Journeys: The Story of Dane
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"Good evening. My name is Dane Aisling as I'll be serving as your arbitration officer today."

"Doctors," Dane said, shaking the hands of Doctors Tamino, Alfa and Racey. "Assistant Director Kamon." Dane shook his hand as well, and they all sat down, Kamon across the table from the doctors and Dane at the head of the table. Elanor, quietly typing on a Foundation laptop, sat at his side. "This is Elanor Jones, also from Human Resources. Let's begin. This should just be some general policy overview and I think we should be able to sort this out relatively quickly."

The doctors looked between each other and nodded.

"To make sure I understand the issue correctly," Dane said, the warm tones of his English accent visibly relaxing the researchers before him, "An unanticipated side effect of a breakdown of SCP-1979 has caused unexpected dilation of time in the offices of these three researchers, which are situated near to where experimentation was taking place. As a result, each of them experienced a period of time during one experiment at a different rate than their peers. And," Dane glanced down at the notes in his leather-bound notebook, painstakingly written with a fountain pen, "based on the calculations of Dr. Racey, they each believe they are entitled to approximately 394 hours of additional compensation as non-exempt employees. And to this, Assistant Director Kamon disagrees."

They nodded.

"So we are clear," Dane said to the doctors, "You each experienced about three hours locally. Meanwhile, outside the anomalous bubble, 397 hours passed. And you wish to be paid for that time, despite not actually having worked a period which equals those hours."

They nodded again, but there was more hesitation. The edges of Kamon's mouth twitched.

"And Assistant Director Kamon, you reject this assertion as a fundamental misunderstanding caused by, and I quote: 'silly Classical Mechanics nonsense.'"

Kamon didn't flinch. Elanor, meanwhile, suppressed a smile.

"That said, Foundation has a policy in regards to this kind of situation." Dane opened a folder in front of him; the paper inside had a photocopy of something resembling an employee handbook. "The Foundation's timeclock is managed by Human Resources, and maintains a particular standardized speed at a rate measurable in relation to baseline reality."1

Kamon was now the one to hesitate.

"The reason for this is very simple. While these three doctors may have only experienced hours, their obligations outside the Foundation have not. Bills, expenses, the milk in their refrigerators all experienced an additional 94 hours that they did not. So," Dane said, signing the bottom of the paper, "This arbitration finds that these three doctors are entitled to the requested compensation and related benefits."

The doctors all tried to hide their glee as Dane stood and shook their hands. He thanked them for their time and excused them from the room before addressing the Assistant Director, who was utterly seething.

"Pardon me, Assistant Director Kamon, I need to follow-up on one quick thing before we're done here." Dane resumed his seat. "I understand your frustration and why you initiated these proceedings. Part of your job is to handle your site's budget."

"Mhm."

"And had this case ruled in your favor it would have saved you over a thousand hours of personnel compensation. Somewhere in the ballpark of eighty thousand dollars in pay and benefits. Seems such a small amount, based on your Site's budget, am I right?"

"Director Byers," Kamon said with firm politeness, "Does not actually work in our building. He budgets us a small amount out of the main Site budget."

Dane nodded. "I know. And so a reduction of that size would leave more for you."

"For other things at the site," Kamon corrected. "Part of my job is to keep the bean-counters at the top happy. And that's what I'm doing."

Elanor spoke up for the first time, casually raising her hand to identify herself. "Hi, I'm the bean-counter at the top. And I'm not happy."

Dane nodded. "Assistant Director Kamon, we both know what those 'other things' you're talking about are. Let's call it 'discretionary'." His demeanor was pure camaraderie—two professionals just chatting.

Kamon wasn't having it. "What are you saying? Spit it out."

"Can you explain to me, Assistant Director, why exactly you changed the experiment schedule of SCP-1979? Perhaps you can also give me some clarity as to what the source of the treadmill's breakdown was."

Kamon bristled. "I do not abuse the resources of the Foundation. I don't know who you think you are, but I'm not going to stand for any accusations like that." Kamon gritted his teeth. "These are my offices, Mr. Human Resources. I know what this research costs and it costs more than money. I bet you've never gotten close to an anomaly in your while fuckin' life."

Dane chuckled, pulling a sheet from his folder with the word Disciplinary at the top. "You would be surprised."

