The Long Fall, Part 1
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rating: +21+x

October 29th, 2020

The autumnal weather in Sloth's Pit had always been pleasant. Despite the occasional downpour, the leaves always had a pleasant crunch underfoot, the wind was never too cold, and the way the sun shone through the trees reminded those who saw it that, despite the imminent winter, there would be spring on the other side.

Now, this all felt… tainted, somehow. There was a faint smell of smoke throughout the town, as if someone was burning a pile of leaves that none of them could see. People coughing from this scent brought entire streets to a standstill as people stood and watched, wondering what was happening to them. Reality felt off-kilter, somehow; most were willing to attribute that to the fact that it was Halloween, and that reality always felt altered around this time of year.

Among those who knew otherwise were Alison Carol and Robert Tofflemire. The two of them were standing before the Witch's Hut costume shop, some bemusement on their faces as they inspected the sign on the front doors.

"Closed?" Alison knocked on the glass. "It's two days before Halloween. Why the hell would she be closed?"

Robert pulled out his phone. "What kind of car does she drive? The owner, I mean."

"Uh." Alison frowned. She had been drinking buddies with Laura Ashbrooke for about a year, so she knew at least some details of the woman's life. "A… red Volvo Sedan, I think?"

"…car of that description was found vacant last night, out by Executive Drive."

"That's where Laura lives." Alison sighed. "Shit. Do you think it got her?"

It was at this point that the pair of them felt truly drained. Alison didn't feel much of anything for a woman she had considered a friend at one point, beyond a bit of indignation that she had been gotten by some… thing.

"Dammit." Alison slumped in front of the store. "What are we going to do? We… we have to figure out what this thing wants, how it's going to do it."

"It requires both director access, and the ability to use the First Footpath." Robert paced back and forth. "There has to be something that only the Director can get into, but it also needs to be in a specific place when the Director gets in there."

"We know it can bilocate. Omni-locate, probably, if it got out of here. So one part of it goes with the Director, the other to the footpath to try and get out of the Nexus?"

"How does it get out, though?" Robert scratched his head. "It would require the Nexus barrier to open, or outright collapse."

"And what the hell was the Nexus trying to tell us by making a phone blare out a Pirates of Penzance song? Does Penzance mean anything to you?"

"Worth looking into." Robert shook his head, looking down as his stomach grumbled. "Goddammit, haven't eaten all day. Could murder a pizza right now."

There was a squeal of tires as a white Kia bearing the logo of a local pizza joint as a roof decoration blasted into the parking lot of the strip mall that contained the Witch's Hut, pursued by a mass of iron, concrete, and glass. Their eyes widened as what was unmistakably the former Sloth's Pit branch of the Wisconsin Department of Transport came barreling across the parking lot, descending upon the car in horrible crunch of metal.

"Christ alive!" Robert stood up and drew his sidearm, knowing it wouldn't do any good. "I thought this thing got firebombed!"

"Evidently not hard enough!" Alison reached for her radio— before remembering it was back in the car. "Goddammit all. Ideas?"

The WisDOT building had picked up its car in its… teeth and was starting to thrash it about like a predator trying to break its prey's neck. It ate the wreck before it turned to glower at the two agents. Alison and Robert stood still, as it looked at them; while it seemed hungry (as hungry as a building could) it wasn't interested in feeding on them in a physical sense.

"That's it, then." Alison swallowed. "That's… what's attacking the town. Or a manifestation of it."

"It won't kill us as long as we're afraid. So there's that." Robert backed up against the wall. "Probably."

With a contemptuous huff, the living mass of rubble suddenly was covered in thick, black smog, before it disappeared and was replaced with a semi-truck. The driver, whose head was nothing more than a skull, turned towards Alison before it drove out of the parking lot.

"That poor fucking driver, Jesus." Robert swallowed. "Wasn't that an Uncle Mike's car? I said I wanted pizza… do you think—"

The two of them nearly jumped out of their skin at a rustle of paper from Alison's right side. A somewhat pudgy man with a curly beard and a skunk stripe of white through his hair held a thermal bag in one hand, with a pair of clothing bags draped over his other arm. There was a receipt in his hand. "I have a… large half-pineapple half-plain pizza, as well as two mandatory costumes, as ordered by Director King, for one Ms. Carol and one Mr. Tofflemire."

