46's furious screams rang through the sterile hallways: "BASTARDS! I'll fucking destroy you, all of you! You think you can kill Dr. Alto Clef? I will never die! Never, you hear me? I am magnificent! Magnificent! MAGNIFICENT!"

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