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1733

The R. H. Commission on Unusual Cargo

Authorized by the Board of Regents of said Commission

Manifest # 3794

Curator: Hon. Dane William Aisling, Regent's Ward

Storage Instructions

Each copy of the material which may summon the Cargo is to be kept in a triple-locked archive at Lieu de rendez-vous No 56. These items currently consist of: five preserved copies of the 1640 quarto. At no time are any of these to be removed. Access to these profane documents are to be heavily monitored; absolutely no one is permitted to view these materials save for the Curator, whose duty it shall be to confirm the continued existence and security of said damning papers each fortnight.

Cargo Description

The Cargo is an unusual entity, manifesting only during the performance of a theatrical masterpiece entitled The Hanged King's Tragedy

Manifest Remarque 3

Having arrived at the designated place some time before noon, I entered the grand theatre by way of the front door, what had been torn partially from the frame and was left both ajar and askew. Within, the furnishings were upturned in disregard, and that unmistakable smell of death greeted me from within the gloom.

A young man, with whom I was unacquainted, met me within. He offered me his hand, and with it the first mode of recognition of a member of our Institution. I returned his handshake and with it identified myself in a like manner. Said business dispatched, we proceeded to the anteroom of the theatre. From there the extent of the unholy destruction wrought upon this place was clear.

"Elijah Wullen," the young man said as they entered the darkened theatre room. "It's a pleasure to have such an esteemed expert on these matters here, Warden Aisling. We do not know how best to handle this."

Dane removed a leather pouch from his coat and began to untie the tassel. "This is the ninth time the Commission has had to handle this kind of matter," he said quietly, removing a small gilt mirror.

"This time, at least, one of us with allegiance to the Commission recognized the signs of the creature's work." Wullen sounded pleased with this fact. Too pleased, Dane thought, given how the play's performance had ended. "You're familiar, then, with this manifest?"

Dane did not immediately reply, instead focusing his attention to the mirror, which he was slowly rotating as if to see something hiding in the darkness reflected on its surface. "I am," he finally replied after a few creeping minutes of silence. "And that is why I do not understand how this performance was able to go ahead in the first place. I would imagine that an agent of the Commission would have stepped in to prevent it." He put the mirror back in the leather bag and looked up at the younger agent. "There are supposed to be two Commission Yardsmen2 with the knowledge to recognize the beast's work."

Wullen shook his head. "I have only been in this city some short time. I know I have not met anyone at this theatre who identified themselves as such. Is it possible they abandoned their post?"

Dane reached down and picked up a small quarto, discarded on the floor and crusted over with the suburn stain of blood. He turned to the title page. The Hanged King's Tragedy, it read. 1640. Dane pulled a leather book from his pocket, glanced at a page, and then replaced it in his pocket. "How many dead, Mr. Wullen?"

Wullen solemnly averted his gaze to the floor. "Fifty-six."

Dane shook his head. "No, no. How many dead before the play began, Mr. Wullen?"

The young Commission agent took a slight step back. "Sir?"

"Because," Dane continued evenly, gesturing to the splatters of blood across the stage, "If the dead are to be believed—and I firmly believe they are—then something is even further afoul about this tragedy."

Wullen did not reply, lost for words.

Dane took a deep breath. "The Commission is very displeased, Mr. Wullen. You see, the Regents were identified—too late, I am afraid—of an agreement with this opera's owner, the Duke LaRoungey, to levy improvements to this theatre, to which he purchased an amount of some insurance."

Wullen furrowed his brow, trying to follow along. His eyes widened as he realized what the Warden was implying. "The Duke LaRoungey knew this would happen!" he exclaimed. "But how did he know about the play's curse?"

"The missing Yardsmen," Dane replied. His eyes were piercing the darkness, as though he was looking for something hidden in the shadow. "I believe they betrayed their allegiance. This," he said, handing Wullen the blood-stained quarto, "is not a new manifestation of this curse."

As he took it from Dane, Wullen stammered as he tried to follow the logic. "Because this is the old printing? Not a new one, as the Manifest suggests it should be."

