Crayne's Tales

Troy Lament, Isabel Wondertainment, Spider (from the GOC).

rating: 0+x

The group was small this year. Dr. Elaine Sadlinger couldn't figure out whether that was good or bad. It could be fewer personnel were actually reporting the telltale signs, but she supposed their preemptive care campaign "Look fear in the eye" could also be responsible for better equipping personnel to deal with the horrors of their daily job.

"Why don't we do a little introductory round before we kick off. I'll go first. My name is Dr. Elaine Sadlinger. I've been with the Foundation for seventeen years now, working with the Mental Health Division for about eleven of those, the last three with the mobile section. I'm 47, unmarried, and my family lives in Utah, well, my brother who I haven't seen for the last two years. It's not that we don't get along, but…"

She trailed off, seeing the raised eyebrows around her. "Right, not that important. How about you…Tom, isn't it?"

To his right sat a stocky olive-skinned man wearing an MTF uniform designating him as a member of Rho-14. As his name was called, he ever so slightly straightened and cleared his throat.

"Name's Tom Feigel, been working here for four years after being recruited from NSWC. Have a wife and a child on-site at -11, been married for two years. My son was born eighteen months ago," he replied before adding: "Justin. That's his name."

Elaine nodded. "Thank you, Tom," she said and looked to Tom's neighbor, someone more resembling a grizzly bear than a human being. "How about you…ehm," she began and started flipping through her briefing, "…Arnold?" He was dressed in a thick Christmas sweater, jeans and was for some reason sporting broad suspenders. An odd combination.

A surprisingly gentle voice sounded out. "Yeah. My name's Arnold, and I've been here for seven years. Well, I'm with the Marine and Naval Anomaly Division on their maintenance crews, so I'm rarely at a Site, mostly just working aboard Foundation vessels. Last assigmnent was the SCPS Seastar, which works with SCP-1382. Don't know what to say besides that."

"That's fine, Arnold. Joni?"

"Yeah? Oh, right." the last member of her group answered, a bronzed middle-aged woman with a perky feel to her, though she got the feeling it was a little bit forced.

"So I'm Joni, and I'm with research staff assigned to tracking 1861 instances, mostly recording manifestation tags and calculating the various discorporation vectors. Fascinating work, really, you need to very precisely align your…"

"I'm sure it is, Joni, but we're expressly not here to discuss your work. Well, tangentially. I'm assuming you all know why you're here," Elaine interrupted and looked around the small circle. More like a misshapen triangle really. They were silent. Not because they didn't know, Elaine guessed, but because they expected her to tell them anyway.

"Each of you has had an experience in the line of duty that caused your commanding officer or your manager to recommend you for this group. I'd like to invite you to tell us about what happened to you, in order to perhaps find some support with each other. You will find support with me, but we've found that colleagues are far more effective at supplying the kind of support that actually helps people work through things like this. Does anyone want to begin?

No one moved or said anything for a few moments, until Tom hesitantly raised his hand.

"Tom, go ahead."

"I…I've been on a lot of ops, mostly reconnaissance and observation of persons of interest, but my last assignment was to 1864. They wanted to try and map the inside of whatever the hell is wrong with that island using some kind of new tech they'd developed, but they need some security along for the ride. There were three of us, Santos, Golombiewski and me, and five research personnel. Don't know their names, never saw them before we embarked on Coats Island. Not important either, I think. Anyway, we went into that building. Everything went according to the book, we didn't make any mistakes. The monkeys took their readings, they seemed happy," he said and paused briefly when he caught a withering look from Joni, "Sorry. Anyway, they followed the route we'd agreed on, and I don't think we made any mistakes, but suddenly one of them was face to face with something. I'd read the briefing, I knew what to expect, but I didn't. Not really. There was this thing, and it seemed a bit confused but not hostile, started talking in a foreign language. The researchers seemed to know it, but I couldn't stop staring at it. It might have been human, I don't know, but it looked like someone had stretched it like silly putty…like someone had taken it apart and slapped it back together again. I tried to focus on my instructions, and ignore whatever that was, but I just kept looking back, watching it. And then it looked back, right at me, and I swear I could physically feel the pain it was in. It had eyes like my grandpa, and I just knew it was human, or was human once. I don't know, I just couldn't stay there. I know they told me to expect it, but I couldn't be near it. I wanted to run, but Santos kept me there, kept taking my face in her hands and talking to me in that steady voice, trying to ground me again. I think I hit her…goddammit I think I hit her real hard…"

Tears welled up in his eyes and he stopped talking, gazing at his feet. "I shouldn't have hit her," he mumbled. Joni and Arnold were silent, confused and feeling awkward.

Elaine rifled through her notes. "Did you talk to Sgt. Santos afterwards, Tom?"

Tom shrugged. "What was there to say? I shouldn't have hit her, and that was that. I fucked up. I broke free, and ran back to the boat. Waited there for the rest. Mission went off without a hitch, I just couldn't bear seeing that poor…whatever."

Joni raised her finger and after an almost imperceptible nod from Elaine, she spoke. "Sounds to me like seeing it just brought back a very painful memory, of your grandfather I mean."

