"It is done, then. We are set on our path."
Karlyle studied the message he had received that morning. The results of Council votes were secret, known only to those most directly affected. He had been surprised when he had received this one, before realizing it would have been strange if he hadn't.
"It is," Joshua said. He stood in the shadow of Karlyle's office at Site-19, silent but for a few words. "The vote concluded last night."
"You were there?"
"No. That was not part of my assignment."
Karlyle raised his eyes. "Very well. I assume this to mean that we have a new assignment, then?"
"You do not seem overly enthused with the Council's decision." Joshua was a blank slate, but Karlyle had learned to read where lines had once been. "It there something bothering you, Joshua?"
Joshua's eyes cut across the room like a sabre. "No. The actions of the Council are my actions. All that matters is the objective."
"And yet, I received this notice early in the morning. You did not arrive until the afternoon, and I have never known you to be late. You were not with the Council during their vote, yes? You have not informed me of any other assignments, and I believe that I am your only, so where else would you be?"
Karlyle could feel the heat off of him, even from across the room. "I am assigned only to ensure your safety, and make sure that you complete your assignment," Joshua said.
"Even after all these years, do not think I cannot still read you, brother," Karlyle said, his spine tingling as he saw Joshua's eyes tighten. "I have known you for too long."
Joshua lingered a moment more, and then was gone. Karlyle examined the paper in his hand for a moment more, and then began to gather his belongings.
"I don't care for it, Karlyle," Shirley Gillespie said, a thousand miles away. Her voice crackled through the telephone. "It's very poorly understood."
"Every SCP is poorly understood, director," Karlyle said, rubbing his temples and attempting to ignore the jolting pain in his back whenever the vehicle he was in struck a hole, "that is why they are SCPs."
"Even still, there's a danger potential here that you may not be ready for. What happens when it isn't what you're expecting it to be?"
"Then I have Joshua."
Shirley made a sound in the back of her throat. "Right. Trusting the safety of one of the Foundation's top doctors to some mercenary fool that the Council dug up. Wonderful."
Karlyle smiled despite himself. "I am not concerned, Shirley. Nor should you be. You remember the time we spoke about SCP-058?"
"Then you will remember what I said then. Even animals can be understood and controlled. But Pan Hun is no animal. Indeed, it is by all accounts a human being, and human beings are capable of reason and intellect."
"Karlyle, it leveled a small town."
"Yes, that is what we are told. But perhaps it is no different than any other humanoid entity, powerful beyond its own control and afraid, likely to lash out at those things it does not understand. Who knows what it is capable of? Can you see the potential that might pose for Alpha-9?"
"Fine. I'll forward you all of the information I have on the entity, but that's all the help you'll be getting from me today. I had better not hear about you dying, Aktus, or I'll be upset with you."
Karlyle laughed. "I will hold you to it."
A plane took Karlyle to Site-23 on the Hudson Bay, and then a ship took him to SCP-1864. Joshua was already on the docks when he arrived, and escorted Karlyle to a Foundation encampment outside of the entrance to the anomaly proper.
"Director, welcome to SCP-1864." The man who greeted them was in his fifties, with greying hair and a neatly groomed goatee. His jacket identified him as Tom Bradford, doctor.
"Dr. Bradford," Karlyle said, extending a hand. "Thank you for meeting with me. We have much to discuss."
The two entered in a tent that provided a meager reprieve from the storm surging across the bay. On the wall were various printed readouts and images. Karlyle stopped to investigate one, a depth reading of something within the anomaly. The result of the test was inconclusive.
"I don't know what you're doing out here, Director," Bradford said, pouring a cup of coffee. "I was unaware they sent Site Directors to check up on remote, dangerous skips now."
Karlyle smiled. "This is not a typical check up, I am afraid. There has been an incident recently which has expedited the need for such visits, and I just so happened to be passing through." He took the coffee as Bradford handed it to him. "I do hope I am not causing a disturbance."
"Not at all. What exactly are you looking to do while you're here?"
Karlyle handed him an envelope. "The Classification Committee is regularly charged with examinations of Safe and Euclid class entities, to determine if their classification requires reevaluation."
