All's Fair In Love And Alchemy
rating: +22+x

…A strong affinity for paratechnical surveillance and exploitation. Mark Summers is a technical genius when it comes to finding out and exploiting the weakness of others. This has lead to multiple breaches of foundation security and at least a half dozen occurrences of theft of Foundation intellectual property…

-Report, Foundation Archives, "Mark Summers, POI 23372", L. Aaronson

It all started with a neatly stacked pile of bills to be paid. The corner of one stuck out from the rest. Taunting me. Reminding me of the inevitability of what I'd done, and what I had to do next. God forgive me, The Foundation would not.

When my wife got sick, I tried everything. Every conventional, approved anomalous, and paratechnical treatment, but there was nothing to be done. No matter how far science had advanced, there wasn’t anything we could do when the body attacks itself. Not without re-writing someone at a level so deep it would no longer be them.

In my desperation I’d made a call, based on a rumor, and the voice on the other end of the line was so kind. So understanding. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Maybe something anomalous, some kind of paratech or thaumaturgy that we hadn’t caught yet. A simple examination, an insurance-covered medical procedure and she’d be okay. It would be over, and no one would know. Of course they knew. They’re The Foundation, they always knew.

The building was completely conventional, like any other medical office building. You know the kind, brick, an awning, some kind of historically inaccurate staff on a white background, with a red or green cross thrown in there somewhere. Unremarkable. I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to see a fleet of white and black SUV’s pull up and take me in. My wife had no idea, she barely understood what I did for work. She would tell her friends it was “Something in chemistry, materials science I think it is? He doesn’t talk about work much.”

I remember clearly the feeling of her hand in mine. So cold. It was always cold these days, but she squeezed back anyway. Her hair fell around her face like a halo, beautiful in the Autumn light. She complained about the grey hairs, but I never even saw them. They were just part of her, and how could I not love them? We walked through the doors, and up to the reception desk. “We’re here to see Doctor Summers I believe? We have an 11 am appointment.”

The receptionist looked up at us, and handed me a clipboard, marking a few spaces with an X on the form that was obviously a copy of a copy of a copy at this point. I led my wife over to the chairs, and we sat down. She leaned against me slightly as I filled out the forms, and I smiled at her, filling out our information. “Born in….?” I said, teasingly.

She squeezed my arm, and rolled her eyes, “As if you didn’t know. ‘89, love.” Her smile always made me feel so solid. Like a rock in a dark sea. I was terrible at expressing just how much she meant to me, but I feel like she knew. Love languages and all that. “You spelled my mom’s name wrong.” She said, with a teasing pinch.

I crossed out the wrong name, and spelled it correctly this time, passing the time with idle chit-chat while we waited. We finished the paperwork, and I returned it to the receptionist. She looked over at me, and squeezed my arm again, “Are you sure you can be away from work this much? We’ve been to six doctor's appointments in the last few months.”

I smiled a tense smile, with as much warmth as I could gather up, knowing exactly what I was doing. “I’m sure. You know my boss, he’s fine with me taking the time I need as long as the work gets done.” I looked down at my watch, the notifications from my phone piling up as usual. Emails, a few chats, nothing critical. But the little Foundation symbol on some of the notifications made my throat tense up a bit. I tried my best to relax.

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse brought us back to the examination room, and it was the usual process. I took out the three page printout of my wife’s medications, we went over her history, took vitals, and generally gave my wife’s medical life story. We were used to it at this point. The nurse gave us the usual pleasantries, assuring us the Doctor would be in shortly. My wife turned to me, looking a little uncomfortable, “Sweetheart, I’m not,” she hesitated for several moments, “Are you sure we should be spending all this money on doctors? At this point, we know that–”

I held up a hand, and then placed it on her leg, squeezing softly, “None of that now. I’ll find a way to pay for everything, don’t worry about that. You’re worth it. We’re worth it. Just focus on getting better, okay?” She was always so concerned about the money, but it was never the issue. The Foundation provided excellent, completely comprehensive medical coverage. At this point the biggest roadblock was just finding something that worked. We were desperate, and I think looking back, Ledenoff and Summers knew that.

A knock on the door, and a pair of doctors entered the room. One was an older, craw-faced man with a scowl and several nasty scars, and a younger blonde haired man wearing khaki pants, and a winning smile, more like a grin plastered on his face. “Good afternoon, I’m Doctor Summers, and this is Doctor Ledenoff,” the younger man said, holding out his hand.

