Pride of Place
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rating: +50+x

Pride of Place


Dr. William Wettle scratched the mustard out of his salt-and-pepper beard as he slouched past the security checkpoint. The agent on duty nodded amiably at him; Wettle knew by a false note in the amiability that he had been recognized. He pushed the turnstile forward with his crotch, and headed down the staircase to Grand Bend Station. He checked his watch; he was fifteen minutes late, which was fifteen minutes early by his standards.

He stepped into the elevator which would take him down to the Inter-Sectional Subway System, and his agonizingly slow ride to work. Wettle kept a home in Grand Bend for those rare occasions when he found himself noticing that Site-43 was fully one kilometre below the earth; Wettle was not a noticer by habit, so it didn't usually bother him. He'd watched Earthquake a few days ago, however, and that had been enough to prompt a few days' sabbatical.

He pulled the ID card out of his labcoat pocket, and held it up to the panel-mounted scanner. The doors closed, and the elevator dropped sharply, as it always did. He chuckled at the rollercoaster rush this provoked in his stomach; he stopped chuckling when the drop stopped but the doors didn't open.

He bit his lip. "Hello?"

A crisp response filtered over the intercom: "What matter?"

"The goddamn elevator stopped, that's what matter!" Wettle growled.

A pregnant pause, then: "What matter?"

"What matter? The hell does…? Find me someone who speaks English."

The voice was harsher when it returned. "The code phrase, Dr. Wettle. Your ID's been declined. Now: What matter?"

Oh. Wettle thought about it for a moment. It was Yeats, as it always was. What matter? Something something. What matter? Hi ho hum. Something with an 'H'. Oh, fuck.

"I have no idea," he said to the empty air.

"That's him," the voice muttered, and a moment later the doors finally opened.

Hachiro Kuroki, Chief of Security and Containment, was standing in the subway station. "'Heave no sigh, let no tear drop'," he snapped.

"Yes, hooray," Wettle agreed.

Kuroki reached out and snatched the piece of paper Wettle was still holding in his hand. "What made you think this would work?"

Wettle shrugged. "It's a close enough approximation."

Kuroki was holding Wettle's badge, his real badge, in his other hand. He compared it with the printed version, a tired sneer on his face. "Why didn't you just tell someone you'd left your ID in your office?"

Badges.png

Wettle shrugged again. "I thought a photocopy would be good enough."

"Well, it wasn't." Kuroki kept the ersatz badge, but handed over the real one; Wettle clipped it to his lapel. "And don't goddamn photocopy it again, you walking security risk."

Wettle was, in fact, already walking towards the subway car. He stopped, however, and turned back to face the chief. "Why didn't it work, anyway?"

"Besides the lousy print quality, and the lack of five different electronic security features?" Kuroki reached out and tapped the badge with his thumb. "You didn't use colour ink."

Wettle glanced at the Site-43 emblem on the badge. It was, as it always was, had always been, and always would be, very colourful indeed.


Asterisk43.png

"Truculent?"

Dr. Harold Blank shook his head. "I've been called grouchy, but truculent is pushing it."

Dr. Ignaz Achterberg glared at his Section Chair across the pile of yellowing papers. "I was suggesting Truculent as the object class."

"Yeah, I know." Blank pulled the lid off the closest banker's box, and yanked a Manila folder out at random. "Haven't seen anything in the records to suggest this one's that hard to contain."

Achterberg blinked. He blinked a lot; he was quite old. "Truculents are hard to contain? For f… I can't keep these new ones straight, you know."

Blank smiled sympathetically. "Yeah, I know. What were you actually going for? Give me the pitch and I'll tell you the class."

Achterberg shook his balding head. "No, I can do this. There's still a few grey cells left in there. Ahhhhh… come on. Ticonderwhatsit? I think that works for this anomaly?"

Blank shook his own, shaggy head.

"No? Which one's Ticon…" Achterberg cleared his throat messily, clearly buying time. "Which one's Ticonderoga, then?"

"Gondor has no king; Gondor needs no king."

Achterberg blinked three times before the reference landed. "Oh. I think I knew that." He threw up his hands in disgust — "BAH" — and swivelled his chair to face the nearest computer terminal. "Clio, call up 43NET."

