Castling By Hand
rating: +56+x

A nonsensical amount of distance away from home, across an infinifold interuniversal membrane, in an n1-deviated Earth where a series of assassinations had torn apart the United States in bloody revolution, the Foundation still stood. The Foundation still endured. Site 19 still stood in defiance of all sociopolitical and architectural logic. The fluorescent light in the Floor 2 break room still flickered and buzzed.

It would drive the Black Queen mad, if that idea still had any meaning to her.

The Black Queen had seen that light when she was here last, back in her own Earth. Julia Bitterfield had seen it, too. In fact, Dr. Bitterfield may have passed out to that buzzing, audible through the door to the supply closet, where the Black Queen had administered the taserspike.

A more careful Black Queen would have lurked for her target outside of the facility, instead of infiltrating on memory of another timeline. A less cavalier Black Queen might have trusted only her own equipment to disable the target instead of being lured by the charms of the taserspike, a universe-native innovation, a precision instrument which incapacitated for hours if you targeted the proper anatomical locations. This Black Queen was none such Black Queens, and she wore the badge to prove it. Site 19, Level 3 Access, Julia Bitterfield, Engineering.

She took Julia's coat and glasses as well. The unconscious body would be discovered before long (a wiser Black Queen wouldn't have, and so on) but it pleased her to have a time constraint. It kept her focused.

The Black Queen, wearing Julia as she was, took a shuttle cart into the engineering wing. The antiseptic smell of the facility was tinged with ozone and copper. Scent memory… and then she thought of the sleeping body of Miss Bitterfield, soon enough to recognize the door she needed.

There was one researcher inside the lab. He was flabby and bald, and his mouth had settled into a slight scowl more out of gravity than any internal factors.

The Black Queen spoke. "Doctor Gears?"

The man she addressed turned around. "Yes?"

"I need you to come with me."

"Show me the form, researcher. I can't leave this project unattended without the express orders of the Site Director."

The Black Queen knew this would be the response. There would be a problem if it hadn't been. She approached him, and took hold of something in her pocket. Then she reached an arm around to draw him close. The other hand administered the taserspike.

"Sorry, father." She hefted him over her shoulder. "I didn't give myself time to convince you."

The Black Queen was fiddling with a space heater when the father Gears stirred into awareness. "What did you just do?"

"I've hidden us in the city." The Black Queen was examining the dome-shaped apparatus, another work of native design. "Getting out wasn't easy. My wall-slider implant doesn't accept passengers, and the shuttle cart didn't last long beyond the security gate. Too many bullet holes. I carried you the rest of the way."

"I don't understand this." Doctor Gears glanced toward the window; the tattered blinds were drawn, but he could tell that it was evening.

"We're hidden in this apartment because I thought it'd be relatively difficult to find us. Normally we'd be trapped if the task force did close in on our location, but I have something to deal with that." The Black Queen had figured out that the packs of what looked like glow-sticks were disposable batteries. She snapped the tab on one and slid it into the flat side of the plastic dome.

"You seem to be deliberately missing the point. I'm asking about your motive."

The Black Queen flipped the dome over and laid it onto the bare floor. Then, for the first time since he woke, she looked up from it toward her captive. "I'm Doctor Gears's… I'm your daughter."

"No, you aren't."

"How do…" The Black Queen filed that question away. "I spent years looking for my father. And when I found him, he was… lost to me. Lost forever. And that loss snapped me back to my senses. I realized I had no connection to the world anymore. So… I left." She gave a sweep of her hand to add emphasis to this statement. "I found this Earth. I saw that this Earth had a Foundation, so it must have you." She pressed a switch on the dome. Internal coils began to glow orange; warmth spread out into the room. "I've earned a second chance."

Doctor Gears was silent for a moment. Then he adjusted his glasses. "Tell me more."

They spoke together after that. The conversation might have lasted an hour; the Black Queen didn't keep time. He asked her to describe the method by which she had traveled from one universe to another. But the Black Queen was more concerned with describing her childhood with an analogue of him: details of sights and sounds and emotions. She wanted to find some common ground between her father and this one. She evaluated this man that shared her father's design, checking for authenticity.

Ignoring his logistical questions, she began to ask about the doctor's life. He provided answers: his life was much like the life of her father's, except where the deviations in history bent his trajectory here and there. He had a daughter, but he hadn't seen her since he began work for the Foundation. He didn't know whether or not she was alive. The matter hadn't crossed his mind in years.