Bradford squinted at the papers now in his hands. "Is there not somebody you could've sent in your place? This seems like an awful lot of trouble for you."
"The examination was expedited," Karlyle said again, his face unwavering. "There really was no time to waste."
The other doctor flipped through the pages quickly, and then shrugged. "Fair enough. My boys will get you in to see it, and they'll get you out. Not sure if this was the best time, though. Dr. Boff has been a little agitated lately."
Karlyle nodded. "I have no doubt that this will be nothing more than routine, doctor."
A security team carried Karlyle into the depths of the SCP-1864 labyrinth on the back of a transportation vehicle. Joshua had not been with them when they departed, but every so often Karlyle would catch a glimpse of him, barely visible in the darkness, following closely behind them. As they rounded a final corner, the vehicle stopped and Karlyle disembarked.
"We're going to pull back to the hundred meter point," one of the security agents said. "Our orders are to hang back there until we hear from you. If anything happens, start running."
Karlyle gave his thanks and made the final length of the journey himself, which put him within a large, carved stone chamber. In the center was a pool of dark water, and across from him was what had one point been a human being, but was now SCP-1864-1.
"Guten Tag, Doktor Boff," Karlyle said, his accent slipping through the new language like a glove. "My name is Dr. Aktus, I am with the Foundation."
The face of the hulking, rooted half-human twisted into what might be described as a smile. It slowly ambled across the room towards him, its singular long, coiled arm extending as a greeting.
"It is good to see a fellow scientist again," Dr. Boff said, his words eternally muffled behind his impeded jaw. "So often I only see agents with their guns. Rarely do I see researchers anymore."
"Unfortunate, indeed," Karlyle made note of his surroundings, his eyes catching Joshua hidden within a shadow to his left. "Perhaps we will make amends for the absence today, doctor."
Boff nodded his grizzled head. "Let us hope. What is it that brings you to me today, Herr Aktus?"
Karlyle motioned towards the pool of water. "I was hoping to speak to SCP-1864-2, Dr. Boff."
Boff's expression sharpened, his eyes slanting and his hackles raising. "Pan Hun," he spat.
"Yes, Pan Hun." Karlyle kept one eye on Dr. Boff's arm, which swung idly and dangerously overhead. "There has been a change, doctor. The world is growing more dangerous every day, and our leaders seek to challenge this danger by—"
"Challenge it?" Dr. Boff laughed timidly. "I do not understand. I feel as though there is little of value for you here, for such an endeavor."
"A task force, Dr. Boff," Karlyle said. "For some time now, our administrators have been assembling anomalous entities which we could implement against the dangers that threaten our world. I am a member of the group attempting to identify which entities would best suit—"
"Oh, no no no, doctor," Boff said, his smile wavering and his eyes growing tight. "I understand now, yes, but I must insist, there is nothing that will aid you here."
Karlyle sighed. "It is the belief of our administrators that SCP-1864 might be intelligent, reasonable, and possibly misunderstood. We have encountered a number of seemingly hostile anomalous entities who simply were not capable of controlling themselves, and meant no harm to others.
"We believe that a chance to speak with Pan Hun might reveal its true intentions, and if they are benign, perhaps it would be excited at the chance to leave its prison in order to keep the world safe, and—"
Dr. Boff reared back and away from Karlyle, his arm slamming against the sidewalls of the chamber. "You think this was a misunderstanding? You wish to make safe the world by releasing Pan Hun?"
"Not necessarily, no," Karlyle said, adjusting his glasses. "We have become very good at containing dangerous entities, doctor. If we discover Pan Hun is truly hostile, then we have ways to manage it. Our goal is to utilize the anomalous traits of SCP-1864-2, if possible, in order to better prepare for something worse."
"Something worse? You think there is something worse?" Dr. Boff roared, his body flailing and writhing against the chamber. Karlyle took a step back to steady himself, carefully looking for an opportunity to get a word in edgewise against the torrent of insults in German that now flowed freely from Boff. Before he could make his case, Joshua appeared beside him.
