Two Houses, Both Alike In Dignity

rating: +19+x

Nina Newton-Floyd awoke. She was shivering, and could feel only the concrete beneath her and the ambient cold in the air. She looked to her left, and then to her right. Nothing. It was pitch black.

Nina: Hello?

She sat up, righting herself to hopefully gain a better bearing on her surroundings. It didn't work, she was just as cold and blind as before.

Nina: (Louder.) Hello?

She sat there, quietly awaiting a response, for what felt like an eternity.



She awoke to the feeling of someone shaking her awake.

"Hey! Lost you there for a sec. You've been zoning out a lot lately. Is everything alright?"

She looked at the man in front of her. He was tall, lanky, and brunette. She looked at the scene around them, a typical Christmas party. Typical for the wealthy elite of Are We Cool Yet?, anyway. She'd recently gotten ahold of an invitation to the annual Christmas party held at the estate of Zeke Ryland, one of the wealthiest anartists of the east coast. Going undercover in a group like AWCY? meant that no one was going to take you seriously unless you actually made some art yourself. Apparently, judging from the invitation, she was pretty good.

"I'm alright, Letterman." She smiled. The man in front of her was Letterman Abriano, a fellow anartist and very good friend. He, likewise, was a regular attendee of Ryland's parties. It was at one of these parties several years ago where the two of them had met. They had been partners in anart operating out of Backdoor ever since.

"I just want to make sure. Can't have you passing out at the food table again like last year."

She punched him playfully in the arm. "I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

He laughed. "Absolutely not."

She laughed as well, it was hard not to when he did. Letterman had a special kind of contagious happiness to him. He had that kind of smile that was just impossible not to contract when he was in the room. He made her happy, and she made him happy.

The two of them relished in the atmosphere around them. The sounds of people talking, forks scraping on miniature plates, and The Composer's holiday special playing over the speakers filled their ears. Bright lights, fancy decorations, and a large, extravagant Christmas tree occupied the foyer of Ryland's mansion. They talked, just the two of them, for hours. Mostly of nothing important; stories of the previous week they found funny, questions about how they've been and what they've been up to, inside jokes, and casual discussion of art they like. They went on like this, nothing but small talk, until Nina saw his face light up, like he'd just remembered something important.

"Oh! By the way, there's a thing coming up soon."

"A thing?" Nina was intrigued.

"Yeah, me and some other guys have been planning it for a while. It's gonna be a huge art show, like an exhibition." He reached into his pocket and retrieved a folded-up flyer, handing it to Nina. "There's still some open slots for artists. It would mean a lot if you went."

She took the flyer. "Sounds exciting, I—" She paused upon reading the words on the flyer. Letterman spoke as she read on.

"Yeah, it's happening in Reno on the 14th— January that is." He chuckled. "The spot next to my booth is open. It's gonna be so sick, I can't wait." He smiled at her.

Her own smile faded. "Why Reno?"

"Why not Reno? The art scene out west is huge, and I couldn't afford to book anywhere in Vegas or LA."

"But, Reno's not protected like Backdoor is. People will see you."

"That's the point! Me and the guys are taking anart public!" He made a vague gesture around them.

"Public? What do you mean?" She was growing concerned.

"Think about it, how can the anart scene grow if we keep letting the Janitors keep it hidden from everyone? We're doing a public display to drum up some interest, get some new faces involved." He smiled wider.

Nina felt a lump in her throat. This was bad. She couldn't let him do something like this, there's no way it would end well for either them or the Foundation. She had to talk him out of it.

"Isn't that dangerous? What about the Janitors?"

"Life's about taking risks, Nina. Besides, we'll keep it on the down-low. They'll never know."

"They have, like, three different Sites in Nevada!"

"So what? None of them are in Reno, are they?"


"Exactly, we'll be fine." His face got more serious as he took Nina's hands. "Look, I know you get worried about a lot of things, but I won't let this get bad. Come on, can you just trust me on this?"

Her eyes darted around, as if an answer to her problem would materialize on the walls of the mansion. She didn't know what to say. She wanted to trust him, but she knew much better than he did just how meticulous the Foundation was. He was such a fucking idiot to do something like this.

Nina took a beat to consider the weight of this. There was a decision to be made, and neither outcome was going to be great. She began filling with dread.

"I— uh, I'll think about it."

