Suspect Ratio

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« Previously: The Dedekind-Infinite Demographic

Between the fursuit and the magic staff, Katherine Sinclair figured that the former was far more likely to get her stopped at customs. But when the TSA agent stopped her and cited the suitcase full of wolfsbane instead of wolf's head, Sinclair felt her stomach drop into her feet even before they said the words 'Class-A thaumic focus'.

In her experience, your average customs officer couldn't have pronounced the word 'thaumic', let alone tell an Everhart driver from a particularly sharp stick. Still, she decided to play it dumb, see if she could bluff her way out of the worst that could happen.

"This?" she asked, flicking the leather grip of the driver where it lay swaddled in anti-static fabric. "Oh, this is for my sister in Milwaukee — she's real into that New Age scene, magic crystals, healing woo-woo…"

Her fingers were stopped mid-explanatory waggle as the agent fixed her with an amused if withering look. "Skipper, I've been here for a whole four hours and even I can tell that your accent's frankly atrocious."

"I-" Sinclair immediately glanced over her shoulder at the word 'Skipper' and immediately cursed herself for it. She'd just blown any chance at another bluff out of the water. That said, though, between the TSA get-up and the bitter smirk when they'd mentioned the Foundation, she thought she had a fairly good handle on who they were fronting for. "Does the Unit usually let their operatives discuss thaumaturgy in front of civilians, Agent?" she hissed.

For a moment, the smirk almost turned into a sincere smile. "Got it right first time."

Sinclair's brow furrowed. "Pardon?"

"Never mind." They rolled their eyes and muttered a low susurrus under their breath that raised hairs on Sinclair's neck and arms. "There. Glamoured. Happy?"

"Not until you tell me why you stopped me."

The agent made a face. "You sound like the last sovcit anartist I pulled over in Portlands."

"That's not an answer."

"Fine. We needed a local touch for this case, and you were the only contact we could pull up in time."

"So you're abducting a senior Foundation thaumaturgist while she's flying back home for some case you won't tell her about." Sinclair snorted. "Glad to see the Unit's as professional as ever."

It was like they hadn't even heard the insult. They simply shrugged their shoulders and casually picked up Sinclair's staff, twirling it with all the gravitas of a drunken band major. Immediately, she had to fight the urge to snatch it out of their hands and smack them over the head with it. "Fine, it's not my problem if the Foundation just had one of its Wisconsin reliquaries ransacked by a one-man team. I'll glamour down and let you go; just say the words."

A muscle in Sinclair's temple twitched. "You could've just led with that, Agent."

"And now I know why Spencer loves doing this so much," they chuckled under their breath. "Come on, let's get you briefed."

The TSA agent-slash-Sinclair's new least favourite person introduced themselves as Robin on the walk to the makeshift briefing room. "I'll leave my last name for you to find out. I'd rather not risk you trying to hex me just yet, no offense."

Sinclair barely managed to spit out the words 'none taken' between teeth ground together hard enough to squeak. At least they'd done her the decency of ensuring her luggage would go through nothing worse than a VERITAS scan for safety; as luxurious as the Foundation's insurance was, she was pretty sure she couldn't be reimbursed for damage to a fursuit, no matter how expensive it was to commission.

After at least six right turns, none of which took them back to where they started, Robin stopped at an indistinguishable white-painted door and knocked sharply on it, shave-and-a-haircut style. "Ari! Stop playing with the napkins, our VIP's here."

A retort which sounded more like a distressed squawk sounded from inside the room, before its occupant stumbled outside, tissues stuffed into his suit vest's pocket and a guilty look on his face. Between the 'disappointed parent' expression Robin was giving him and the boyish mop of brown curls, he looked about five years too young to be an FBI agent, let alone someone posing as grizzled TSA staff.

As soon as he made eye contact with Sinclair, though, it looked like the frown had just fallen off his face and onto the floor. If it weren't for the sheer relief she felt at just feeling some kind of positivity, it would've been disconcerting. "I'm Ari. Nice to meet you. You're the Foundation's alchemist, yeah?"

He offered a hand to shake, which Sinclair reluctantly accepted. "…different department, but you're close enough."

"Ah. Yeah, see, Th- Robin over here's the wizard, I'm just some schlub the Unit picked up outta Chicago." Ari grinned and shook his head, sweeping his bangs back out of his eyes. "Shame you're gonna be stuck with me for the rest of this case; you two probably would've enjoyed each other's…"

The looks he was getting from both magicians bought his sentence to a screeching halt. "…Anyway. We should probably get onto the briefing proper, yeah?"

