A Face Too Young To Be Mine
rating: +19+x

Nina Weiss had been director of Site-87 for almost thirty years. Most directors barely lasted half that long, between Foundation politics, backstabbing (both figurative and literal), scandals, and just plain retirement. The latter hung over her like an anvil as she looked at her reflection in the monitor of her computer.

"Hold on, unplugged the screen by mistake." Weiss reached around the monitor, fingers straining for the plug. When it was re-inserted, the face of Tristan Bailey was on the screen; he was sitting in what appeared to be a hotel room. Weiss raised her eyebrow. "Dr Bailey, I thought that you were to be on your flight by now."

"Got bumped off, but I should be back by tomorrow." Tristan adjusted his laptop's camera and drummed his fingers on the table. "Heard stuff's been getting hairy up there. Are you doing all right, director?"

Weiss let out a derisive noise. "Dr. Bailey, just because I am old does not mean I am completely infirm."

He frowned. "You had a heart attack barely three years ago, ma'am. I'd take it easy. See about getting out of town for a bit, let Dr. Hennessy take over for a while."

Weiss shook her head. "Dr. Hennessy doesn't have proper clearance, and it would take her a while to get it. Besides, Dr. LaMarche is coming down to Sloth's Pit to inspect the Penzance Device, since you think it's interfering with the Transit Array."

Tristan shuddered. "Sorry, director, but even talking about that thing creeps me out. We have a reality-wiping bomb under the Site, and you're talking about it like we're getting a water heater looked at."

"We've never had to use it, probably never will." Weiss tapped her fingers against the table. "Things are getting a little hairy, here, I'll admit. First flight you can get. How's Portland?"

"Hendricks and Jept invited me out drinking after we got some business done here. Actually found a bar that wasn't full of hipsters, which was nice. As for official business…"

Tristan and Weiss talked for another twenty minutes before the call ended. Weiss rose from her seat, stabilizing herself on the table, and using her cane to get up as well. Maybe it was time to give retirement some proper thought.

Using her cane to steady herself, she headed to the door of her office, opened it—

And stepped into oblivion.

Weiss felt herself tumbling head over heels, sunlight quickly escaping her view. Her arm was wrapped around the neck of her attacker, struggling with him in freefall. A gun went off, and then flew out of her attacker's hand as she clawed at his wrist.

"Who are you?" she snarled. "Why did you do this?"

Any response was lost in the rush of wind, and the crunch of stone as the Bottomless Sloth's Pit proved to be anything but. Her attacker landed hard, breaking her own fall, and his spine. Weiss screamed, then cursed, then clawed herself away from the man's still-warm body. She couldn't feel anything below her left knee, and saw her leg jutting out at a bizarre angle, never to heal properly.

"Wait," Weiss squinted her eyes. "T-this already happened. I've been through this before." Her hand ran through a puddle of water, and there was just enough light that she could see her face reflected in it; forty years younger, no wrinkles, no frown lines, her grey braid with a head of mousy brown hair, styled in a pageboy. "I—" She swallowed. "What the hell? What is this?"

She tried standing up, purely on instinct, and found herself collapsing to the ground, screaming. "Y-yeah, I remember now," she panted. "Leg is definitely broken. Fuck…"

Several Site-87 personnel stood to gawk at the bottomless pit that had opened in front of the director's office on Sublevel 2. It had already been cordoned off, with hooks being drilled into the walls to prepare for a descent into it.

"Think it's one of those manifestations you talked about?" Blake Williams looked at Tofflemire, visible concern on his face. "There's… nothing on the level below this, as far as we can see. Has to be one of those, right?"

Robert crouched by the side, and ran his hand along the edge of it, picking up the strange dirt. It was black, crumbly, and smelled of ink. "This is Pit dirt, all right. Hast to be a manifestation." He frowned. "When did Weiss get thrown down it?"

"Summer of '81."

"Think she's still afraid of it, though? Like, it would be traumatic, but… almost forty years is a lot of time to recover from trauma, and she shot at least five Pit Sloth manifestations back in '18."