The older gentleman scoffed, and muttered under his breath, “Elder, if there was any justice in this world.” The older doctor was looking around the room, not making eye contact with any of us. He made us uneasy, his bedside manner off-putting at best. I couldn’t quite place his accent. Something vaguely slavic, and gravely.

I took Dr. Summers’ hand, and shook it, eyeing Dr. Ledenoff for a second before turning back to him. “It’s good to meet you both. When I heard about your treatment options, I have to admit, I was intrigued. I thought we’d exhausted every method.”

Dr. Summers nodded, and looked over my wife’s chart, glancing at the pages of information rather quickly, before setting it down on the countertop, cocking his head to one side, “Karl, if you please?”

The older doctor waved his hand, and my wife froze stiff in place, words of some foreign language flowing from his lips. “It’s done, Summers. Get what we need, I will return when you are done.” I froze with fear, trying to shake my wife back to alertness, but her entire body was stiff. I couldn’t even feel her pulse. It was as if she’d been frozen in time completely. My heart was pounding in my chest, as I started to realize what I’d gotten myself into. I’d expected some kind of anomalous tech to be at the root of this company, but to have a thaumaturgist directly in front of me was something I wasn’t prepared for. “I don’t know what kind of thaumaturgy you’re peddling here, but you don’t want to fuck with me, if you knew who I worked for–”

The older doctor turned, and stumped out of the room, growling at me, “Thaumaturgy is for dabblers and charlatans.” I swallowed hard. “And we know who you are, and who you work for, obviously. Why else would you be here.”

Dr. Summers leaned forward in the chair he was sitting in, the same smile plastered on his face, “Listen champ, here’s the deal. The treatment is legit. We’re legit, and it won’t even cost you an arm and a leg.” Dr. Summers shook his right arm and leg, in a way that I'm sure he thought was disarming, but at the time I was only trying to figure out what I could do to get the hell out of there.

I took a step back, putting myself between my wife and the doctor as best I could, “What do you want from me?” I cursed my own stupidity for not coming to a potentially anomalous site with something to defend myself, but I was a researcher, not an agent.

Mike Summers leaned forward, and glanced from my wife to me, and sighed softly, “We just want some information, Dr. Alvers. We know who you are. What you do. Who you work for. My partner and I just want to know where something is, and then presto changeo, we fix your wife.”

I swallowed hard. He was asking me to betray the Foundation. The Foundation had been part of my life since I was an undergraduate. I’d made my life and career there. I believed, truly, in its mission. But she was my wife, and came to the resolution I’d do whatever it takes without even considering what it would cost me. It didn’t matter. “What do you want to know?”

Mike smiled, and handed me a sheet of paper, with the general outline of Site-17. I didn’t even think that a diagram of the site existed, much less how he got a hold of it. He tapped it a few times, “You worked on an object stored here, several years ago. One of the few objects stored here, actually. Where. Is. Hatbot.” Mark’s finger jabbed at the paper with a sense of finality, and my stomach dropped. His words were punctuated, but the same stupid grin painted his face.

Hatbot? He’d done some materials work on the composition of its circuitboards, and had found some kind of tampering he couldn’t identify. It had been regulated to storage on sub-level 7, in High Security Storage. Everything crystallized in that moment. Hatbot was in high security storage for a reason, one he wasn’t even cleared to know. “What the fuck do you want with Hatbot.” I tried to muster up as much resolve as I could.

“At this point, Allan, I don’t think that’s any of your concern. Either you walk out of here, your wife completely cured of her condition, or you walk out alone. There is no other choice.” That same damnable smile never left his face. He was so smugly confident in his threat, he had no idea what was coming when I slung my fist out towards his face. Sixteen years of amateur boxing flew at the man’s face in what felt like slow motion, and Mark caught my fist with no apparent effort. He wasn't even struggling to hold back every ounce of coiled energy I could throw from my hip to my fist.

“Come on, Allan, none of that.” He said, the same expression still plastered on his stupid smug face. My left fist flew out at his ribs, I didn’t care how strong someone is, if they’re not ready for it, a gut punch would crumple them. Without missing a beat, his hand was in the crease of my elbow, holding my fist back from hitting him. “Seriously Allan. It’s time to decide.”