"Good idea," Robin said crisply. "Let's get this over with and you two out in the field, shall we?"

They ushered Sinclair into the briefing room after a couple of guarded glances to check nobody was watching. A pot of coffee bearing J. Edgar Hoover's disapproving visage and a plate of cookies which looked older than Sinclair herself sat on the gaudy mahogany table at the center of the room.

"Drinks?" Ari offered, holding up a dusty-looking paper cup he'd pulled from somewhere.

Sinclair wrinkled her nose. "I'm good, thanks."

He shrugged in a way that said 'suit yourself' and settled back into his seat. "Looks like we're skipping the pleasantries, then. Wild guess here, but I think you know less than we do about the raid that just happened here, yeah?"

Sinclair nodded in confirmation, drumming her fingers on the table. "My leave just ended today, I haven't even checked my work email."

"We know," Robin said around a mouthful of aged pecan and choc-chip. The Unit wizard was scarfing down cookies in stacks of three at a time; the sheer speed at which they were putting them away made Sinclair suspect they had a case of what Monty had affectionately nicknamed 'the magic munchies'. "Darnell sends his regards for the 'dakimakura' thing, by the way."

Ari sighed, oblivious to Sinclair looking like she'd just swallowed an anthill. "Can we stay on-topic, please?"

Robin grumbled in grudging assent, while Sinclair took a moment to recover enough of her composure to speak. "Question: how do you know more than I do about a Foundation fuck-up?"

"To put it lightly? You could literally smell the mess from a mile away, Doctor." Ari reached into one of the pockets of his vest and slid a neatly-folded photo over to Sinclair. Unfolding it revealed a lurid tableau of human insides that had become outsides, shreds of tendon dripping from the walls of what looked to be a containment wing of some kind. "If the security footage is accurate, that's the work of one man. One hundred percent casualty rate."

Sinclair felt her gorge rising and hastily tried to choke it down. "I- Fine. That's… big is an understatement, but I still don't get what the Unit's doing in Foundation business. We can take care of our own."

In response, Ari held up a hand, which Robin took as their cue to toss him an evidence bag they'd pulled from their jacket. "Funny thing, Doctor — a couple of days ago, we got called out to the Wanderer's Library because someone managed to steal an entire genre of books."

He set the bag on the table. Inside was an unassuming chess piece: a black queen by the looks of it. "And now someone else gets in and out of a Foundation site with the magic equivalent of a nuclear warhead and manages to liquefy every man on-site. You're starting to see what I'm getting at, right?"

"You're thinking they're the same guy."

"More like hoping," Robin cut in. "Full disclosure, we don't have a solid link, but coincidence seems a little unlikely. Veil-shaking lightning striking twice and all that."

Sinclair sank into her seat, brows furrowed as she mulled over what she'd just been told. "Alright. Sure, why not. You've got this hunch, but why'd you need to bring me into this?"

Robin and Ari shared a glance, before Ari spoke up again. "My partner did a little research at the Library. Turns out, the perpetrator who left this—" He tapped the chess piece through the plastic of the bag. "—this isn't their first time round the block. And if our sources are right, we've got a problem that's just perfect for the folks at the Pit."

"…Right." Sinclair nodded dubiously. "Can I ask who?"

"You've come to the right place," Tristan Bailey grinned.

This time of year was one of the few where the offices of Multi-U looked even close to presentable. The various pieces of public holiday PPE had been packed away in their lockers, not to come out for another month at the least, and for once the Bailey brothers had bothered to toss out the mounds of paper detritus that littered their desks.

Tristan was the triplet on duty when Sinclair and her FBI entourage entered the Site, and he greeted the newcomers as if they were any other Foundation agents. Technically, the passes Sinclair had scored for Robin and Ari meant they were Skippers for the sake of paperwork, but it still didn't mean she was willing to let either of them out of her sight.

"So, what brings you here?" He spun lazily in his desk chair as his workstation powered up. "Got a missing person lost in another universe, accidentally pissed off another Foundation, wanted the answer to the old 'is it sex or—'"

Sinclair coughed hard into her hand. "Tristan, our… new friends… have someone they want tracked."

"Oh? Well, we do a little bit of everything here, and that doesn't seem too tough." The Bailey brother bought the chair to a halt with his foot and flashed the group a winning smile. "Anything you've got for us to go off of?"