The two of them looked at the man as if he were a Martian speaking Esperanto.

"Don't look at me like that. I'm the Deliveryman. I make deliveries whether or not I have my vehicle with me." He extended the receipt, along with a small clipboard, to Alison. "Sign here, please?"

Alison did so, recognition dawning on her face. "You're Ed Valentine. Laura's boyfriend. Is she—"

"Alive. Better off than usual, actually!" He withdrew the pizza from the thermal bag, and handed them each a clothing bag; both were monogrammed with their respective initials. "All right, I'll leave that to you; other deliveries to make." He produced a set of car keys and pressed the unlock button on the remote.

A brand new white Kia appeared before them, and the Deliveryman opened the truck to check its contents. "Before you ask: yes, I'm Union. We have a plan, don't worry. Oh, and…" He rubbed his face. "According to my boss, since I'm tasked with Delivering, it's okay if I deliver some exposition. Want it?"

"….suuuuure?" Alison was still reeling from the whole episode that had just transpired.

"Okay, so. Dr. King is part of the Union now, too, as an Orchardist. Laura's the Costumer. We're all working together to make sure that nobody in town is affected too heavily by what's going to happen, which we can't tell you about beyond that; something about an 'unspoken plan guarantee'."

"Fucking pataphysics," Robert muttered.

"What?" The Deliveryman was unfamiliar with the concept outside of a half-remembered Beatles verse.


"Anyway. We're on top of it. You two worry about trying to figure out stuff on your end. The Union might not like you, but… as far as we're concerned? S & C Plastics hasn't done too much wrong by the town." He chewed his lip. "That being said. Keep an eye on Weiss. She may not be fit to serve, especially from a medical perspective." A pause. "Apparently I'm allowed to deliver cryptic hints like that as well." He climbed back into his car. "Enjoy the costumes! So long!"

With that, the Kia peeled out of the parking lot. Robert sat down with the pizza and opened the box, as Alison began opening the costume bags.

"So. That happened." Robert frowned. "What the hell is the Union's deal, anyway?"

"Apparently they predate Sloth's Pit by a good amount. Don't know why they settled here, don't much care to know." Alison frowned. "Wonder what I'm going as…" She opened the bag, revealing a pair of suspenders, a deep indigo shirt with colored stripes on it, a set of ankle-high boots, a light beige coat, and some waist-high trousers. She squealed, pulling the costume free of the bag. "I'm the Doctor!"

Robert was about to bite into the pizza as Alison announced this. "Doctor wh—" Then, he grinned "God, Whitaker got a bad rep, didn't she?"

"Any series that brings back Captain Jack can't be all bad. And Barrowman's aged well." She opened up the other costume bag, grinning as she saw a black trenchcoat within. "Talking of!"

"I'm not good for Captain Jack, is the thing." Robert looked at the coat. "I'm not… you know?"

"Handsome? Pansexual? Immortal?"


Alison handed him the coat and looked at the pizza. "I can't believe you like pineapple on it."

"Reynolds likes Pineapple… and anchovies, I hear."

Alison turned green as she sat down to enjoy her half of the pizza. "So. Plan of action, after this?"

"Talk to someone on medical. I'm thinking Liao."

"Good call." She bit into the pizza. It was gooey, cheesy, had the right amount of sauce, and was something worth remembering.

Gwendolyn Liao, despite her title of 'nurse', was effectively head of Site-87's medical department. Dr. Roderick Maxwell officially held the title, but he was a figurehead, for one simple reason: nobody trusted Maxwell to not blab about his patients to his colleagues. Everyone from the Site Director to the various J&M technicians trusted her to not divulge medical information to anyone except those who were listed on the emergency contact forms, and so, she was consulted about medical issues more frequently than any other professional at the site.

Therefore, the look of sheer disgust on her face was only understandable, as was her reply: "Go. Fuck. Yourselves!"

"Liao, I know that—" Alison began. Her voice was slightly muffled by a cloth mask she was wearing. Robert wore one as well.

"You know nothing! What you're asking would be a breach of a trust so sacred that it can fucking liquefy a vampire!"

"…can it?" Robert asked.