"Indeed." Dane walked to the edge of the stage, crouching down to examine some half-burnt debris. "Planted, knowing the terror that might spawn from the performance. a curse from which the Duke LaRongey would certainly profit—either from the fulfillment of his insurance, or compensation from the Commission to ensure secrecy. Perhaps even both."

"Devious! Evil!" Wullen was sputtering with anger. "In the name of God, how could they execute such a foul design?"

"We live in a world of men, Mr. Wullen. And men are, by nature, flawed creatures." Dane shifted some of the debris aside, uncovering a pile of wadded fabric and rope. "Mother of God."

"What is it?" Wullen started to make his way through the gloom and toward the stage.

"The play does not always summon the demon," Dane replied. "But that wasn't the point. They were prepared to make it look like the creature had manifested. They wanted to attract the Commission's attention. Or worse—"

"What—ack!" Wullen coughed and sputtered, and Dane leapt to his feet; he had not even heard the sound of the rope being lowered from the stage rafters, and before he could even move, the noose had tightened around the young agent's throat and he was rising from the stage floor, grasping at his neck. The Warden's sword found his hand, but Wullen had been raised up and out of reach, where a shrouded figure awaited in the rafters.

"With this, in tribute," the shrouded figure shouted, words echoing in the dingy gloom, "in full it is paid!"

"No!" Dane cried out, but it was too late: the figure had drawn a long dagger across the young man's stomach. Blood and gore rained down, splattering onto the stage with sickening finality.

Another voice, just behind the Warden, replied. "With this, fool's blood—"

Dane spun, his sword slicing at the source of the sound. His blade met another, and the Warden drove his hilt forward to strike at the face of his attacker. It connected, and the other man stumbled backward and off the stage into the orchestra pit. Dane swept to the stage stairs to meet the man at the bottom just as the Yardsman threw out a vicious slice from the side—but it connected only with Dane's heavy coat. Another swipe was parried, then another, but the fourth swing of the blood-stained steel was lucky, finding Dane's shoulder and digging into flesh.

Dane didn't waste another instant. Wullen's blood was on his face, streaming into his eyes and stealing his focus. The Yardsman's swings were careful and exact, deviating only in clumsy parries. This was not a soldier trained in the art of swordplay; this was an actor, trained in stage swordplay. Dane needed only one feint to the left and a right-side slash toward the man's ear to dispatch him, sending him down the orchestra pit floor with an open throat spewing a veritable fountain of blood.

"With this, fool's blood, it is the Hanged King's." Wullen's killer had lowered himself to the stage by the same rope, Wullen's lifeless corpse still attached to the end.

"I thought you wanted money," Dane spat. His shoulder was burning. "But that was just a ruse, wasn't it? To convince the Duke to put on The Hanged King. You're trying to summon the demon. On purpose."

The murderer tore the young agent from the noose, dropping him to the floor in a slump. Then he put the rust-stained rope around his own neck.

Dane took a step closer. "No…" his head was spinning. The wound was feeling hot in his skin now. The darkness was overwhelming his senses.

Wullen's killer grinned. "With this, our blood, it is the Hanged King's." A moment later, Wullen's killed was lifted back to the rafters. His feet were still thrashing when Dane plunged into the darkness.

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I do not know if these servants of darkness succeeded in their goal that night. Their infernal acts, I am told, opened a door to somewhere, and I had but the misfortune to fall into it. But a door once opened may be opened again, and so…

Where I am now, I do not know. But I shall endeavour to continue performing those duties to which I have sworn a sacred obligation.

Dane folded the piece of paper and placed it in the front of his leather notebook. Across the table, the person who had identified as Scranton was watching him. Not judging—observing. Considering.

"And then," he said, finishing his tale, "I am here."

"Yes," Scranton replied. "You are here. You've gone quite literally to hell and back."

He nodded slowly. "And this…this is the Commission, now?"

"The Commission dissolved over a century ago. But its purpose lives on here at the Foundation."

Dane drummed his fingers on the book. "And where does that leave me? A man displaced in time, in a world he does not understand? What am I, then, to this Foundation?"

Scranton seemed amused, rising from the chair and walking to the door. It opened, and the director gestured to the hallway beyond. "If I am not mistaken, Dane, you are the Foundation's last Regent's Ward. And there is plenty of room for those of us who are displaced." Then
Scranton walked out.

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