The Lamest Story Never Told
rating: +29+x
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21 April

Site-43: Lambton County, Ontario, Canada
Director's Office

Director Allan McInnis looked across the desk at his new hire. Sitting before him, wearing a face mask, was a man with dark skin, his curly hair bearing signs of recently being cut down to Foundation regulations. The man, one Bastien Leblanc, twiddled his thumbs nervously. McInnis looked between him and the report on his desk.

"Is something the matter?" Bastien asked.

"We just don't get many Americans wanting to come to 43. You're aware of the… issue we have every September?"

"You mean 5243? Yeah, I know about it. Part of the reason I wanted to come here, honestly." Bastien chewed his lip. "How old do you think I am, Director McInnis?"

McInnis looked him up and down. "Twenty-eight? Maybe thirty?"

Bastien shook his head. "What if I told you I was born in 1950?"

McInnis did the numbers in his head. "That would make you… a very good looking seventy-year-old."

Bastien smiled, somewhat grimly. "When I was sixteen, a group of teenagers threw me down a well because they didn't like the way I looked. This well turned out to be what you call a temporal anomaly. By the time I crawled my way back out, it was 2006."

McInnis winced. "I'm… I don't know what to say to that. I'm sorry."

"When I came out, I walked three miles back into my hometown. A massive, black van pulled down the street and blocked my path, and a bunch of your people came out to greet me with guns drawn."

McInnis looked down at the paperwork. "Right, that makes sense. Lot of Foundation presence in the area. They must have detected the tachyon fluctuations caused by—" McInnis stopped, realizing he sounded both psychotic and rude. "Sorry. But… I've never really met a time traveler before? We usually only get timeline travelers."

Bastien nodded. "They looked into town records and realized what had happened. They put me up with my closest surviving relative for a while—my grand-nephew and his family, as it turned out—but… I couldn't really adapt. I went to the local Site, and… well, I asked if they had any work."

"…and they gave you a job?"

Bastien laughed. "God, no! I was sixteen! But they put me in an accelerated doctorate program that would get my foot in the door here by the time I was thirty. It took a bit of work, considering everything that happened last year, but…" Bastien waved down at the labcoat he was wearing. "Tah-dah."

"And you want to study 5243 in order to understand how the temporal anomaly that affected you worked?"

"That's part of it. I also… I want to prevent it from happening to anyone else. And if it does, I… I want to see about getting them back to where they came from." Bastien puffed out his cheeks. "So that's why I'm here today."

McInnis looked between Bastien and the papers once again, scratching at his beard. "You're already moved in?"

"I have my quarters assigned to me, but my stuff hasn't arrived yet— got stopped at customs."

"I'll see if I can't expedite that here. In the meantime…" McInnis looked at one last piece of paperwork, and rubbed his face. "You're… positive you want to go into Replication Studies?"

"…is there something wrong?"

McInnis sighed. "One of the other researchers in that department, William Wettle? He can be a bit of a handful, is all."

Bastien laughed. "I think that I can handle one problematic researcher."

"Your funeral." McInnis shook his head. "Just… don't tell him where you're from, all right?"

28 April

Site-43: Research and Experimentation, Replication Studies

"LaBlank!" William Wettle whined across the room; Bastien swore he was mispronouncing his name on purpose. "Get me the records for Item E-98047— or is that 042? God dammit, who wrote this?"

"You did!" every other research assistant in the room said at the same time.

Bastien sighed. "Is it the yoyo or the floating golf ball, Dr. Wettle?"

One of the research assistants, a red-headed woman named Gabrielle O'Conner, leaned in and hissed at Bastien, "Don't call him doctor, you'll just encourage him."

"The golf ball!" Wettle hollered.

Bastien searched through a filing cabinet and made his way over to Wettle, handing him the document. "That's 98042."