The familiar header flashed on the screen…

Header.jpg

…and the database began compiling below.

"Look up the esoterics list, would you?"

Blank leafed absent-mindedly through the papers as the .aic did her job, and Achterberg spent a few moments clicking through the results. When the latter finally spun back around, he was ashen-faced.

"Find the one you wanted?" Blank asked.

Achterberg nodded glumly.

"Well?"

He had to swallow twice to get the word out. "Euclid."

Blank nodded. "Have you considered transitioning to teaching? Udo's got this proposal going…"


Asterisk43.png

"Of course. Send her in."

Allan J. McInnis, Director of Site-43, snapped off the intercom and tented his fingers on the desk blotter. He was sitting ramrod-straight when Dr. Okorie walked into his office, a hefty sheaf of papers under one arm. "Afternoon."

"Udo. Are those all for me to sign?" He knew better, of course, but it was a calculated question.

Her eyebrows went up, and she shifted the stack into her hands. "There's two hundred pages here, Allan."

McInnis smiled blandly at her, and he could see her wondering whether, in that theoretical situation, he would commit to reading and then signing two hundred pages of paperwork. He could tell by the way that her eyebrows fell that she knew, deep down inside, that he would.

She slid the papers in front of him. "All done. Took a while to wrangle all the Chairs and Chiefs, and a lot of them haven't got enough teaching experience to commit, but I think we can outline a fair enough curriculum with what we've got."

McInnis glanced at the cover sheet. It was emblazoned with the Site-43 emblem, in full seven-colour glory, centred between the two lines of one bold title:

Those Who Can't

43bar.png

An Academic Prospectus for Site-43



McInnis didn't wince, but he did purse his lips. By the way her smile crinkled at the corners, he knew she'd noticed. "Harry helped you with the title."

She held both hands in front of her in a gesture of supplication. "Guilty."

McInnis turned the first few pages. "Training is schedule-intensive. Does everyone listed have the time to spare?"

Okorie nodded. "As long as the trainees are housed here, each staff member can schedule their classes for whenever they get a few free hours. Keeps everyone on their toes."

"Lets the senior staff push the new blood around, more like." McInnis nevertheless nodded. "Thank you. I'll take a look, and get back to you this evening."

Okorie headed for the door, but hung back just a second. There was a mischievous glint in her eye. "Oh, speaking of Harry?"

"Yes?"

"Most of the Chairs and Chiefs couldn't think of good course names, so I let Archives and Revision make a few suggestions. Happy reading."

McInnis waited until the door had closed to rub his eyes. He flipped to the course calendar, and examined the first entry.

"Acroamatic Abatement 321: Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind."

This time, in his own company, he did wince.


Asterisk43.png

Dr. Lillian Lillihammer wore the word "NO" plastered across her pale, angular face. She nevertheless committed to presenting the full package: "NO," she said, quite firmly.

"Come on." Delfina Ibanez was snapping at her heels; there was nearly two feet of height between them, and Lillihammer was walking fast. "It'll be fun."

"It'll be hell." Lillihammer quickened the pace, and Ibanez had to start jogging to keep up. This presented no great difficulty; the Chief of Pursuit and Suppression was used to moving with a purpose.

"Why?" It was all Ibanez could do to not reach out and grab her friend by the belt as they peeled into the central foyer of the admin offices. "Ilse will be there, you like Ilse."

Lillihammer stopped right in the middle of the foyer, black boots bleeding into the black outline of Lake Huron on the otherwise rainbow-hued emblem of Site-43 painted tangibly into the tiles. "No, I respect Ilse, because she knows more than I do. I don't like anyone who knows more than I do, Delfina. You ought to know that."

Flor.jpg

Ibanez shrugged. "Okay, well… Amelia will be there. She's pretty bright, but obviously not as bright as you. Not like Ilse."

Lillihammer glowered at her. "I didn't say Ilse was as bright as me." Her voice was deadly calm. "I said she knows more than me. She knows more than me on account of being over a century old."