"Joshua," Boff said, his body immediately and noticeably growing tense. Karlyle peered into Boff's wild eyes, and saw recognition there. Why would Dr. Boff know who Joshua is?
"You must allow Dr. Aktus to see Pan Hun, Dr. Boff." Joshua's voice was cold and controlled. "It is the will of the Overseers."
Boff hesitated, carefully eyeing Joshua with his distorted gaze. Beads of sweat began to form on his brow, and his eyes shifted frantically between Karlyle and Joshua. Finally, Boff sighed.
"I will not be able to keep you both safe," Boff said.
"You won't have to," Joshua replied.
Boff nodded, and with a single motion his long, curled arm began to descend quickly into the pool of water before them. It continued to descend long after Karlyle though that the pool or Boff's arm would run out, and then longer still. Finally it stopped, and began to pull back out of the pool.
With it came a head of black hair, and then a body. Pan Hun looked, by all measures, to be a normal human child. Asian descent, light skin, no older than eight or nine years of age. Karlyle studied the body as Boff laid it on the stone floor, noting that Boff would not take his hand off of Pan Hun's neck.
There was a moment of silence, and then Pan Hun opened its eyes.
They were dark, and Karlyle was careful to avert his gaze slightly behind his own dark glasses. A wide grin appeared on Pan Hun's face, and when it spoke, it spoke with Karlyle's own voice.
"Hello, Director Aktus. My name is Pan Hun."
The words sent a chill through Karlyle's body. "Hello, SCP-1864-2," Karlyle said. "You are familiar with me?"
"I am familiar with a great many things, Director."
Karlyle nodded slowly. "Then you are aware of the nature of your containment?"
Pan Hun's eyes rolled back in its head and its neck twisted backwards until it was staring at Dr. Boff. "Oh yes, the pit. Very clever. Dr. Boff has done a wonderful job. He is, after all, at the top of his field." At the sound of his own name, Boff's grip on Pan Hun tightened slightly.
"Good," Karlyle said. "I am here today because—"
Pan Hun's head jerked back to face Karlyle, its smile undiminished. "I know why you're here, Director Jean Karlyle Aktus, Site-81, SCP Foundation, son of Anna and Gregori, brother to Jeremiah and…" Its eyes flicked sideways as it trailed off. "The pit is dark, but all manner of words echo within it. It is one of those places in the world that sits between and… beneath things."
"Very well, then," Karlyle said, the hairs on the back of his neck rising. "Would you be willing to participate in a preliminary examination to determine the extent of your abilities?"
Pan Hun's eyes darted back towards Karlyle, but then rolled sideways to look at Joshua. "This one should have told you, I think," the voice hissed, "told you about the dark things in the world and what happens when you pick at them like a scab."
Karlyle glanced sideways at Joshua who, despite being seemingly unmoved, had at some point moved his hand to rest on his weapon. Pan Hun continued.
"You are so certain that because you were capable of dragging the Assyrian into the light and making him dance for a short time, that you can do the same with all of the toys in your boxes." His wide smile grew wider, and Karlyle could see the corners of his mouth beginning to tear. "I think you will find that many of those toys are not as nice as Able, doctor."
Karlyle grimaced. "I take that as your unwillingness to move forward, then?"
Pan Hun's eyes locked on Karlyle. "You know, we are not so different, Karlyle. Both of us are bound into systems we did not choose to be in, but regardless ended up here due to our own actions. Both of us have lived longer than any might have expected, given the circumstances. I wonder how you would feel if somebody showed up and asked if you wanted to play puppet for your Overseers."
"Dr. Boff," Joshua said, his voice a hiss, "I believe we're done here."
Pan Hun's face grew still, the smile gone. "Oh no. You asked for a demonstration, and you will have it."
The growing feeling of discomfort in Karlyle's stomach suddenly erupted into agony.
Karlyle collapsed to the ground, screaming. Without a word, Joshua pulled his weapon, but found that his hands had grown over the trigger and were useless. He called out to Boff in German, and the doctor roared in fury.
