Ave Imperator

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"I can't fucking do this any more, Jon."

Jonathan Remes looks at his friend, sprawled out on his desk amid a mountain of paperwork. Several chipped mugs, all partially full of cold coffee, are arranged on the surfaces surrounding him, and a long-discarded sandwich appears to be in the process of developing sentient life from the confines of its half-buried Tupperware box. A soft moan escapes the figure's lips.

"Look, I'm sure it's not that bad. You've had worse assignments, right? Archival work should be a breeze compared to the shit you've put up with over the years."

Agent Donovan raises his head, bloodshot eyes locking with Remes'. A post-it note peels slowly down his cheek. He makes a sound that may have been a chuckle, but could just have easily been the death rattle of a long-suffering member of the special, final type of hospital ward.

"A breeze, Jon? A fucking breeze? Right, of course, how could I have been so stupid. Who needs sleep, or a social life or, you know, proper meals, when your work is a god damn breeze? Thanks for the pep talk Jonny, I'm feeling oh-so-much better now. Cheers."

"Alright, it's not the easiest job in the world, but other people have-"

A thump stops Remes in his tracks. Like a zombie emerging from a crypt, Donovan stands before him, bony hands buried deep in the snowy heaps that blanketed the desk. As he stumbles upright, Remes' eyes can't help tracking the movement of his swinging arm, which is now noticeably gripping a letter-opener. Who even uses letter-openers any more? Jon had always assumed they just sort of materialised around old people, like tea cosies and those strange patterned slippers that always seemed worn-out, even when new. It seemed funny at the time — not so much now.

"Don't fucking tell me what other people have, Jon. Other people, " Swing, swing, slicing through the air. "Don't have to deal with this shit. They assume it's magically done by people with crisp white lab-coats and acres of free time, on sleek computers with state-of-the art word processors. Not by a former MTF commander with a penchant for skim reading, shut away in a dingy office with no natural light and a serious mould problem. That never even crosses their goddamn minds."

"Listen Donny, I-"

Swing.

"Don't fucking call me that."

"…Fine, Donovan. Someone's got to do it, right? At least you're not being shot at, or trapped in some other dimension."

For a moment, the Agent's face goes blank. His eye twitches, and a suspicion of a tear begins to form.

"I see. When you put it like that, I suppose I should be counting my blessings, right? Is that it?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

His breathing becomes ragged and deep, gulping great lungfuls of air. Without breaking eye contact, he reaches behind him and retrieves a stack of tea-stained papers.

"Do you know what this is?" 

The swinging of the letter-opener coincides with a heartfelt thrust towards Remes — he grips the papers instinctively.

"Don't fucking answer, I know you don't. It's SCP-9611, or rather, all three of them. All assigned to the same number, and we haven't even opened the 7000-block yet. This", he spits, grasping an apparently blank sheet of laminated card, "is URA-0032. An un-registered anomaly for which the accuracy of its documentation depends on both the predicted life of the medium and the visibility to a casual observer. The preliminary report, which I hold before you like the motherfucking Mona Lisa, is written in lemon juice and triple-coated in high-strength plastic. It's also completely inaccurate. I've dealt with anafabulae, antiphysics, and self-referential pictograms. I've lost colleagues and friends to window memes, inkwells, digitisation and Bad Text Data Dumps. Now it's just me and some part-timers who don't know their ass from an appendix."

"Hey, I know my ass from a-"

Donovan waves him into silence.

"There are things in this pile that would make you turn to stone if you read them backwards. I can name nine, anomalies writ, composed bit-by-bit, in half-complete rhyme. That wasn't necessary by the way, I just felt like letting my fucking creative spirit out." He gestures around the room with his non-weaponised hand. "I don't get much opportunity to, as you can probably guess. But do you know what really gets my goat? What really pushes me over the edge?"

Remes doesn't, and makes the mistake of saying so.

"Hah! No, no why would you. Why the fuck would you. Guess I'll have to show you myself. It's above your clearance, probably, but it's not like they'll be able to sanction me any more than they're already going to." He turns and pulls a particularly thick wad of stationery from a nearby shelf, knocking over, as he does, an inoffensive potted plant whose thick waxy leaves somehow contrived to look more fake than the plastic shrub in the hall outside. "Here. Read it. I can wait."

09/09/1999


Project Proposal PP-V77R/011 ("Project Zion"): Application for increased use of anomalous phenomena to facilitate well-being and skill amongst staff.

Project Lead: ███ ██████

Additional Staff: [REDACTED]

Summary: "It is known that certain Foundation assets have extremely beneficial properties, and have long been available for use in projects, tests, and other such activities. Additional anomalies have seen use as a method of rejuvenating and instructing staff, to great effect — analysis shows that the gain in productivity and morale from the Duck Pond alone far outweighs the combined damage from all our 'misguided' projects."

"However, in recent years an unfortunate stigma has arisen surrounding these practises: namely, that such protocols represent a relic of a bygone era, and should no longer be considered 'standard'. We aim to change this, utilising, modifying, re-purposing and in some cases creating Safe-class anomalies specifically for use by personnel. We attach a full specification alongside this document, but you can rest assured all members of staff, from field agents to archivists, have been taken into account. We are certain we can provide training regimens to help skill and reskill all positions within the Foundation hierarchy."

Status: APPROVED [7/6]

"…Oh my god"

"You see? You see? I've spent two and a half years cleaning up this mess, and now, with the masquerade balanced more precariously than ever before, they want to create more. More fucking documents to file away to rot. Well, I'm not standing for it. I'm getting out, Jon, while I still have the will to live. I'm fucking done."

"Yeah, thattt-ttat-t#|; . .-. .-. --- .-.//#"

Donovan's eyes widen and he takes a step back, hands reaching out for a now-wireframe table than no longer supports his weight. The letter opener begins to drift sideways through the wall before flickering out of existence.

"What the fuck?"

Remes' head rotates ninety degrees, and his left arm fades out of view. The walls of the office shrink and dwindle to nothing, and suddenly Donovan is standing, confused and alone, in a large sandy… arena? Like something out of a film, except the stands are filled with strange figures that seem to jerk and stutter and… oh no. Oh dear god, no. What's left of Remes' facsimile begins to recite messages in a strange monotonous tone that seems strangley at odds with its freakish, distended jaw.

"Status: FAILED. Loyalty value below acceptable levels. Archival proficiency: 56%."

The agent's vision starts to dim.

"Recommended action: FULL RESTART. Awaiting confirmation."

Donovan thinks he hears a distant voice echo, but he can't make out any words.

"Confirmation received. Total cycles: [194/256]. Beginning restart of archival_duties_proficiency_training(2).slt."

A pause. Don's vision is too darkened to make out the scene around him, and he already feels himself forgetting his three years… service? Does it count as service if you spend it locked inside a hijacked extradimensional battle programme? Knowing them, the bastards probably fed him some real paperwork while he was under. You can always trust the bureaucrats to make the most of a horrific situation. Not like it matters, really. His muscles all tense at once and somehow the darkness seems to come into focus around him.

"Loop cycle [195/256] commenced. Beginning adversary simulation. Sweet dreams."

The darkness switches off, and he's left in nothing.



"Don, are you okay?"

"J- Jonny? That's you, right?"

"Sure is. Looked like you passed out for a moment. Paperwork, am I right?"

"Hah, yeah." He clutches his forehead and frowns. "I know it sounds weird, but I just had the strangest dream."

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