In answer, Ari dropped the bag onto the desk. Tristan's eyes narrowed as he examined the chess piece, before looking up to regard both agents with faint suspicion. "…I see."

"See what?" Sinclair folded her arms, clearly out of the loop and not liking it.

"The Black Queen," Tristan said. The words were pronounced in a faintly distasteful tone of voice that indicated it was a Proper Noun; Ari and Robin's expressions indicated it was not to be fucked with.

"Still not getting you."

"A bunch of someones throughout the multiverse who're the same someone." He turned to his terminal and began hammering away at it. "Turns out, finding one alternate-universe body double is weird enough, but finding one for just about every universe where the Foundation exists is just- it's really fucking weird, to put it lightly."

Robin nodded. "That was the gist I got. The Library has plenty of information on what she is, but not a word on who or where she is."

"I think we can solve that problem," Tristan said. "How about a trade? We give you what we know about any Queens round this universe, and if you can get her with it, you send her straight to us."

"Quid pro quo," Robin muttered to themselves. "It's going to take some doing to convince Cora, but I think we can get her say-so."

"Then it's a deal."

Two days and an express flight from Wisconsin to Oregon later, Ari found himself and his boyfriend in line for the monthly Derby Everywhere exhibition match. The perennially gloomy Three Portlands skies had been lit up by luminescent blue cables strung from the nearby buildings, which served as both mood lighting and a magical acre-sized umbrella for the throng of spectators gathering around the impromptu arena.

A bored-looking golem with a traffic light for a head held its hand out to Ari as they reached the front of the ticket line. "Cash, credit, or improv?"

"Can't do skits, sorry. Origami work?"

"Hm." The traffic light flashed yellow in what Ari had to assume was a guarded expression. "It better not be a crane or I'm leaving you to the bouncers."

"What do you take me for, a beginner?" Ari grinned and took a square of red paper from the inside of his suit pocket. Valley here, mountain there, pinch here and twist the corners through each other like that and just like magic, a crane took shape in the palm of his hand.

The light flashed red. "Is this a joke?"

"No, it's a swan."

Right on cue, Ari's paper sculpture suddenly twitched its wings and honked at the golem, who emitted a metallic yelp and nearly fell backwards onto one of its colleagues. Righting itself, it grudgingly handed him a pair of tickets (actually just old cinema tickets recycled to save on paper) and waved the two agents through to the arena proper.

Once they were out of earshot, Landen lightly nudged Ari with his shoulder. "Does that ever get old?"

Ari snorted, which was answer enough. "This is a business trip, Landen, stay focussed."


The two headed towards the increasingly crowded stands, a set of giant steel seats donated by Deer College that were almost definitely not meant for this many people. Within a few moments, the majority of the crowd had taken their seats and the Unit agents were just two more faces in the crowd.

As the lights dimmed and music began to shake the stadium, Landen tapped a spot just below his throat. "Noemi?"

"I read you," Noemi replied. She was set up on the far side of the stadium with a heavy-duty COLLICULUS system set up to take Kirlian pictures of the participants; if the Foundation's intel was on-point, the thief would stand out like a magnesium flare in a sea of lightbulbs. "Just waiting for the cue."

The announcer's voice boomed over the intercom before Landen could respond. "Robots, meatsuits, everyone in between! Derby Everywhere's proud to bring you a very special matchup of two very special teams, exactly none of which would be legal in any other competition!"

Ari's brow furrowed as he examined the playbill. "The Cleveland Browns I get, but I thought the Erisians were street-legal?"

"Tonight, we bring you: the 1964 Cleveland Browns!" Applause shook the stands as the multiclassing football team waved and tossed antiquated merchandise to their apparent fans. "And their challengers…"

Landen's eyes widened as the second team took the stage. "You're fucking kidding me."

"…in a shock rescheduling, we have the leader of the Legion of Dynamic Derby and her… second, back-up legion of herself."

It took his brain a moment to connect the woman- women? was it plural if they were all the same person?- on the rink with the image he'd seen in the dossier.

As Alliot Chao — Black Queen and never-champion of the Portlands roller derby scene — entered the rink with four body doubles in flying V formation, the crowd around Landen seemed to die to a dull roar.

She met eyes with him just for a moment, grinned, and shot him a mock salute.

And then the arena exploded.

Next: TBA

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