Pan Hun seemed to grow larger, expanding by way of dozens of long, wet appendages that appeared all over his body. Boff squeezed tight around the creature's neck as it flailed at him, and with a crack he whipped Pan Hun into the ceiling with a flick of his massive arm. The sound of the child striking the ceiling rang out like a gunshot, and was followed by the sound of something vile crawling out of Karlyle's stomach.
It was humanoid, but too fleshy and lacking in facial features. Karlyle opened his eyes and mouth long enough to see it and cry out, before collapsing entirely in a pool of his own blood. The creature within him dragged the rest of itself out from the doctor, and turned to face Joshua.
With Boff swinging Pan Hun wildly into the walls of the cavern and the creature quickly closing distance, Joshua reached down and began to tear away at the extra flesh over his hands with his teeth. He backed slowly, keeping one eye on the flesh-beast and another on his own viscera. He spat the chunks of his hands onto the ground and continued to dig until he felt the sensation of steel on his tongue.
Joshua brought the weapon to his face and steadied his aim. The creature raised its arms just as Joshua distended his mouth wide enough to fit around the accessible trigger of the gun. He hesitated for a second, and then two, until he could feel the heat of the creature's body against his own, and then he bit down.
A hole opened where the monster's head had been, and Joshua heard the satisfying gurgle of blood and air mixing. A normal man might have found the recoil enough to shatter his teeth and mutilate his jaw, but Joshua was no normal man.
He bit down again, and then again, and the creature fell to the ground. Joshua lifted his foot and then drove it through the humanoid's torso with a sound like popping a balloon full of paint.
He turned then to Dr. Boff, who was losing his struggle with the child in his grasp. Lacerations covered his already twisted form, and Pan Hun continued to strike and slice the flesh of the doctor, who groaned in pain.
Joshua took two steps forward, pulled his weapon to his face again, and bit down on the open trigger.
Pan Hun screamed as its torso exploded and it's legs fell limp. Joshua took another step forward and fired again, this time splitting the child's face in two.
Pan Hun turned a single working eye towards Joshua, and lashed at him with a black, fleshy appendage. Joshua caught it with his mouth and lunged backwards, tearing it off and causing Pan Hun to murmur out in agony.
Joshua spat to clear his mouth of gore, and shouted at Boff to move Pan Hun closer. The doctor complied, and soon the ruptured body of the Lonely Liar hung before Joshua like a marionette. He studied the writhing creature for a moment, and then leaned in to face it directly.
"There is a hole in this world much darker than the one you have been rotting in," he said, blood dripping from his open mouth, "and do not think I am above burying you in it." He saw panic creep into Pan Hun's eyes. "You know the one. The sanctuary of sundered hearts. There will be nothing for you to twist there in the darkness."
Boff's eyes glazed over, and he began speaking in Pan Hun's voice. "What is it you desire?"
Joshua nodded at Karlyle and Boff. "Undo your twisting, or I will put another shell in you now and let you bleed all the way to the Door. When you are done, return to your pit and stay there until the stars go out."
Pan Hun's single eye raged with a silent violence, but dimmed. The lacerations on Boff's body closed and sealed, and Joshua began to hear Karlyle breathing again behind him. He nodded to Boff, who began to lower the child back into the out of water. As it sunk, Joshua gazed at Pan Hun and smiled coldly.
"You were right about there being less kind monsters in the world than Able, Liar," Joshua said, malice creeping into his voice. "It is a shame you had to meet one so soon."
Pan Hun glared at him as it slipped below the still surface of the pool, and watched him until it disappeared from sight in the darkness of the deep.
Hours later, the security team emerged and Karlyle was moved quickly to the infirmary. His eyes, glazed over as they were, opened for moment to see Joshua staring down at him. Karlyle's body shook as he tried to make words, but he slipped in and out of consciousness, unable to finish.
As his old body began to give out, and as medical personnel swarmed him, Karlyle watched Joshua disappear behind a flap in the tent. He distantly heard the sound of a phone being dialed and Joshua's muted voice again, and Karlyle tried to call out to him.
A mask was placed over his face, and the world went black.