"Really?" His eyes lit up, which made her heart sink a little more.

"Yeah…" She paused. "Listen, I have to go to the bathroom real quick, I'll be right back," she lied; she just had to get away from him. Her anxiety was not helped by the constant noise and the sight of his innocent happiness.

"Alright, catch you later!" He smiled, making eye contact for one last time before she finally scurried away from him and quietly slipped into the crowd, making her way upstairs.


"Fuck, this is not good."

Nina had escaped to one of the mansion's many bathrooms to both collect her thoughts and avoid having to see Letterman. She sat down on the toilet lid, running her hands through her hair. Aside from the music softly playing from a ceiling-bound speaker, the bathroom was silent. It was comforting.

"Okay. Okay." She spoke out loud to herself. This she did frequently, but mostly only when she was stressed out, which was also frequently. "What to do?"

She knew she couldn't under any circumstances allow this to happen. That was an unchangeable must. The public cannot see an anomalous art exhibition. But then again…

Nina once more found herself in the pitch black concrete room. She shivered in the cold as she righted herself from her position on the ground.

Nina: Hello?

This time, however, there was an answer.

???: Hello?

Nina: Who are you? I can't see you.

???: Who are you? I can't see you.

Nina squinted her eyes. There was a figure materializing in front of her. As she looked closer, she saw the figure also squinting. She moved her hand. The figure moved its hand as well. It was a reflection, delayed by about a second. She sat there, watching her delayed reflection, moving her arms and head around and watching it repeat, as her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark. She could make out her face on the reflection. After a few minutes, she tried to speak again.

Nina: What—

Nina(?): What the fuck is wrong with you?

Nina recoiled in surprise. The reflection finished before she did. That wasn't even what she was going to say.

Nina: What do you mean?

Nina(?) (Louder.) What the fuck is wrong with you?

Nina: I don't— I don't know what you're talking about.

Nina(?): I'm gonna cut to the chase here. You fucked up. You have one job, one job, and that job is to gain intel on Are We Cool Yet?'s activities outside of Backdoor so the guys can shut them down. Now, what do you suppose Letterman was just telling you exactly about?

Nina: (Quietly.) An outside-Backdoor activity.

Nina(?): Exactly. Now, you're going to get out there, learn as much as you can about this, report it back to the Foundation, and collect your paycheck. That's the exact thing you're here to do, Nina.

Nina: (Tenses.) How do you know my name?

Nina(?): (Gestures at herself.) Fucking look at me, dipshit. I'm an internal representation of your something-or-other. Of course I know your name. And what I also know is that you're a coward who's going to pick the feelings of some boy over the security of the anomalous world.

Nina: (Pauses.) It's not just that.

Nina(?): Then what is it?

Nina: The Foundation has cleanup crews for everything. They can handle information suppression of a 20-person exhibition. Why can't I just— I don't know, be a good friend? Let him have this?

Nina(?): Because it's your only purpose as an agent to specifically not let him have this. Who cares if they can "handle" the suppression? It takes away resources and attention from other projects that need it more, ones that aren't as preventable as this.

Nina: Look, I— I feel bad, but—

Nina(?): But what? Why go against your training like this? You've been a loyal agent for three years, Nina. What's changed?

Nina: I— I don't know. I guess something's just… different about him? He makes me too happy for me to betray him? I don't know.

Nina(?): I know what's happening. As a Foundation agent, you're getting attached to someone for the first time. Congrats, I guess, but not now. You can't let this happen.

Nina(?) removes a cellphone from her pocket. Nina, one second later, also retrieves a cellphone from her pocket, perfectly matching Nina(?)'s moves.

Nina(?): Look, I've talked as much as I can, you're going to have to make this decision yourself.

Nina(?) fades from view, leaving Nina alone in the dark again. One second later, Nina—

—snapped back to consciousness. She looked around, the bathroom was the same as when she passed out. She let out a deep sigh. As much as she wished she could talk him out of it, she knew it wasn't going to happen. Letterman was just not the type of person to not commit as hard as he could to something he truly believed in.

She looked down. Her Foundation-issue burner phone was clutched tightly in her hand. She didn’t remember taking it out. While she couldn't betray the Foundation and let the exhibition happen, she just couldn't let herself break his heart by shutting it down either. She decided to do something in the middle. A happy medium, though not really.