"Feh." Wettle snatched the document away from Bastien, one corner tearing off as he did so. As Wettle read it over, he took out a Canadian quarter and started fiddling with it, rolling it in his fingers with a surprising amount of dexterity. In his first week here, Bastien had seen Wettle fall down the stairs no less than three times, and have a near miss with a puddle of water. The quarter had an odd feature to it as well: it had a large X carved into the reverse face. Wettle began flipping it, and muttering to himself as he read, calling the flips. "Heads. Tails. Heads. Tails. Tails. Heads. Pile. Face. Pile. Face. Face. Pile. Pile. Face. Tails. Heads. Tails. Tails." As he did this, his free hand started doodling on the paper.

Bastien made his way through the group of research assistants, back to Gabrielle. "Is he always like this?"

"There's a joke around American Sites that, if you screw up really bad, you've 'pulled a Wettle'." She looked at her… superior(?) disdainfully. "Wet Blanket Wettle. Man's insufferable."

"Why hasn't McInnis terminated him?"

"Not worth the amount of whining he'd do." Gabrielle pulled Bastien to the side, opening up a file on her computer. It showed a chess board, larger than a usual one— in addition to the sixty-four squares that made up the standard board, there were there extra rows on each side, each of which held a standard set of chess pieces in four colors: red, green, blue and yellow. "Ever play four-player chess?"

"That's a thing?"

"A lot's changed since the 60's. You can only play so many games of chess— granted, that 'so many' is sixty-nine trillion. The extra two players adds over a quadrillion permutations, without you having to make bizarre new pieces like lizards or old maids."


"Reference you wouldn't get." Gabrielle shook her head. "This is based off of a four-player set we have in containment. And for some bizarre reason, we can't get it to do more than a single permutation, a single game repeating over and over."


Gabrielle nodded. "We've tried it with dozens of different people— researchers, D-Class, a couple of maintenance specialists… couple of researchers brought the board home with them so their kids could play with it, kids who knew nothing about chess. We've had one person play all four sides, we've had four different chess computers manipulate it with a robotic arm. Deering even persuaded his mirror ghost to play it with him. Same game, every time."

She pressed a button, and the game played out on the screen, ending with Yellow getting all three of the other players in Check at the same time. "We can't figure it out. Other sets of four-player chess have a ton of permutations, but this one? Only one game, over and over, forever."

There was a brief moment of silence as research assistants began filing out to go to lunch. Gabrielle and Bastien stayed behind to examine the data, and Wettle's voice came through clearly. "Pile, face, face, pile, pile, face, pile, face, pile, pile, face…"

"What's with that coin of his?"

"He tried making a Two-Face costume for Halloween a few years back. Makeup all fell off, but he's kept the coin."

"No, I mean… why does he keep flipping it?"

"I think it's a tic of his. He always does it when we're in the lab, it's annoying." She called to him, "Wettle, we're going to lunch."

"Hrmph." Wettle responded.

"Asshole," Gabrielle muttered as she made for the door. "Bastien, would you mind logging me off? The pizza is always gone by the time I get there otherwise."

"Save me a slice!" As Gabrielle exited, Bastien made his way to the computer and logged her out. The door slammed as Bastien turned away, and Dr. Wettle seemed to be storming out of the room, leaving behind the document for E-98042 on the desk, unfiled. "Asshole," Bastien agreed, picking up the document.

As he did, he saw that Wettle had written in the margins— it seemed to be a scoreboard of some kind. One side had a checkmark, the other an X. The checkmark side was completely empty, but the X side had at least fifty tallies in it. Had Wettle been keeping track of his coin tosses? And had he missed every single one?

Bastien shook his head, and put the file back in the cabinet. "Nobody's that unlucky. It's impossible."

It wasn't impossible.

At the mess hall, Bastien found almost every chair occupied. 43 was a fairly large site, so it needed a fairly large mess, but here he was with a spare slice of pizza Gabrielle saved for him and nowhere to sit down to eat it. He contemplated finding a corner to stand in, when he saw a hand waving him over.

The hand belonged to a tall woman with white hair and a suit of the same color, her nose ending in a somewhat cute point. She was wearing a distinctive necklace with a rainbow-like pattern, and every time he looked between it and her face, her eyes seemed to change color. "Afternoon!"

"Hello." Bastien looked down at the empty seat beside her. "You mind if I—"

"No, I waved you over so you could stand there." She snickered, pulling out the seat for him. As he sat down, she extended her hand. "Dr. Lillian Lillihammer, Memetics. You're new here?"