He began to ask her about herself in the present, and she gave up this information. She told him of the work she had done in wresting various items of great value and power from the Foundation after what they had done to her father. Some of these she had used as leverage to gain connections and influence; some of these she had bartered away to a private firm in exchange for passage on a secret road leading out from the world; some of these she had made into parts of her, so that she would be sure to survive the journey. He followed along carefully. The Black Queen felt like a mechanism being studied. Maybe that was his version of affection now.

After all this was shared between them, Doctor Gears removed his glasses (this one wore glasses, it turned out) and rubbed his eyes, as if they were strained from… hours? with only the heater as a light source.

The Black Queen noticed. "You're tired, aren't you?"

"Yes, I suppose so. When was the last time you ate?"

"It's been… since morning, actually." The Black Queen was astonished to wonder if he was thinking about her needs. "I think there was a vending machine downstairs. It probably hasn't been stocked in six years, but maybe there's something in it that's lasted that long. I can check…"

"That sounds like a good idea."

The Black Queen took his hand to pull him up to a standing position. She handcuffed him to a pipe, disappointed in herself for forgetting to do so before now. Then she slid through the door.

From the hall, she surveyed the streets in front of and behind the apartment building. She saw nothing resembling a threat—and her eyes had a large field of view. So she descended.

Something about the night's events had generated a crawling sensation at the back of her neck. The strangeness of it bothered her while she crossed the stairs. Eventually she realized it was a neurological condition she'd thought had subsided long ago: a conscience. This wasn't her father, as congruent as he might be. Could she let him pass as her father? And what of his daughter? Somewhere there was a woman like her, perhaps searching for this man for the same reasons.

Or perhaps her body had been burned away after elimination by whatever remains of the Occult Coalition. Who could say?

The Black Queen surveyed the provisions available. It seemed that potato chips had never occurred to this society, for all their wartime advances; the grimy vending machine was stocked with packets of roasted, dried seaweed in an assortment of flavors. The Black Queen wrapped her hand in the sack she'd taken along. Then she punched through the glass and filled the bag with packets.

There was a man with her father's face and voice up there waiting for her. Wasn't that what she tore two Foundations open to find? He didn't raise her, but… he was so close to the one who did. She could open the pathway and take them to a world less beaten-up than this one where nobody could find them. It would be a fresh start.

All she had to do was call him "dad".

The Black Queen entered the abandoned apartment once again. Doctor Gears hadn't moved from where she'd placed him. "I brought dinner."

"I can't eat like this."

The Black Queen set the preserved snacks on the floor and unfastened his handcuffs. His arms fell to his sides. "Help yourself to dinner." She pulled out a packet of sea-salt roasted kelp, then looked back up to him.

There was a momentary silence. Gears had that scrutinizing glare again. The Black Queen suspected that he had thought the same things she had, when she'd left him alone.

Then he spoke. "Actually, could you come here for a second?" Doctor Gears stretched out an arm. "I need to do this right now, if you'll comply." It was such an awkward way to ask for an embrace.

The Black Queen hesitated. The crawling sensation on her neck had been replaced with a much more familiar feeling: the jolt of her danger instinct. This felt all wrong.

The doctor watched her halt, and slowly lowered his arm. "Perhaps later, then."

The guilt came back again. The Black Queen saw him reaching out, and then saw herself reacting to the intensity of it. She was giving in to fear. No Black Queen could ever let herself give into fear. So she approached him.

He carefully wrapped an arm around her. For one quiet moment, it was everything that she had expected it to be, and everything she had worked for.

Gears's taserspike dug into the base of her spinal cord. He only released the grip when she crumpled on the ground. The air smelled of ozone and burnt plastic. Gears looked upward at an indicator on his lenses. "Glasses, cease recording." The indicator changed from red to green.

It was eleven minutes and fifteen seconds, by Gears's count, between the subdual and the arrival of the task force. The door was open, the subject still unresponsive. They collected her in a field chamber as Gears looked on. An agent asked if he was alright; Gears said she'd never hurt him. All he had to do was distract her long enough to make the call without interference.

The post-recovery processes were longer and handled by more personnel than was necessary, so the matter was now out of the doctor's hands. Even so, as he watched them cart the subject away, the containment procedures began to form in his mind for SCP-AATR, or informally, The Extrauniversal Woman.

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