"And had a heart attack back in '17 that left her in a hospital in Duluth." Blake shook his head, and turned to the crew. "That climbing gear ready?"

"The hooks aren't going in!" a member of maintenance complained. "The walls are reinforced concrete, we're going to need a plasma drill."

"Well then freaking get one!" Blake snapped. "Any idea what happened down in the Pit?"

"The files on it are mundo classified. But considering the director at the time was found dead of starvation after drinking a cup of coffee that never got tested, and Weiss used to be a pharmacologist…"

"Ah." Blake looked into the Pit. "She's… probably fine, right? She's a badass."

"Mother fucker!"

The younger Nina Weiss grabbed at her leg; her attempts to splint it were met with pain in ever-increasing amounts. Just like she remembered it. It was a miracle she could even find anything to splint it with down here— she hadn't landed at the bottom of the Pit, but somewhere else.

The badge on her labcoat had been torn off in the struggle, and after failing to find anything on the body of the man that had thrown her down, she was crawling around among what she surmised was the ruins of a library. Books with ruined, stained pages lay scattered everywhere, shrapnel and splinters of wood and glass had to be brushed out of the way before she could crawl, and the whole place smelled of ink and dirt.

"O-okay," she panted, crawling up to a corner. "I-if it's still on me, like back then…" Weiss felt through her pockets. When she had originally been thrown into the Bottomless Pit and landed here, she had an anomalous drug— one of only two prototypes in existence at the time— on her person, called RHNOBTL (pronounced "rhino beetle"). If used, it would provide someone with massive strength and stamina for about an hour— and then a hunger crash so severe that it would kill someone via starvation within fifteen minutes as their body burned through every available calorie.

"Not looking forward to mixing bacon with a milkshake again," she admitted as she rifled through her pockets. "Wait, where— where— what the, where is it? Where is it?!"

She had a hole in her labcoat's pocket that wasn't there thirty-nine years ago. She turned pale, looked up at the sunless sky above, and screamed.

Tofflemire carefully scooted around the edge of the miniature bottomless pit to hook up the climbing gear. He had been given over three hundred meters of rope strong enough to lift an elephant, so it would hopefully be long and strong enough to get to Weiss. Hopefully.

"What part of 'bottomless' don't people understand?" Blake frowned. "I mean, hell, it took you and Carol half an hour to hit bottom on your first ride, that's… how long?"

"Thirteen kilometers. Like falling from the spire of the Empire State Building twenty-nine times over." He frowned. "I… did the math on that a lot after we got back. But by all accounts, Weiss wasn't more than maybe two hundred meters into the Pit before she got out."

"Right. So…" Blake swallowed. "Let's hope we can recover her."

"Falls into the Pit have never been fatal. That's the amazing thing about it." With that, Robert secured his gear, checked it twice, and walked over the bottomless pit.

To the other side.

Blake, and all assembled personnel, stared at Tofflemire. He stared at himself, walked to the middle of the Pit, and looked down. Nothing happened. "So much for Looney Tunes logic." He tried kicking at empty air, and it felt as solid as a steel floor. "What the fuck? No!" He walked off of the pit. "Weiss! Director! Nina!"

After about half an hour, her leg didn't hurt so much anymore. There was enough light to read by, somehow, and she had found herself engrossed in a folio by Shakespeare. She could turn the pages without her hands creaking, her wrists popping, without having to adjust herself constantly to be comfortable. No arthritis, no aching.

For as horrible as her situation was, she… forgot how much she liked to be young. How horrible aging was. Not necessarily growing up, just… growing older. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, dying down here with some books to keep her company, all alone.

She shook her head. "That's… childish, Nina." She sighed. "You've got people counting on you. A Site to run. You're not twenty anymore, and god willing, you never will be again. But…" She turned her wrist around, feeling its free range of movement. "Whatever did this to me… it's probably going to wear off if I climb back up. But… I don't have any of RHNOBTL on me, so I can't." She looked down at her hands and sighed. "How does that song go? 'Make the most of the night like we're gonna die young'." She pulled herself to another volume, frowning at the cover— it was Orlando by Virginia Woolf. "…Sloth's Manor fell into the ground in 1890. This wasn't published until…"

There was a clinking sound, and a glass vial rolled to her feet. She backed up, hissing as her leg flared in pain, and looked up in time to see a hairy arm vanish into the darkness. Then, she looked at the vial; it contained a black liquid that seemed to pulse with intermittent flashes of light. She couldn't read the label, but for the words "BTL" and "TOXIC."