Bastien sat and took the hand, and introduced himself. When he said he was in Replication Studies, she wrinkled her nose. "So Wettle has a new slave?"

"…nobody here likes him, do they?"

"Some people tolerate him. Phil Deering in Maintenance seems to have pleasant interactions with him every now and then." She shook her head. "There's a reason he's in Replication Studies. Man hasn't had an original thought since… well, since the day he was born, probably. He's a loser, he knows it, and he likes taking the fact that he's a loser out on others."

"Okay, but… you seem really bitter about him in particular." Bastien frowned. "Is he your ex?"

Dr. Lillihammer snorted. "I don't think that man's had a date since 1999. He's just a lazy idiot who would probably rather spend all day on his phone than contribute to society. You know what his Initiation was?"

"…Initiation into what?"

"Term we use for how people find out what's behind the veil. He's a pharmacologist, and he independently identified… well, the street name for it is Sybil. It's a drug that lets you see into the future. He wrote a paper about it, it got noticed by McInnis, and we've been stuck with him ever since."

She fell silent as Wettle walked past them, carefully holding onto a tray of food— breakfast, Bastien noticed, including toast and jam with a fried egg. He looked at Lillian. "They serve brunch here?"

"Sundays and every other Tuesday, yeah. Surprised he hasn't tried to take a chunk out of me again."

Bastien bit into his slice of pizza before he comprehended what Dr. Lillihammer had said. "He what?"

"He got exposed to an anomaly that increased suggestibility, and when he said he wanted me to check it out, I told him to eat me. I still have the scar."


"No, but I pretend I do because it makes him feel bad."

Bastien watched Wettle sit at a table, largely to himself, as the man picked up the piece of toast and jam. It fell out of his hand and landed right on top of his egg, jam-first. He sighed, pulled out his phone, and tapped a single button on it, before properly digging into his breakfast.

"Does he always drop his toast like that during brunch?"

"Every time. Man's all thumbs. Why?"

"No reason."

Dr. Lillihammer put her hand on Bastien's arm. "My advice? Find a way to get him so deep in the doghouse he gets reassigned to Sloth's Pit."

"…what's wrong with Sloth's Pit?"

"He took a vacation there once, and ended up hating it. Like he hates everything." Dr. Lillihammer shook her head. "There's probably still some brunch left. Fried eggs taste good on pizza, swear on my life."

Fried eggs tasted amazing on pizza.

5 May

Site-43: Habitation and Sustenance, Personnel Lounge 3

"Is this really how you want to live your life, Bas?" Bastien rubbed his face with one hand, inadvertently smearing it with graphite from the notepad he had been using. H&S couldn't pick out decent pencils worth a damn, and the cuffs of his labcoat looked like they had been used to clean a chimney.

His last week had been spent doing four things: eating, sleeping, working under William Wettle, and stalking William Wettle. He rationalized it as doing his own personal project as part of Replication Studies.

It was 7:03 in the evening. William Wettle was about to enter the Personnel Lounge and attempt to procure a box of Smarties—the Canadian kind, which as Bastien had learned, were basically giant M&Ms— via vending machine, only to have them get stuck. He would bang on the machine between three and five times, before grabbing a key that had been set aside to him to access the vending machine, which had a tag reading: "DR. WETTLE— IF YOU BREAK THIS MACHINE AGAIN I WILL FIND A WAY TO SIC DOUG ON YOU —P. DEERING". He had done this every day for the last week, except on Sunday, when he had bought a can of Coke only for a leak to spring when it hit the bottom of the machine, spraying him with half a can. Nobody begrudged him for that incident, at least.

Wettle entered at 7:06, as Bastien had predicted. He went down the checklist of Wettle's motions: he made his way to the candy machine, but… something was different. He was inputting a different order— Rolos, from the look of it. Bastien had never understood the appeal of caramel. But these fell to the bottom of the machine without incident. Wettle looked suspiciously down at the candy, retrieving it, and scampering off. Bastien had never thought he would use the word 'scamper' to describe an action performed by William Wettle.