"Not the point. The 'Harm' in 'Do No Harm' includes not divulging sensitive medical information, no matter who asks. Unless you're direct family or a goddamn O5, you aren't getting any information on Director Weiss."

"Odd that she's director, though, isn't she?"

Liao blinked uncomprehendingly.

"I mean…" Robert stood. "It was earlier this month that she fell down a bottomless pit that formed out of nowhere and broke her arm, yeah? Was deemed unfit for duty because she had been compromised by an anomaly?"

"I have no clue what you're talking about." Liao frowned. "Is this some kind of exercise in gaslighting? Did Palmer put you up to this as an… avant-garde psych screening?"

"Liao. You're a medical professional. Tell us, why are we wearing these masks right now?" Alison pointed at the cloth mask on her face. "And why aren't you wearing one?"

Liao frowned, crossing her eyes. "I… I don't…" The frown deepened. "There… I… I…" Then, her eyes widened. "My god. Nobody is wearing a mask. It's a flagrant breach of protocol. Why is nobody wearing a mask?!"

"Why would they need to?" Robert asked.

"Because of fucking COVID!"

The pervasive smell of burning leaves suddenly vacated the room. Liao was left shaking in her seat, looking at her hands. She produced a bottle of hand sanitizer and scrubbed at her skin as she continued. "…okay, so the Site is compromised. Weiss is as well?"

"We think so." Alison nodded. "But… okay, so part of your job involves rescinding directorial privileges in the event of a medical emergency?"

"It's called Gears-Shift Protocol. Named for Dr. Gears, it… it's basically the 25th Amendment, but for Site Directors. In the event of one of them being unfit to serve, their permissions are given to the next person in line to be the director. In this case… that would be Tristan Bailey."

"Do you have a list of permissions a Director has?" Robert raised an eyebrow. "Specifically, the Director of Site-87? Wouldn't compromise any medical data on Weiss beyond what's publicly known."

Liao screwed up her eyes; the scent of burning leaves was starting to re-enter the room. "It's… coming back." From her desk, she withdrew a blue SD card. "That… that's a copy of all Directoral Permissions Weiss should not have right now. Get out of here, before it—" She cringed. "No… don't… don't let me fade…"

"You did amazing, Liao. We're going to save all of you." Robert scooped up the SD card and made a swift exit alongside Alison.

In her office, Gwen Liao blinked, looking at her hands. They were cracked and dry; she had put too much hand sanitizer on them again. She didn't really need to use the stuff, anyway. Not like there was a bug of any kind going around.

"This is one advantage of having tech that's not under Foundation monitoring." Alison popped the SD card into her Samsung Galaxy that she used for Nobody purposes. "They can't really flag you for accessing restricted data if they can't tell you're accessing it."

Robert sat opposite her within the Black Garden. Prior to the town Changing, it had been restricted to only six or seven people in the garden at the time, maybe two or three groups. Now, it was as packed as it had ever been prior to 2020; it gave them plenty of cover, at least.

"Gotta admit, I missed the food." Robert looked over the platter of onion rings before them, skewered in a pyramid atop a metal spike, Tower of Hanoi-style. Three different dipping sauces lined the platter, with Alison bogarting the fourth, a spicy 'cowboy' sauce that Robert couldn't eat without his tongue bursting into flames. "Did you seriously order a venison burger?"

"Never tried venison before. Figured I should do it before the world ends." She broke her onion ring in half and dipped it into the sauce, chewing on it as she waited for the files to load. "Okay… dammit, why did they have to give me an Android?"

"Havin' trouble working it?"

"Yeah, mind doing it for me?" She handed him the phone. "Passcode is—"

"Saw you type it in at the hospital, I know it." Robert took the phone and tapped in the code, letting the file load in its entirety. "Okay… what should I start searching—"


"Right." Robert loaded the search function and typed in the word. "Nothing. Dammit."

"Maybe it's an acronym? P.E.N.Z.A.N.C.E. or something?"

He tapped a few more keys. "No dice. Give me until the main course, I should have it by then."

By the time Robert was on his fifth permutation of search terms, the entrees had arrived; Robert had gotten a Rueben with a side of artichoke dip, and Alison was enjoying her venison burger. By the time they had gotten their second round of drinks, Robert had yet to find anything of interest in the directorial clearance file— or at least, anything of relevant interest. "Did you know the Director gets free Burger King, but only a discount at McDonald's? Wonder why."