Tom winced, but he answered. "Yeah, I know. Hadn't thought of that man for a long, long time, maybe about fifteen years. He died when I was 14. It was a shitty time in my life. My dad had skipped town on my mom, and she was too busy taking care of my little brother, who had some sort of behavioral disorder thing, I don't know. I was in my room mostly, listening to the radio and drawing. My grandpa used to come by and pick me up so we could spend some time together. We'd go fishing, or he'd drive me out into the woods to just sit there and listen to nature. It grounded me, I suppose, took me out of a situation where I was losing my mind. But he started, I don't know, deteriorating I guess. We used to talk about the animals out there, hidden in the woods, but he kept bringing up his war buddies. Don't think many of 'em made it out of Europe, because whenever he talked about someone, and I asked if they still hung out, he just got that look in his eyes and stopped talking. I saw the same pain his eyes, more of it every year, as I saw in that thing's eyes. Until one day he just didn't pick me up anymore, and I found out from my mom that he couldn't leave the house anymore, that it wasn't safe. Last time I went to see him, he didn't talk at all. Just sat there, staring a cuckoo clock until it chimed."

Elaine had been taking notes, but now she put the pencil away. "Alright Tom, I think that's very significant. I'd like you to try and talk to us about your grandfather and the good memories you have of him next time we meet. Let's try and see if we can balance things out a bit on that front. And I'm sorry for interrupting here, but I'm afraid we're on a bit of a tight schedule. They don't really give us enough time to really dive into this, but we'll make the most of what we've got. Arnold?"

Arnold nodded and cleared his throat. "So. Yeah. My name's Arnold like I said, and I've been on the Seastar for that last three months, working on SCP-1382. Well, I've been working on the Seastar mostly, adapting its superstructure to house more telemetry tech and stuff like that. Not sure what it does, but it needs to be shielded from the weather and other things. Anyway, I was inside for once, working in one of the smaller bays below deck when a couple of research personnel came in. Didn't know their names then, they'd just come aboard two days earlier, when we were docked at Oostburg harbor, but I know one of them's called Andrea. Anyway, they were talking about some very old footage they'd seen of the passengers boarding the plane, in particular about a family, mom, dad, two kids. One of the techs was obviously shaken up, cause the other one kept grabbing them by the shoulders and squeezing, like a good massage would drive out the demons, yaknow? Wasn't working though, cause they were sobbing and all I heard was something about 'ate them' and 'Chelsea'. They never noticed me, cause I was behind a bulkhead getting ready to bolt something together, but it just piqued my interest, you know? All I knew about 1382 is that it was a plane, and it'd crashed and strange shit kept happening. And of course I'd seen the beacon. That was fucked up enough for my tastes, but I just couldn't get that image of someone eating a hand out of my head. So late one night, I snuck down to the lab and tried my key card. It worked too, didn't think it would, but hey. I guess they changed my clearance afterwards… So I looked for something that might explain what they meant, and I found a terminal they'd forgotten to log off. Well, I found out two things that night. One, they don't have those clean desk and lock and key protocols for nothing and two, no one should have to see a parent try to eat one of their kids…"

"Jesus…" Tom muttered under his breath, while Joni just sat there in silence.

Elaine broke the uncomfortable silence that followed. "You seem rather…stoic about the whole thing Arnold, if you don't mind me saying so."

Arnold shrugged. "I don't know, it shocked me, I guess, but I don't know how to react to it. Should I be angry, scared, sad? Oh, and I found out later that Chelsea was Andrea's kid. Guess it hits harder when you have kids of your own."

"I see. Do you think that there is a correct way of feeling, or that maybe all or any of them would be fine?"

"Don't know, doc, I honestly don't. Maybe I just don't want to feel anything. Sure makes this a heck of a lot easier to deal with."

Elaine smiled. "Thank you, Arnold. By the way, did you get into trouble for your unauthorized use of that terminal?"

"I did. Revoked my clearance back so far I have to ask to go use the bathroom. So to speak."

That at least got a small chuckle out of his two fellow unfortunates.

"Right. Now, Joni, it's your turn I'm afraid. Can you tell me why you're here?"

Joni sat up straight. "Oh, I think I'm here because I got way too friendly to one of the D-Class personnel and I saw what 1861 did to them." She beamed.

Elaine frowned. "Joni, how do you feel about that?"

She smiled. "Oh, it's horrifying of course! Absolutely, poor Bo, but you know, it's also incredibly fascinating. I mean, they're there, I talked to them, but they're also not there, because they're basically just a pair of eyes and a set of teeth floating around inside a diving suit. I mean, how is that even possible? It's such a weird world we live in, where people can be here and not be here and…"

"I'm going to have to stop you there, Joni," Elaine interrupted, "I get that you're very eager to tell us all about this, but I don't think this is the right group for you."

Joni looked somewhat crestfallen, so she added: "Which doesn't mean we don't want to hear your story, it just means that you'll profit more from a different approach. I'm going to see what we can do about getting a slot on one of Dr. Bjornsen's special therapy groups, alright?"

She nodded reluctantly.

Elaine looked at the three people she'd spent the last 45 minutes with. Tom was looking at his feet, Arnold at the ceiling and Joni…she was looking at her very intently. She had absolutely no idea what the woman was thinking.

"Well then, I guess this concludes our first session here. You've been booked for three of these with me," he said and then quickly added, "Except for you, Joni, we'll get you transferred asap. Next time, we'll try and figure out why you reacted to your experience the way you did, and whether or not we should look for a way to change that. Alright?"

Tom and Arnold nodded, Joni was still staring at her.

"Do you have any questions?"

No one spoke, so she wished them well and watched as both men got up and started to leave.

"Aha!" Joni exclaimed and stood up. Elaine almost fell off her chair.

"What…uh…what's the problem, Joni?"

"Nothing. I just figured out a way to maybe predict anomalous weather cycles based on the intersections of a Hume-Klein matrix…and never mind."

Elaine sighed. "Goodbye Joni. I'll make sure someone contacts you about that transfer."

Joni ignored her, muttering about diving suits and precipitation patterns.

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