Bastien shadowed Wettle as best he could through H&S. Eventually, Wettle settled in a small indoor garden containing a few small trees, a water feature, and an array of flowers. Bastien was surprised Wettle wasn't sneezing his head off.

Wettle made his way to a chessboard that had been set up in the garden— the pieces were attached to the board by string so that they could just hang off of the side when they had been captured and not be lost. Any logistical issues it created were offset by the fact that the chessboard and pieces were both magnetic. And Wettle sat there as if he was expecting someone to play him.

Bastien looked around, and made his way to the other side of the chessboard; he noted that Wettle had set himself up on the black side. "…are you waiting for anyone?"

"Oh, yes." Wettle looked up at Bastien. "I've got a stalker, and I'm seeing if he's stupid enough to actually challenge me to chess."

Bastien winced; had he been that obvious? He looked at the board, and then up at Wettle. "…how about this? We play, and for every piece I capture, you have to answer a question. If I get you into checkmate, I get answers."

"Deal. Same with me, and if I get checkmate, you get the hell off my back." Wettle stretched. "If you want, we could make things more interesting, go four players."

"…with that board you have in containment? Pass."

"Good, good. You're not a complete idiot." He nodded at Bastien. "White moves first."

1. Nf3 Nf6
2. g3 g6
3. h3 d5
4. a4 c6
5. Ra3 e5
6. Nxe5—

Bastien dropped Wettle's pawn off the side of the table, letting it hang from the string. "All right, first question. Does everyone in this site hate you?"

"I've yet to meet a person who doesn't want to punch me in at least one vital organ. And I'm fine with that." Wettle moved his knight to capture Bastien's. "My turn. Who the hell are you? I've seen you in Replication Studies, hanging out with O'Connor."

Bastien told him his name, and added: "You know this. You've been mispronouncing it as 'LaBlank' for over a week now."

"Have I?" Wettle snickered. "Oh, wait. I haven't gotten a piece of yours yet to ask my next question. Let me fix that."

6. Nxe5 Nxe5
7. b4 a5
8. bxa5—

"Nope. My turn. Why does everyone hate you?"

"Quoth the Book of Beck: I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?" Wettle took Bastien's rook with his bishop from the back row. "Have I been mispronouncing your name?"

"Yes! And I'm pretty sure you're doing it just to be a dick at this point! You speak French, I've heard you go pile face pile face face pile face with that stupid coin of yours! Why—"

"Ap-ap-ap." Wettle stuck up his finger. "One question per piece."

8. bxa5 Bxa3
9. Nxa3—

"What the fuck is up with that coin? Why do you keep flipping it?"

"You mean like this?" Wettle took out the quarter and, in as annoying of a voice as possible, began saying "Heads, tails, tails, heads, pile, face, face, face, pile, face, face, pile," before stopping. "Haven't you heard? It's a tic."

"Like hell it is."

"Shut up and play."

9. Nxa5 Qe7
10. f4 Nf3+
11. Kf2 Nxd2

"Oh, that was close. Had you in check." Wettle looked up at Bastien with an expression that could only be described as malicious boredom. "Don't you have anything better to do? Maybe look at the actual anomalous chess game we have?"

Bastien didn't reply, instead looking over the board frantically for an opening.

12. Bxd2 Ne4+
13. Ke1 Qxe3

"My god you suck at this." Wettle laughed. "No question this time. Just felt like saying that."

Bastien glared daggers at him.

14. Kf1 Qf2#

"And that's mate, mate." Wettle snorted at his own attempt at a joke. "Now would you kindly fuck off back to whatever remote part of the Yukon you crawled out of?"

"I'm from the US."

"Even worse!" Wettle laughed, standing up and putting all of the pieces back onto the board. "See you in the lab tomorrow, LaBlank."

As Wettle began to leave, Bastien pulled out his phone, opening up an app for Site-43's .aic, Clio— specifically, her dice-rolling function. "Hold on!"

Rolling his eyes, Wettle turned back towards him. "What?"

"Odds or evens?"

The older researcher blinked. "Beg your pardon?"

"Odds or evens?"

"I…" Wettle let out a pfffft and gave a shrug. "Evens, I guess?"