The hot fury that had taken over me leaked out leaving me deflated like a balloon, my wife’s serene smile absolutely breaking whatever resolve was left, as I looked over. The decision was obvious. “You fucking bastard. God fucking dammit.” I pointed at sub-level 7, the high security storage wing. “It’s there. But you’ll never make it in, Site-17 is the most secure place on earth.”

“Ahh, have faith Allan!” Mark dropped my fists which fell into my lap in defeat, lifting his hand to his ear, and muttering something under his breath. “Listen, we all win here okay! You get what you want, I get what I want, Karl gets what he’s always wanted. Win, win, win!”

The older man cracked open the door, and stumped in, his limp even more noticeable. With the reality of the situation revealed, I looked around and realized just how fake everything around me looked. None of the supplies were real, all of the cables weren’t plugged in to anything. This entire room was a fake, tailored to make me believe this was legitimate, and it was disappointing how obvious it should have been from the start. “Was any of this even real?”

Mark nodded, that stupid shit-eating grin never leaving his face the entire time, “Of course Allan! Karl here's gonna heal your wife from her auto-immune problems, and then you’ll be on your way!”

Karl Ledenoff walked over to my wife’s body, frozen in time, and laid her roughly on the exam table, her body moving stiffly, but complying. I tried to step between them, but Mark’s hands grabbed me by the shoulders, with strength like a vice, as I struggled. “Don’t fucking touch her, you son of a bitch!”

Karl waved a hand, and a splash of water hit my face, condescending into hard stone-like mud that covered my mouth and stopped me from making noise, “Silence child. If I had my way I would have just disposed of you immediately. But my ‘partner’ here is more merciful than I.” The sneer on the word partner was as thick as the covering on my mouth. If Mark heard the contempt in Karl’s voice he didn’t show it.

Karl stepped forward, and waved his hands over my wife’s body, a soft blue glow emanating from his palms, motes of mist and frost escaping. He closed his eyes tightly in concentration, and then slapped his palms together, soaking her body in water the color of the ocean in a storm, dark blue and covered in sea foam. The entire room felt like there was a strong wind flowing through it, but nothing moved. I could feel it but only in my mind. I strained against Mike’s hands to no avail once more, as Karl made another sharp gesture, and the water instantly dried, leaving her laying up on the examination table.

Mark’s hands released me as I rushed over, my hands on her face, trying to wake her up. Karl’s eyes rolled as he snapped his fingers, and she drew breath again, fluttering her beautiful brown eyes open to meet mine, “Mmm…Allan? I don’t even remember going under, what happened?”

I turned around, to glare at the two men in lab coats, but Karl Ledenoff had already stumped out of the room, leaving me alone with Mark. “Rise and shine ma’am, we’re all done. The procedure was a resounding success! I look forward to any aftercare we can provide, please, don’t hesitate to make another appointment.” With that same damnable smile he walked out of the exam room, and I hugged my wife for dear life. I tried to say as little as possible as I rushed her out of the clinic and back to the car, the receptionist telling me to “Have a nice day, we billed your card!” My card. The Foundation issued card they’d had on my intake information. Oh god. I didn’t think anything of it but now, it felt like the sword of Damocles falling from its horsehair thread.

They would know. They always know. With shaky fingers, I loaded the last of the bullets into the gun I managed to get a hold of, looking out the window of my home office for the last time. No matter the cost. She’s worth it.

I rose, and opened the door, walking out in to the living room, “Honey, get your things we need to g–”

Dr. Michael Magnus sat on my couch, legs crossed at the knee, obviously waiting for me. “Hello Allan.”

The MTF agent beside my office door locked a hand over the slide of the pistol and took it from me. Numbly, I stumbled over to the couch and sat down across from the newly promoted Doctor. A tense moment passed between us, and my voice croaked, “Is she safe?”

Michael stared Allan hard in the eyes, knowing all too well what pain he was feeling. “Yes. I saw to it personally. She’ll never know.”

I nodded, and closed my eyes. “Do what you will.” The Foundation knows. They always know.

…But it wasn't until Summers met Karl Ledenoff that things took off in a more sinister route beyond simple money and influence. To this day, we're still unsure exactly what kind of control Ledenoff had over Summers, but his grasp of modern technology and corporate tactics significantly expanded the threat that Ledenoff posed to the Foundation. It's not an understatement that only two people could have predicted what exactly Karl would have wanted with Hatbot, but both of them were distracted at the time of the incident…

-Report, Foundation Archives, "K. Ledenoff, POI 00002", L. Aaronson

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License