She felt the sudden weight of a syringe in her pocket. She knew to be suspicious. Some mysterious entity had come from the shadows and just handed her an escape route. So, she called out to the dark. "Hello?"

From the darkness, an unmistakable, and very familiar, form emerged, albeit slightly off-color. Six foot even, with a pair of horns on its head, a face that was more humanoid than caprine at the moment, and covered head-to-toe in black fur, with an axe in one hand. "Director," the Goatman nodded. "Sorry for the… as you would put it, 'clandestine bullshit'. But I thought it best to make myself scarce."

"…do I want to know what you're doing down here? And— what year is it?"

"Two-thousand and twenty. Like every day in this accursed year." He crossed his arms. "You do something different with your hair?"

"Uh. Maybe." She looked at the vial again. "How are you here?"

"I could ask you the same thing. I walked out of Koch's Hovel this morning, and found myself in my f— that is, Jackson Sloth's old library. That thing was stuck to the bottom of my foot for most of the day until you fell down here with—" The Goatman turned, finding the man's corpse absent. "…huh." He looked her up and down. "You're in no fit state to walk, let alone climb out of here. That's what you were going to do with that, right? Overheard you muttering about it."

"Uh. Yeah." Weiss looked down at her leg. "RHNOBTL accelerates healing, but… I don't know. Um."

"I've climbed out of this a dozen times." The Goatman grinned, its teeth pointed and malicious. He closed his lips quickly. "…sorry. New movie based on Krampus is due this Christmas. Always does weird things to my teeth."

"It's fine!" Nina said, not unnerved in the slightest. "Well, let's… uh. How do you want to go about this?"

"Climb on my back, best as you can." The Goatman came over and helped Weiss to her feet. "Not a bad look for you, Director, I must say."

"Pity it'll probably wear off once we get to the surface." Weiss shook her head. "Well, can't be young forever."

"All too true."

With that the Goatman hoisted Nina Weiss onto his back, and started to climb.

Tristan Bailey found himself rushed to the administrative level within seconds of pulling up to Plastics Circle in front of Site-87. Harried agents, stressed-looking researchers, and one administrative assistant who looked like she was having a very bad day babbled things at him about Weiss being missing, possibly KIA, and how they needed a new director. They pushed up right to the edge of the bottomless pit— or at least, where the concrete divider had been placed.

"Will you people calm down," Tristan turned towards the crowd. "And talk one at a freaking time? What's happening here?"

Alison Carol stepped forward. "Director Weiss fell into the pit yesterday. As far as we can tell, she's been down there since. We can't get into it, and as far as we can tell, it's the exact same as the Bottomless Pit so—"

There were several startled gasps behind Carol as the crowd began retreating. A bleating voice called, "She's injured!" at the same time several agents called "Containment breach!" and Bailey bellowed, "Hold up!"

Several agents had aimed their guns at the black-furred form of the Goatman, who was carrying a woman in her thirties on his back, her leg at a bizarre angle. She was in pain, but conscious, and looked at Bailey with a pair of intense green eyes. "Dr. Bailey," she panted. "Don't— don't just stand there. Help an old woman down, would you?"

If Tristan's jaw could drop any further, it would have dislocated. If he'd been holding a coffee mug, it would shatter on the ground. If he'd had low blood pressure, he'd have fainted. He recognized the woman before him from family photos, and the occasional Thanksgiving dinner from when he and his brothers were much, much younger men.

"Director Weiss?" He swallowed. "You— look different. Very different."

Weiss rolled over her hand, looking at the back of it— it was largely free of wrinkles, blemishes, and other signs of age, and it still failed to crack or creak or pop. "So I do." She swallowed. "So I do."

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