Bastien muttered something to Clio. "Clio, roll 256 twenty-sided dice, report individual rolls as opposed to total."

There was a chime from his phone, and some heat as Helen calculated the rolls. Then, there was a chime as the calcuation was done. Bastien looked at the results. "Clio, in the results, find the string '2'."

There was a beep, and Clio replied: «No such string found.»

"Clio, find the string '4'."

«No such string found.»

"Clio, find the strings '6', '8', and '0'."

Three error sounds. «No such strings found.»

"Huh." Bastien looked at Wettle. "Odds and Evens, you choose evens, and literally not a single die comes up even. Doesn't that strike you as odd?"

Wettle shook his head, and took out his coin again, his blasted fucking coin, throwing it to Bastien. "How fast can you flip?"


Before Bastien could finish, Wettle started calling throws. "Head, tails, tails, head, tails, tails, tails, head, head, head, pile, face, face, pile, pile, face, head, tails, and head. Note the results."

Blinking, Bastien flipped the coin. It came up tails, heads, heads, tails, heads, heads, heads, tails, tails, tails, face, pile, pile, face, face, pile, tails, heads, and tails. "Did I call any of them?" Wettle asked.

"…not a single one." Bastien almost dropped the coin. "That's… that is impossible.You should have gotten at least one by pure randomness."

Wettle laughed. "Oh god, an optimist. Stick around until September and we'll see if we can't get that out of you." Wettle turned, unwrapping his package of Rolo. "Meet me in the mess five minutes before lunch tomorrow, Kid."

6 May

Site-43: Habitation and Sustenance, Mess Hall

Bastien sat across the table from Wettle in the mostly abandoned mess hall. Wettle was chewing on a banana very, very loudly, his mouth open the whole time. "What do you think of me, Kid?"

"…I think the only reason I haven't punched you in the face is that you don't seem to be racist on top of all of your other… 'qualities'."

Wettle laughed. "Oh, when I want to be a jackass, it creeps in there, believe me. Scared the piss out of some Hispanic agent down in Sloth's Pit back in January. But honestly? I don't have time for that." Wettle finished his banana, swallowing the last bite. "You know that old gag about slipping on a banana peel in cartoons?"

"Wasn't old when I was a kid." Bastien explained to Wettle the situation with his temporal displacement.

"…goddamn, you're older than McInnis chronologically. Anyway, the reason I ask is this." Wettle threw the banana peel through the air so that it landed right in the middle of the main aisle, just as staff from all departments came flooding in.

Bastien sat there, mouth agape. "Y— go pick that up!"

"Aww, but it's so far over there. Hope nobody gets hurt!"

"In this crush? You could kill someone!"

"Could I, though?" Wettle opened up a bag of Ketchup-flavored Lays. "They're serving ribs today, actual freaking ribs! I'd get in line if you want some. Maybe sit with Lily, say hi for me. Oh, but come back after lunch is over."


Wettle rubbed his face, and in that motion, he grew a spine. His whinging demeanor vanished, the nasally tone in his voice fading into a determined neutrality, and he said: "Kid, I don't got much to swear by. But I swear by my position in the Foundation that nobody but me is going to get hurt. Now go get some food."

Bastien stood and bolted for the food line. He spent the next forty-five minutes pretending to listen to Dr. Lillihammer discuss something with Gabrielle, anxiously looking over to where the banana peel had fallen. Nobody had stepped on it, nobody had even stumbled. By the time he was on his third glass of Cola and had started paying attention to Dr. Lillihammer talking about 'gustatory memetics' ("Have you ever actually eaten a book? It's fascinating, though my advice: skip Snow Crash. It's a seminal work of memetics and it's tradition to consume it, but Chapter 52 will make you lose your lunch."), he had forgotten about it.

He and Wettle were the last two in the mess hall. The banana peel had not even been touched, staying in the exact same place it had been when Wettle had thrown it. Bastien stood and sprinted over to Wettle, who was wiping off his jumpsuit onto the table. "Told you."

"Again: impossible."