Ibanez held both hands up defensively. It was little more than a gesture; she could easily snap the taller woman in twain, if the mood struck her. "Forsythe—"

"—is such a non-entity, you don't remember her given name."

"Polly—"

"—talks about ghosts. Every day. Every god-damn day, ghosts. I don't care about ghosts, Delfina."

"Nhung?"

"Don't care to be psychoanalyzed, either."

"Psychoanalysts don't actually do that to their friends? That's a movie thing."

Lillihammer stomped her boots in frustration. "This isn't the point."

"Karen? What about Karen?"

"THIS ISN'T THE POINT!" To their credit, none of the passing researchers or agents stopped to stare. One of the Chairs shouting at one of the Chiefs, particularly when one was one of these two, was nothing much new. "Karen's a bitch. But it's still not the point." She stalked off towards her private lab.

"Well, what is the point?" Ibanez called after her. "What's so bad about a girls' night in?"

"NOTHING!" Lillihammer screeched, turning around and bending low, walking backward to continue the retreat. Ibanez admired her poise. "I just don't want to play motherfucking UNO with you! Why does everyone play UNO now? Is it fucking memetic?"

She spun on her heels and rounded a corner. Ibanez just barely heard the parting shot: "Fucking boring fucking card games, Jesus Christ."


Asterisk43.png

The disused space beneath Acroamatic Abatement Facility AAF-A looked for all the world like an empty parking garage, albeit a brightly-decorated one. By tomorrow, it would be swarming with workers; by the following year, it might just possibly be home to a training centre. At the moment it only contained two wandering academics in need of a private space to engage in argument.

Placeholder McDoctorate, PhD, shook his head sadly. "That's ridiculous." He leaned on the tiled wall, and crossed his arms.

"You're ridiculous." Ilse Reynders, herself a PhD many times over, leaned on the support column across from him. "Nobody named "Placeholder McDoctorate" gets to tell me I'm describing something too extreme."

"That's different!" Place suddenly swung his arms wide; they both heard the faint sound of tearing cloth, and he glanced down sheepishly at his labcoat. "That's different. Not every version of me, in every dimension, got their name stolen by a media monster. What you're talking about is simply preposterous."

Reynders shrugged. "All I can say is, we've checked. We've got two different departments that handle timeline distribution, and we've checked. Every single one we're aware of, every alternate universe, they're all identical in this single respect."

Placeholder picked at the tiles behind him with his pen knife. "Somewhere, it's just black and white."

"Nope."

"Somewhere it's flat white. Somewhere it's black with a red background. Meet me in the middle, here!"

"Sorry, guy. Them's the data."

He stabbed at the blue tiles in frustration. "That's not how the multiverse works! This can't be a constant. Not something so specific."

She sighed. "You wouldn't think so, but then again… maybe it's the media monsters."

He cocked his head to one side. "Explain."

"Pataphysics. I'm no expert, shut up," and she started grinning as he started grinning, "I'm no expert on pataphysics but isn't it possible we're dealing with some sort of authorial control thing, here? An author entity just straight-up refuses to countenance any alterations of this single universal aspect?"

He frowned. "Little too on-the-nose, isn't it?" He scratched his mass of dark hair, then glanced at the wall beside him. He considered the gigantic painted emblem with its prismatic bands of colour, apparently unchanging across all of time and space. He threw his hands up again, this time in defeat. "I guess someone's really trying to send a message."

She nodded. "And they're not even trying to be subtle about it."

He glanced at the emblem again. "We could be imagining the thing. It might not even be here, in-universe, with us. Not exactly the way we're seeing it."

She pushed off the column, walked across the concrete and rapped the painted symbol rhythmically. They both heard the hollow echo of her knuckles on the tiles. He handed her the pen knife; she took it, but hesitated.

"Painters tomorrow," he reminded her. "They'll touch it up."

She nodded, then gently picked at the paint where it had already partially chipped. A few flakes of granular tile fell into her palm, one at a time. Black. Brown. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. Blue. Violet.

"Well, that settles that." She tipped her hand, and watched the colours fall. "Definitely here, in-universe, with us."

She handed back his pen knife.

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He nodded thoughtfully. "Guess it's canon, then."

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