Tying the Gordian Knot
rating: +27+x

Travis leaned back in his seat. "So, Doctor, I have good news and bad news."

"I never liked subjective terms."

"The good news is that we appear to be in the clear, no one on our six, and less than five minutes from the next Foundation site."

"Appearances can be deceiving."

"The bad news, is you're headed for the Waiting Room."

"The what room?"

Travis snickered. "You'll just have to find out."

"I can't believe the dumb bastard finally managed it."

"I know! Doc Jamison owes me twenty bucks."

"You bet on Anoat-, wait, you place wagers on a containment breach?"

"Sure, there's even a point spread on casualty counts."

"Unbelievable. We don't have a suitable cell for 3416 when he gets here - just stick him in the Waiting Room."

For the first time since the seventh grade, Nathan Snyder had been caught.

Sure, he had close calls. With just about every three-letter agency one could think of - FBI, CIA, FSB, MSS (how was he supposed to know that was illegal in Hong Kong?), GOC, MCD, you name it.

But this time, the SCP Foundation had been not one, but two steps ahead. And now, buried in the broom closet of a condemned apartment building, he found himself out of options. What he presumed to be one of those crazy Foundation special forces teams was mere meters away.

It could be worse. As long as he didn't resist, they wouldn't shoot on sight. Probably. He'd be arrested, probably taken to some preliminary holding facility that he could bre-

Wait, 'contain' is literally in the name. Shit.

So, escape was out of the question. Could he cut a deal? He possessed valuable skills and experience.

Whether that would be worth saving a bullet, he would know, right about no-

"Hands in the air! Now!" Bright light shone on his face. A short-barreled rifle leveled at his torso.

"Okay, okay, I comply. Not looking to get my face shot off today." Nathan rather liked his face, just the way it was.

SpecOps didn't react. Three of his friends dragged him from the broom closet, and out into what one may have formerly called a living room.

Within minutes, he had been blackbagged, tossed into a van, and destined for the Waiting Room.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Craggs, but them's the rules."

"My contract specifies that in the event of a -"

"I know, I know. I am eminently familiar with your contract. It also specifies that if that kind of event happens, we are allowed to place you in temporary containment for 72 hours while other arrangements are made."

"Maximum security lockup is not 'temporary containment'."

"Look, it's not that bad. Just count yourself lucky it's just 3416 and a couple prisoners in there. You'll be out of there in three days. Probably less."

Craggs found it futile to resist. The Foundation may have won the battle against her freedom to experiment and advance the cause of science, but not the war.

The existence of the Waiting Room had already blindsided her enough - being stuck in there with slimy D-class was the last thing she needed right now.

If she were lucky, there could be an interesting anomaly to fiddle with.

She was not.

Nathan was the last to arrive in the Waiting Room. Concrete walls, concrete bench, cellmates. Pretty much what he expected.

But upon further review, he came to realize just how much engineering went into this cell. SRA mounted underneath the floor. Full camera coverage. Concrete inlaid with anti-pretty-much-everything sigils. Fentanyl gas dispenser in the ceiling. VX gas dispenser next to that. He hoped they didn't get those two mixed up.

More importantly, it looked liked he hadn't been the only one the Foundation was two steps ahead of.

"Hi, Dr. Craggs. We haven't met. Did you know you have an Interpol Red Notice?"

Craggs wore a chemical protection suit, helmet missing, revealing the kind of face that might be compared with Hitler, Stalin, or some other cartoonishly evil stereotype. Older, late fifties, later, even. Expressionless. A little wrinkly. Nathan wasn't sure if all evil people had faces like that, or there was some kind of subconscious conditioning at work.

"Yes, I'm very proud of it. Who are you?"

Definitely the first one. Not so much as a reaction.

"Nathan. Who's the floating head guy?"

"I am your god, the Great Anoati! Bow before my might!"

Just what he needed right now. Damned thing barely qualifies as comic relief.

"'Might' is an overstatement. He'll mind-probe you, but not very well."

"Thanks for the warning. I don't want to know how either of you got here, do I?"

"I had foiled my captors and made my escape to my island and my people. Alas, those-who-make-weak-anoa-stone tricked me into being captured once again."

"However could they subvert your genius…"

"The Great Anoati knows no superior."

"Hey, I'm just a wholesome Foundation employee."

"You work here? The Foundation didn't execute you for the little Barcelona incident, among other crimes?"

"Those children produced valuable data. I'm not sure what more you could want. But yes, the Foundation uses my skills, and in exchange I get to continue to evade that aforementioned Interpol Red Notice and conduct research. Albeit with all sorts of silly moralistic restrictions."

Nathan could hardly believe his ears. As much as the rest of his life seemed like it could be narrated by Rod Serling and billed as an epsode of The Twilight Zone, this seemed like the closest he'd get to actually being aired.

"Ah, yes. Completely nonsensical."

"I'm glad you agree."

"If you work for them, why are you here in lockup?"

"An apparent lack of clarity in my employment contract allowed the present circumstances to occur."

"Foolish mortal! Anoati's contracts are ironclad."