"That's a word that means nothing here— the lakebed has everything in it from magic panthers to Babylonian deities, we may have accidentally caused insomnia for hundreds of children in Québec by killing the sandman, and there's at least one Canadian prime minister that doesn't exist." Wettle burped. "What do you think I am, after all of this?"

Bastien chewed his lip. "Phenomenally unlucky, but if that was the case… you would have hurt someone, maybe a lot of someones, and gotten reprimanded for it. So you can't be unlucky if that happens…" Bastien frowned. "I… I don't know what to make of it."

Wettle chuckled. "There are two kinds of good luck charms: ones that repel evil spirits and ill fortune, and ones that absorb them. I'm the latter." He looked around the mess. "Bad things happen to me so that worse things don't happen to…" Wettle trailed off, suddenly looking sad. "…as many people."

Bastien frowned. "What happened?"

"I'm… part of the Breach Crew. I have a duty to fulfill, an action I have to perform every September. One year, I failed to do it." He shuddered. "I don't like to talk about it."

"So…" Bastien frowned. "Back when I was learning about computers, I learned about something called a 'heat sink', that helped keep the computer cool. Are you a… bad luck sink?"

"'Probability sink' is the term I invented." He went to rise from his seat. "But there— SHIT!" Wettle went ass over teakettle, falling to the floor, slipping on a banana peel— not the one that he had thrown, an entirely different one. He groaned, before continuing, "There are a few problems with that term."

"Such as?" Bastien crossed to the other side of the table to help Wettle up.

Wettle rubbed his head with one hand, his back with the other. "There's a problem with that term. When a heat sink breaks, the computer overheats. When a probability sink breaks… bad luck doesn't flow out of me."

"And… it does break?" Bastien raised an eyebrow.

"More of a karmic balancing, I think. Every now and again— every three or four months— I have a day of unexpectedly good luck." Wettle stretched, his back popping. "My luck is why I've gotten so good at chess; it's purely skill-based. No probability involved." He frowned. "It's also why I want to figure out that damn four-player chessboard we have in containment."

"Understandable." Bastien frowned. "But… why do you act so… well…"

"Like a jackass?" Wettle took out his coin and handed it to Bastien. "Call ten flips and do them."

"Uh… heads, heads, tails, tails, heads, tails, tails, heads, heads, heads?" He flipped the coin ten times— tails, tails, heads, heads, heads, tails, heads, tails, tails. "…not seeing the issue there."

"It's contagious. I think." Wettle picked up the banana peel and started carrying it to the trash can. Bastien rose and walked with him. "That's the other reason why we have that chessboard in containment. It's…" Wettle rubbed his face as he put the peel in the bin. "How to describe this? Okay, going with the heat sink metaphor… a heat sink uses something called thermal paste to interface between it and the computer. Sometimes that paste goes bad, and it has to be re-applied; easy enough to do, any Best Buy sells it. The four-player chessboard is essentially thermal paste application for people who I… transmit this to. Everyone in Replication Studies is required to play it once every two months, at least. I'm scheduling you for more time."

Bastien's nose wrinkled. "How does a chess game prevent bad luck?"

"The same chess game, over and over, no variation at all. No luck, no skill, no anything. Whatever I have wrong with me, it doesn't know how to react, and it just…" He snapped his fingers. "Snaps off of whoever I might potentially get with it."

"And… you're sure it works?" Bastien frowned.

"Nobody in Replication Studies has died from any comedic mishap, so I'm fairly sure. Just try to play it before the week is out." Wettle gave Bastien a slight smirk. "You tell nobody of this. If people think that I'm not completely incompetent, it might spread."

"…right." Bastien and Wettle had wandered to where the original banana peel had been thrown. He carefully picked it up and deposited it in the trash can. "I… shall see you tomorrow, Dr. Wettle?"

"Probably, LeBlanc." Wettle waved over his shoulder as if he wanted to give the finger. But he had pronounced Bastien's surname correctly, so that was something.

7 May

Site-43: Security and Containment, Low-Risk Test Chamber 10

Gabrielle sat across the chessboard from Bastien, and the two of them traded a strange look. "Were you actually talking with Wettle yesterday?" she asked as she began playing— it was a four-player chess game, but given its anomaly, it could be done with just her and Bastien.