Alison groaned into her burger and put her head on the table. "God fuck it all to shit. Did we get a dead end delivered to us?"

"I have to be overlooking something." He rubbed his face. "Gimme another half-hour. I'll pay for dessert."

"I feel like it would be a waste of time." Alison frowned. "But on the other hand, I could murder an apple pie."

Robert turned back to the phone and shook his head. "The Nexus is on the fritz. I thought for sure that would give me some sudden insight into something obvious I overlooked."

"That old chestnut, heh." Alison rolled her shoulders as she looked over the dessert menu. "It's weird. I know exactly what you're talking about, but I cannot remember a single thing that has actually been used in."

"Happens all the time on murder mystery shows."

Alison snapped her fingers and pointed at him. "That's where I know it from. Haven't watched any mystery shows since Psych got canceled."

"It had eight seasons, that's a good—" Robert paused. "Nexus stopped being on the fritz. Hold on." He scrolled through the phone, tapping several keys. "I saw the world 'cancel' in here, just found it again. It's an uneven acronym; Penumbral Zone Anomaly Canceller and Eradicator. PenZAnCE."

"I don't like the sound of that. But what the hell does that even mean?"

Robert scrolled further. "Just lists 'activation protocols' under 'Directorial duties'. Doesn't even say what the protocols are." He huffed. "What do we even do with this?"

Alison shook her head. "For now? Eat. I know you like the fudge cake here." She flagged down their server and ordered dessert. "But yeah. Another dead end." She chewed her lip. "We could… try to ask Weiss herself?"

"You honestly think that would work?" Robert snorted. "I mean… why the hell not? Worst she can do is say 'no'."

October 30th

"I'm not sure how you found out about it, but the fact that you have is very disturbing." Nina Weiss, her hair in a braid and eyebrows raised behind a set of thick glasses, stared at the two agents before her. "How did you come to find information about the Penzance Protocol?"

Robert had an alibi ready. "We were looking over some of Archivist Pickman's notes. He had a set of blueprints for the Site's expansion back in '78, and we saw something called 'Penzance' on there. Nobody else knew what we were talking about, so…"

Weiss rubbed her face. "Goddammit. That man kept the archives in such a state that he could barely find his way around. Of course he left classified data out in the open."

At this point, Alison, Robert, and Director Weiss were all on the fourth floor of the S & C Plastics building, aboveground. Weiss had an office up here that she insisted on using 90% of the time, despite the security risks. She only used her office on the Admin sublevel to conduct business in the event of visitors from other Foundation Sites. She had a fresh mug of tea on her desk, which she drank from as she invited them to sit.

"You two have done great services to this Site in the past, so I don't suppose it's… hmm." Weiss frowned. "Normally I'd need to get permission from regional command, but we are regional command. So, allow me to fill you in."

Weiss brought up an image on the tablet computer built into her desk. It depicted a cage unmistakably built from beryllium-bronze. Scranton anchors were at every cardinal direction, and it was surrounded by a field of electricity. Inside of it was a black box about the size of a laser printer, with a keypad on it; beyond that, few details could be made out.

"A Penznace Device, is… a reality eraser. It works on several levels; materially, it unmakes solid, liquid, and gaseous matter on the Planck level, to the point where only quarks remain. On an anomalous one… it wipes out individuals and concepts on a level so absolute that Deepwell sites have had difficulty recovering data."

"So… they've been used before?" Alison swallowed.

"Only once, as far as we can tell. Even then, it was a small-scale test run; erased a vacant house in Alberta."

"Oh." Robert folded his hands and twiddled his thumbs. "Well… why is there one here?"

"They're standard equipment in every Nexus site. In the event that the Nexus they're in undergoes a catastrophic breach, the orders are to evacuate the townsfolk and personnel as best as we can, and have the Director…" She chewed her lip. "Manually activate it."

"But that would kill the Director." Robert tapped his chair. "Kill you."

"We try to go down with the ship, yes." Weiss rolled her shoulders. "Other than that test run, it has never been used. Doubt it ever will be."