"I'll make sure you're on retainer next time."

"Your turn, hacker. What put you on the Foundation's bad side?"

"How did you know I was a hacker?"

"You look the part. Trenchcoat, fingerless gloves…"

"You're describing a neckbeard, not a hacker."

"There's some overlap. Also, the subdermal on your neck."

"That's creepy, but good eye. But yes. I wrote some anomalous software. Maybe it's also a meme. Maybe it kills people too."

"Ah, so you're looking at 25 to life. Or death."

"Don't be so optimistic."

Nathan shot a glance to toward the stone head.

"I think we both know why you're here."

"The Great Anoati is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!"

"Ah, the dark and mysterious type."

"Whatever you say, Mr. Trenchcoat."

"At least I'm not featured on GOC's Most Wanted."

"A great travesty this is, to have been locked away with you foul criminals!"

"You wound me, Anoati."

"This is the beginning of a bad joke. An incompetent god, a war criminal, and a hacker walk into a maximum security cell…"

"How dare you accuse the Great Anoati of something so vile as incompetence! I will crush you!"

"That would imply this was something funny. The only funny part about this is that the one time I get unfettered, hands-on access to an anomaly, it's this floating head. 34-16 is the only joke in here."

"You lie! I met the joke anomaly earlier. He was a faithful servant of Anoati!"

"Uhhuh. What exactly should we do?"

"You mean, what should you do. I just have to wait until the Foundation gets its head out of its ass."

"If you assist me, the Great Anoati, in his daring escape, I will reward you greatly!"

"What is your brilliant plan, oh great Anoati?"

"Your deference is refreshing!

Anoati gave his nearest wall a cautious tap, and hung his head in disappointment when it did not immediately vaporize.

"Those-who-make-weak-anoastone have warded these walls against my immense power! If you can break through them, I will see us the rest of the way."

"You don't ask for much."

"Anoati does not ask! Anoati demands!"

"I'll see what I can do."

"Hacker, are you any good at SQL? Database administration?"

"What the hell kind of question is that?"

"I'm trying to decide if you're worth helping."

Nathan swallowed.

"Yes, yes I am."

This was technically correct.

"So, hold on, there's just one thing about this I don't get."


"Why is it we toss anomalies and prisoners alike into the Waiting Room? That just seems unsafe for everyone."

"Waiting Room is temporary, and it's pretty much the only all-purpose containment chamber we have."

"That doesn't really answer the question. 3416 is a dangero-"

"Don't make me laugh. If we consider the range of danger we usually deal with, 3416 is about as dangerous as a sapient pair of safety scissors."

"But why put the high-value prisoners in there with 3416? "

"What are they going to do? Convert to his religion? Besides, Craggs will be on her merry way in a few days, Snyder on a somewhat-less-merry way soon after that. There's not that much they can do in 48 hours."

After a long period of silence, Craggs finally spoke up again.

"What state are we in?"

"Wrongfully imprisoned!"

"Oklahoma. Why is that relevant?"

"Just answer the questions. I can't keep track of everything. Anoati, do you perform marriages?"

"Wait, wha-Anoati has performed many a marriage in his time! But I would not wed filth like you or this despicable ha-ker."

"Not even to get back at 'those-who-make-weak-anoastone'?"

"…any slight upon them is a valid and honorable reason for Anoati to use his righteous powers of matrimony. It shall be so!"

"Who is marrying who?"

"How would you feel about getting married?"

"But, Dr. Craggs, this is all so sudden! We've only known each other for all of two hours!"

"Let me make this easier for you. Substitute 'getting married' with 'not dying horribly in the course of testing'."

"You can't be serious. How are those two even remotely related? What does this have to do with database administration? Or Oklahoma?"

"I need a database administrator. Foundation won't fund one. I'm also a little bit pissed I'm stuck in here when I could be doing research. Our favorite levitating stone head is going to be stuck in containment, and you're looking at a life sentence. All of us have reasons to want to stick it the Foundation, yes?"

"One of these things is not like the others."

"Anything to spite those-who-make-weak-anoastone!"

"I'm glad you're excited, Anoati."

"It has been many moons since Anoati has had the pleasure of wedding a worthy pair!"

"Okay, fine. You still haven't explained why Oklahoma is important… or why marriage solves anything. Is there a church around the corner? Maybe one of those drive-though chapels?"

"Marriage solves things in that as I am contractually bound to the Foundation, they are also bound to me. My contract does have some more stringent requirements regarding 'life partners.'"

"'Life partners?'"

"Look, it was the 90s, same-sex marriage wasn't really accepted, and I had to find a way to write it that could support a female database admin.'"

"The Great Anoati does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, only on the basis of loyalty to Anoati!"

"Thanks, Anoati. That's your metric?"

Motionless throughout the discussion, Craggs finally yielded a shrug.

"Some people marry for love, others for money. I marry to spite the Foundation and unfuck a 15 year old MS Access database.'"

"Assuming I go along with this. You STILL haven't explained Oklahoma."