"Yeah." Bastien answered Gabrielle's move with a pair of his own. The way it was structured was that Gabrielle played Yellow and Blue, while Bastien played Red and Green. The order of the game went Yellow, Red, Green and Blue. "Don't know how I feel about him."

"The fact that you're feeling something for him that isn't 'utter contempt' is kind of fascinating." Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "I know of three people who don't want to punch Wettle in his nuts, and you're one of them."

"…who are the other two?"

"Dr. Blank doesn't seem to completely despise him. And there's this…" She shook her head. "What if I told you there was someone in the Foundation named Placeholder McDoctorate?"

This barely got Bastien to blink. "I went to school with a guy named Hero Soloman Journey."

"You're joking. 'Hero S. Journey'?"

"Not joking. Swear on my mother."

"Wait, 'Hiro' like the Japanese 'Hiro', or…"

"Haich-Ee-Arr-Oh. Like Superman."

"Was this before or after you got thrown down a time hole?"

"Before. He ended up as county commissioner, changed his name to 'Harold' because nobody would believe that his real name was 'Hero'."

"Aww. That's horrible." Gabrielle chewed her lip. "But yeah. This Placeholder guy doesn't seem to hate Wettle too much. I think he's honestly a little supportive of the man? Or takes pity on him. Check on Blue."

"Huh?" Bastien looked at the board. "Wait, are you allowed to put pieces you control into Check?"

"I don't control them, it's part of the program."

The game went on for a while longer. "What's the worst thing Wettle's ever done?"

"That I'm cleared to know?" Gabrielle thought for a moment. "You know the sign in H&S Lounge 3? 'Do not microwave fish in this room'?"

"That's there because of him?"

"Essentially. He's probably done worse. There are people that think he caused the Breach in Acro-Abate, but I don't think he's that incompetent. Check on Red."

"Check on Yellow." Bastien frowned. "Are people compelled to say that when they get into check? Something worth looking into."

"That kind of thinking might be a problem." Gabrielle picked up the blue rook and rolled it over her hand. "Replication studies isn't a place for new thought. We're here to make sure that the results of other experiments can be replicated, and to study anomalies that repeat. New thought is… kind of anathema to that."

"Then why are you here?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "Because there wasn't any space where I actually wanted to go— Dr. Lillihammer is saying she'll have a new position open in R&D soon."


"Why not? Check on Green."

"Well, what if original thought helps figure out why these anomalies repeat and replicate? Has nobody asked why this chessboard plays the same game over and over?" Bastien frowned. "There's more to this than the repetition. There's some kind of story here, trying to hook me in."

Gabrielle frowned. "You are either going to get along famously with Wettle, or he's going to tear out your lungs." She moved the Blue queen, and then the Yellow one to get mate on Red, Green and Blue at the same time. "McDoctorate lives and breathes that narrative stuff, and Wettle swore he'd rather burn down Sloth's Pit before he went back there."

"Hmm." Bastien looked at the board. "Right, now we just have to look at the footage to find deviations, yeah?"

"Not gonna be any."

There was.

Gabrielle's eyes were wide, her jaw agape, as she watched the playback on Turn 21. Normally, it went like this:

21. YNa4 RBd7 Gbxd7 Bqd6

But this time, it went:

21. YNa4 Rbd7 Gbf3 Bqd6

"The Green Queen's Bishop moved differently." Gabrielle double-checked the results, and then triple-checked them. "It… broke the pattern. But… the game still ended the same."

"How come?"

"Green's Queen's Bishop doesn't move after Turn 21, and Red's King's Bishop… it doesn't move either in this. But if it did, captured this pawn here on turn twenty-three…" Gabrielle's frown deepened. "That would mean the game could potentially end three turns earlier. The hell did you do to this board, LeBlanc?"

"…Broke the pattern, like you said. Don't know how." He scratched his head. "But there are a few more I could break, maybe."

"You're doing this again with me. Next week, same time."