She looked at her reflection in the phone's black screen, turned it on, and dialed a familiar number. After a brief conversation with an MTF agent, she hung up the phone, placed it back in her pocket, then stood up and slipped out of the bathroom without another thought.


Nina found her way to the food table, now emptier than full as the party was beginning to wrap up. She sighed, grabbing a miniature plate on which to place various sweet festive treats. She grabbed a cookie and a candy cane, not sure if she could stomach much more at the time. She had been mentally preparing herself for the inevitable. After a few moments to herself, she was approached by a familiar face.

"Hey." Letterman approached her as she mulled over her decision in her head. She turned to look up at him.


"Have you made up your mind?"

Realizing there were no other options left, she lied to him. "Yeah, I'll go."

Letterman's eyes lit up. "Really? Hell yeah!" He hugged her. "The two of us are gonna kill it out there."

"Yeah. Yeah, we will." She received the hug but did not reciprocate it. Letterman let go.

"Everything alright?" His look grew concerned.

"I'm fine. Listen, do you mind if I hold on to the flyer?"

"Not at all, go ahead." He smiled at her. She tried to give one back.

The two of them continued talking. About nothing in particular, as per usual between the two. They talked about the event, though Nina tried to change the topic, they talked about upcoming art installations in Backdoor, they talked about Zeke Ryland and how his parties were always perfect. The lump in Nina's throat grew heavier the longer they went on. Eventually, though, like all conversations, it had to come to an end.

"This is just amazing, isn't it? What we're doing here?" Letterman looked around at the party around him, more and more people slowly making their way to the exit as the celebration reached its conclusion.

"What do you mean?"

Letterman grabbed the last remaining brownie from the table. "Well, we're all a bunch of people from all over the place, coming together to make meaningful art, to make the anomalous world just that much better, you know?"

"I guess so."

"That's why me and the guys are taking this to Reno. We want to bring this wonder and joy to the people above the Janitors' stupid veil. Sure, there's those guys out there who make art that kills people to make a point. But we're not like that. We just want to inspire new artists, you know?"

"Yeah." She checked her watch. It was going to happen soon. Tears began to well up in her eyes hearing him say this. "Yeah, I know."

Letterman's smile faded at this. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Nina, are—"

"Yes, I'm okay, Letterman, you've asked me 400 times." She looked at her watch again. She placed both of her hands on his shoulders. "I'm so sorry I have to do this. You're not going to remember this apology but just know right now that I mean it."


"Merry Christmas, Letterman."

The door to the party shattered. Armed people in full-black entered Ryland's foyer. Letterman looked on in confusion and terror. Nina began to cry harder. The brownie fell to the floor. All of this happened in an instant, and was over just as quickly.


Nina was standing outside of the mansion. An amnesticization team had arrived and apprehended Letterman. It was cold outside, and Nina, not having a coat with her, was shivering. She was talking with Agent Uriel Skiles, the head of the team, who looked her in the eyes. "Good work out there. That exhibition could've been a disaster."

Nina, glancing repeatedly at Ryland's now-evacuated mansion, responded in a muted tone. "Yeah. It could've."

"We'll track down all these names." Uriel help up the flyer. "We'll just give them some amnestics and it should be good."

"You're just going to amnesticize them, right?" Nina looked at the agent desperately.

"Of course. These guys aren't a threat unless they try anything else like this. They'll remember nothing about this event or planning it or anything."

"Just the exhibition though, right? They won't forget anything else?"

He tilted his hand back and forth. "You can't be super choosey with amnestics, but he should be fine."

She breathed a sigh of relief. Finally some good news for once. "So, it all works out?"

"I guess so."

The two of them stood in the cold in silence for a while before Uriel had to depart with his team. Nina remained, looking at the night sky. The Christmas lights up and down the street sparkled as people walked about, talking amongst themselves about gifts they'd received and people they saw. She closed her eyes and let herself leave.

Nina is back in the room. Nina(?) is standing beside her.

Nina(?): Good job.

Nina: Was it really, though? He put in a lot of work and now he won't remember any of it.

Nina(?): You did what you had to. You need to stop doubting yourself. This was the best option.

Nina: It still sucks.

Nina(?): Everything sucks, Nina. This is the Foundation.

Nina: I guess. I don't want to do this anymore.

Nina(?): But you have to.

Nina: Yeah.

"I think that's the worst part."

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