"Common law marriages are a mess in Oklahoma. I'm banking on the fact the Foundation is willing to let me win this small victory rather than litigating that bureaucratic cesspool.'"

"You think the Foundation plays by rules?"

"Refusal to recognize any marriage officiated by the Great Anoati, can only bring doom!"

"There exists leverage. Let's say we both defer to a higher power in this regard.'"

"In that case, can we just declare marriage? And be done?"

"It's not that simple. That would clearly be a bad-faith marriage. But with a precedent and someone to officiate a ceremony, however obscure…'"

"Ah. So…"

"Play by Anoati's rules, cheat death for a little longer. At the cost of being my database admin for an indeterminate period of time.'"

"So… Great Anoati… where do we begin?"

"Anoatese marriages require only three parts! The first is the creation of the wedding rings, by Anoati himself, transmuted from material provided by each partner!"

"What kind of material?"

"A small handful of non-fabric/clothing-based material will suffice."

Craggs handed over a spare oxygen tube from the chemical suit.

"I uh, don't have anything. Just the clothes on my back."

"Then the wedding cannot continue!"

"You have ninety seconds to find something before I rip out the subdermal or your fingernails, whichever is closest.'"

Nathan panicked. He really didn't have anything. He turned his pockets. Looking for something, anything.

Nothing but lint.

"Does… does this work?"

Nathan squeezed his fingers into his hand.

"Anoati will provide for his subjects! I will take these, and form magnificent rings!"

Nothing happened.

"How long does this take?"

"Patience is a virtue! Anoati takes time to perform such precise craftsmanship!"

"What are the next two steps?'"

"You must truthfully state your feelings toward the other person, before Anoati! Anoati will judge these feelings, and, finding them true and honorable, allow the final step of the marriage to take place!"

"I am, uh, really grateful that you're saving my life, albeit through convoluted and somewhat dubious means."

"You'd better be worth all this trouble.'"

"Anoati finds that these sentiments warm his heart, and will consent to final step of the marriage taking place!"

"That was more straightforward than I expected. Turns out honesty is the best policy after all."

"I don't think he's that picky.'"

Anoati then produced two rings. Well, 'rings' in the sense that a clay mug made in a child's art class is a 'cup'.

"These rings are… nice."

"'Unique', for sure.'"

"But how do we wear the-Third step?"

"You must consummate the marriage!"


"Oh, fuck no."

"What are you being squeamish about?'"

"You're okay with this?"

"It's about what I expected.'"

"Okay, one, as much as I am sure I appeal to you-"

"I have exactly zero preferences in this regard."

"You might not, but I'm not really into boning Evil Margaret Thatcher."

"Harsh. And isn't that redundant?"

"The marriage is not complete until it occurs!"

"Even that notwithstanding, Anoati is right there, not to mention, oh, I don't know, the security cameras, pointing right at us."

Craggs yielded another shrug.

"Shame is for the weak. Neither of us get what we want unless this proceeds. And the stakes are a bit higher for you."

Nathan took a breath, and thought. He thought hard. He could either pull out (pardon the pun), and take his chances with the Foundation. Or he could do… this… and have similar chances with Cragg's legal stunt.

What the hell.

"Uh, boss, you probably don't want to see this."

"Then why are you telling me?"

"Because it's in the Waiting Room security feed?"

"God damn it. Show m- oh, god, are they doing what I think they're doing?"

"She doesn't look as bad as you'd think she would."

"Pump the fentanyl. Green button, not red. Craggs has some explaining to do."

Back in the debriefing room. Cragg's new second least favorite place to be, after the Waiting Room.

"Why the hell were you engaging in sexual intercourse with a class-3 prisoner?"

"I think you mean 'my husband'."

"Excuse me?"

"Check sections 17, 25, and 37 of my contract, on the topic of life partners and/or companions. Also wherever Oklahoma keeps its marriage laws now, because they're definitely not where they used to be."

"Just what are you trying to pull here?"

"That 'class-3 prisoner' is now legally my husband, and now has all of the legal protections that implies. Contact your supervisor."

"I am the supervisor."

"Then get a hold of a Site Director or someone else, because you do not want to violate an EL contract, even incidentally."

Tossed unceremoniously back into the Waiting Room, Craggs landed at the feet of her new husband.

"Remind me not to get gassed next time. What now?"

"I've bought you some time, at least."

"Thanks. Really. You didn't have to do any of this."

Craggs frowned. The honeymoon period was over.

"Don't confuse my actions with any sentimentality. I need those databases fixed. Years of research in there. Besides, Anoati's in the best mood ever recorded in Foundation history."

"We have struck a mighty blow against those-who-make-weak-anoastone! It is only a matter of time before our legal challenges leave them with nothing!"

"Also, keep in mind that bigamy is illegal in all fifty states, and adultery is a felony in Oklahoma."

"That's important, why?"

"No reason."

Written for Bonus Round 2 of the Original Character Tournament.

Attila the PunAttila the Pun's entry: Puppets and Their Masters
DrDromeusDrDromeus's entry: Battle for the Minds

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