"This thing's gonna use this Penzance Device to unmake the town, then." Sinning Jessie sat at a somewhat splintery wooden table outside of Ice-Burg, Sloth's Pit's local dairy bar, still clad in Foundation fatigues. A milkshake was in one hand, a grilled cheese sandwich in the other. "I mean, she was basically begging for it to do that with a straight line like that."

"I just wish we knew what the hell the Union's plan was." Robert shook his head, ignoring his cheese fries. "But… if we learned about it, it probably won't work."

"Some days I wish Jackson Sloth had decided to be an accountant instead of a novelist. Maybe we'd all be rich." The Goatman sat next to Jessie, eating a barbecue beef sandwich; he was a fairly regular customer at the Ice-Burg, so nobody gave him odd looks. "So, how do we stop it?"

"We need to stop Weiss, I think. This thing has a hold on her, and it's… going to try to get her to activate it. Don't know how, though." Alison chewed her lip and slurped at her malt. "I feel like I'm trying to solve a puzzle with only a quarter of the pieces revealed to me. I need some outside help, and all Foundation channels I'm trying aren't responding. Getting nothing from Nobody, either."

The Goatman glowered as Robert began to open his mouth. "Try to start a 'Who's on First' routine and I'm going to break your nose."

"I was going to say that… maybe this is like it was back in '18? How the Nexus created a barrier so that people couldn't get in or out? Maybe it's afraid of the thing escaping through official channels?"

"Or it's playing into the fear of isolation we all have right now." Alison sighed and knocked back her Pepsi float. "It has Weiss's biometrics. It can get into the Site using the first footpath, and it has access to the Site from the passcodes. Why does it need her, still?"

"…breaking through the barrier is gonna need a lot of energy, even if it gets brought down by this Penznace Device. It's probably going to… feed on her." The Goatman swallowed. "And it's going to happen tomorrow. We need to be inside your building if we're going to help."

"Right. We need a game plan, then." Robert chomped at his cheese fries. "If only there was a way to smuggle you two in."

"Everyone is going to be wearing a costume." Jessie frowned. "You honestly think anyone's going to notice a few extra people?"

"I mean… you have to sign in with your badge to get access to where the party is being held." Robert shrugged. "So, yes."

"I hate the fact that you're competent." The Goatman scowled. "Granted, the alternative is that this town gets blown to smithereens, but still."

Alison shook her head and slurped at her milkshake. "We are allowed a plus-one from the town. But there's paperwork, security checks…"

Jessie and the Goatman both raised an eyebrow. "Or, hear me out on this," Jessie frowned. "We are both beholden to the stories that are told. Just… weave us a yarn. Give us a good reason to be in the building, and we'll both be there."

"Didn't need a badge for her to get in," The Goatman pointed out, looking at Alison. "You're a Narrator. Surely you can come up with something."

She chewed her lip. "All right, how about—"

October 31st
6:00 PM

"I can't believe that worked." Robert Tofflemire, clad in a black trenchcoat and wearing a dark wig, entered the elevator and looked at his companions. "Like… they just bought it."

"It's weird, yeah." Alison dug in the pocket of her own coat, frowning. From it, she extracted a Sonic Screwdriver prop that had come with the costume. "You think this actually works?"

"It's Union work, so… it might." The Goatman shrugged. His eyes were unblinking plastic orbs; he had taken on the appearance of someone wearing a goat-like costume. "Hopefully I don't stand out too much."

"Dr. Sinclair wears a fox costume every year. You're fine." Robert looked over at Sinning Jessie. "And… who are you meant to be?"

"Isn't it obvious?" She folded her arms and scowled. The costume she was wearing looked like it came out of either an issue of Penthouse or an Anne Rice novel— a chainmail bikini and a strange crown that spilled over the back of her head, combined with a long black skirt with a jeweled belt, a series of beads running down the front.

It was at the thought of an Anne Rice novel that Robert got the connection. "Akasha? Like, Queen of the Damned?"

"…you actually saw that film?" Alison raised an eyebrow as she pressed the button to go up to the roof. "God, what is wrong with you?"

"It's not that bad!" Robert protested. "Okay, it is, but it's bad in a fun sense!"

"Masochist!" Alison laughed as the elevator took them upwards. She allowed herself the final bit of levity, before rubbing her nose. Her game face was officially on. It had been a long month, and it was about to end, for better or for worse.

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