"It's a date." Bastien blinked as he realized what he had said. "Wait, does that mean the same thing here in Canada—"

"We're professionals here, LeBlanc." Gabrielle looked away from him pointedly, before continuing, "But if I were to be unprofessional, I'd tell you that my favorite restaurant is the Tipsy Pelican in Grand Bend, and that we both have Sundays as a free day."

"Oh." Bastien's eyes widened. "Oh. Uh, how's 4:00 sound?"

"You mind going Dutch?"

"Not at all."

8 May

Site-43: Habitation and Sustenance, Personnel Lounge 3

William Wettle did not go to the vending machines. Instead, he stood in the doorway, playing with his coin, muttering "Pile, face, pile, pile," to himself as he did. Bastien stood next to him. "So you've been wondering something these last couple of days."

"Kind of." Bastien looked into the Personnel Lounge. "If you can prove your luck is that abysmal, why not tell people? They might be able to… I dunno, help you control it? Study it?"

Wettle snorted. "I'm not about to end up like Deering. He's a good guy, but I don't feel like having the eyes of the entire Site on my back at all times. And besides, it can't be proved."

"What do you mean?"

Dr. Lillian Lilihammer walked by the two of them, making her way to the fridge. Wettle called over to her, "Hey, Lily?"

The pose that Dr. Lillihammer took reminded Bastien of a cat right before it bit the head off of a mouse. Wettle did his best to play that part. "Don't call me 'Lily', Wettle. What is it?"

"Trying to figure out what to get for dinner." He held up his coin. "Help me decide?"

Lilian thought this over for a moment, before saying: "Heads you get a burger, tails you eat those sardines that have been in the Acro-Abate breakroom fridge for the last four weeks."

Wettle flipped the coin. It came up heads. "Burger it is. Ta, Lily." Wettle departed, and Bastien followed. "That's why. My luck is so bad, I cannot prove that it exists. When observed, it normalizes." He paused, turning to face Bastien. "So how the hell were you able to figure it out? You're not normal."

"I'm a thirty-year-old man who was born in 1950. Tell me something I don't know."

Wettle shook his head. "Kid, in my time working here, I've known at least three people who are immortal in some way, one of my colleagues got turned into a Canadian Prime Minister, Dr. Lillihammer knows a song that can make everyone who hears it forget how to speak English for three hours, and every September, I have to fall flat on my face, or else the world could end. In all due respect, you're boring compared to all that." Wettle frowned. "There's a je ne sais quoi about you, LeBlanc. Something that's not obvious, beyond the whole time-traveler thing." He frowned.

"There's not much." Bastien shrugged. "I'm American, I'm black. Have a doctorate. Grew up in a rinky-dink town in Wisconsin that an inordinate amount of people here seem to have heard of, called—"

Wettle's face fell. "This town, don't tell me, it was—"

"Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin." They both spoke at the same time.

"Son of a BITCH!" Wettle yelled. "I take one fucking trip to that town, and narrative follows me! Fuck!" Wettle threw up his arms and stormed off down the corridor. "God dammit."

Bastien frowned. "I know my town is weird. I know the rules it runs by. But I figure that if I'm out of it, and if I'm talking to you, then that means something."

"What?" Wettle snorted. "That the Universe has decided to start focusing on me, Wet Willie Wet Blanket Wettle? Why?"

"Maybe it took notice of you?" Bastien shrugged. "Saw a man who was such a miserable pissant and went, 'There's no way that that's all there is to him. What's going on here?'." He extended his hand. "I think, Dr. Wettle, that there's more to you than anyone here wants to know."

"And you want to be part of the lamest story never told?" Wettle blew hair out of his face. "Kid…"

"At the very least…" Bastien kept his hand extended. "I spent over forty years down the bottom of a well. I spent my last two years of high school unable to connect with a generation that now thinks of me as a freaking 'Boomer', whatever that is. I know what it's like to be lonely, Dr. Wettle. I think you're lonely, and I think that's, in part, because you're stuck in a pattern. I can help you break it."

Wettle looked at the ceiling. Bastien allowed himself to think that the wetness in the doctor's eyes was due to him looking straight at a fluorescent light.

"Friends?" Bastien asked.

Wettle shook his hand. "Promise me you won't regret this, LeBlanc."

"I promise I won't."

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