Chapter 2: Fruit Bowl (**electric_boogaloo.png**)
read on ao3 here!
Once upon a bright night humming with activity, Serial Number Q5U4EX7YY2E9N asked Tasque Manager if she would like to come with her on a trip up through the Mansion, to one of the balconies.
“As A Break”
“A break in the mansion I work in—?” Tasque Manager chirped as she set one of Queen’s fine paintings in order— not fire, not fire! Order, order! Today was Calibrating Day, Tasque Manager’s favorite day, and she had randomly selected one of Queen’s fresh paintings to test and see if the whole lot was rotten. “Why, the mansion I practically run, run—?”
“I Think That If Walls Could Talk They’d Say You Deserve A Break As Much As I Do / And The Most Convenient Breaks Are Those You Ascend Stairs For” Queen leaned against the wall, over Tasque Manager, shading her from the light she would have needed to see inside this painting if it weren’t for her built—in illuminator.
“And what work—” here, Tasque Manager kneeled to check the amount of lighter fluid this painting contained, “—is it that you’re taking a break from exactly, my most elegant radiance?”
She felt Queen’s chassis hum lightly as her most elegant radiance pondered the question— and she was so very genuine about it, too, which was one thing out of the many things Tasque Manager appreciated about her.
“Coming Up With Good Ideas” Queen concluded eventually, triumphant, as Tasque Manager pulled a switch.
“No, duck!!!” Tasque Manager leapt for Queen’s neck and yanked her down by her silly collar, just as a blast of flame seared the backs of their heads.
“Oh” Queen exclaimed monotonically as the flame dissipated. “Oh My”
Beaming, she rolled off Tasque Manager and sat back on her heels. “Whooooooo Wow Wow Wow / Tasquey That Was Wonderful! Clap Clap Clap / Almost Died!”
“It is one out of the many tasks I am glad to perform for you at any moment. Queen death prevention, is what I mean!” Tasque Manager sat up and churred, moving to wipe her prosthetic soot—stained hands on her white qipao.
Queen took her hands before she could, wiping them on the strawberry carpet instead. “Silly Silly There’s No Need To Sully Your Clothes / That’s What The Floor Is For”
Tasque Manager gasped, mock-affronted. “Why, Serial Number Q5U—”
“No No No No / It’s Queen For Scolding Since That Makes It Easier”
Tasque Manager laughed. “Alright! Why, Queen, Queen, Queen—no, no, it’s too informal!”
“No Such Thing As Informal In This Lawless Land”
(There were still sootprints on Queen’s hands, and now there were more on her slightly singed collar. If there was anything Tasque Manager regretted in the last two minutes, it was not cleaning her hands before saving Queen from mild charring and melting.)
“Hey Tammy / Tasquey / Jack O’Lantern / Aquamarine”
“Uh” Queen faltered. “Because Of Your Smile / Wait Um / ... / Oh Never Mind / Hey / Please Leave These Strikingly Designed Fireplaces Behind And Tend To Them Later Because I Have Something Cool To Show You”
“No, no, Queen—I have a strict schedule to follow,” Tasque Manager protested, “and it’s a very fine schedule, in my opinion—”
“Perhaps If We Just Cleared It For This Very Special Calibrating Day?” Queen’s visor sparkled, black and starry as the night could be. “Poof Poof Responsibilities Are: Deleted / You Have So Much Power Magician / Come Onnnnnn I Can’t Finish All These Blocks Of Processed Factory Blue Cheese Myself / (Literally) (I Can’t Eat) (Please Tasque Manager Save Me From Drowning In So Much Cheese)”
“Hsst hsst hsst—later. Later, later, later, silly!” Tasque Manager stood, her outlet tail curling over Queen’s black heels, and bent down to help up her most radiant elegance. “First, I will complete what is in my itinerary, itinerary. And then, I will pencil in ‘meet... Queen on one of her many balconies, for something that will truly be a wondrous surprise’ in one of the free spaces! Now, does this placate you, your most divine majesty?”
“Lmao / Why Yes / I Am So Very Pleased My Utmostly Sophisticated Electricness” Queen let go of Tasque Manager’s hands and swept into a bow that managed to be fascinatingly regal and terribly clumsy at the same time (although this botched royal-ness was a natural part of Queen’s charm, Tasque Manager often wondered where Queen had learned how to bow like that).
“Toodles You Silly Little... I Mean Tasque Manager” Queen added, and she somersaulted away, making a passing flock of Swatchlings rumble with laughter and cheer as she did.
Tasque Manager laughed as well, and flicked the painting’s switch. Another bloom of fire blazed through the halls.
It was a good day for these paintings; all those that she’d tested were running smoothly. She would be done very early.
Upon the balcony, the night sky stretched around them; endless, fathomless, cold. Hung with faraway electric stars, and a single, exquisitely accurate moon, and that was it. Queen let advertisements for empty lots and pomegranates and cars and the like run rampant throughout The City, but the night sky would always remain pristine. It wasn’t theirs to touch.
“You Must Be Wondering Why I’ve Brought You Up Here” Queen said to Tasque Manager as they looked over the edge, down at their city that spilled teal and magenta and cerulean beneath their feet.
“Indeed I am, your majesty.”
Queen was silent. A large shadow-powered zeppelin with Tasque Manager: Mansion’s Most Wonderful Employee painted on its side in luminous eye-searing colors floated up past them and into the night sky.
“How did you construct that without my knowledge...?” Tasque Manager wondered as the zeppelin turned westward and began floating over the city.
“Spamton Helped / Blueberry And Teal And Indigo Did Most Of The Painting / When I Tried Spamton Said I Was A Hazard To Society / Swatch Was In Charge Of Distracting You / But Swatch Also Isn’t Very Good At Distracting People Especially Longterm / Highkey Surprised You Didn’t Figure It Out”
“Oh my.” Tasque Manager resolved to affectionately drown Swatch in Tasques the next time she saw that graceful bird.
She noticed Queen was smiling at her and flicked a spark of white electricity at her with a finger. “You are so very smug, smug! Ill befitting a crown!”
“Maybe Swatch Was A Little Better At Distracting Than We Thought”
“It was just one zeppelin!!”
“Oh Did You Want Some More / I Have Some More / An Excess Of Them”
“No, I— no, I would not like some more. It’s fine, fine!” Tasque Manager zoomed in her sight to watch the zeppelin delicately alight on a landing platform far, far away. Three Swatchlings in varying shades of blue hopped out, all rushing to touch up the paint.
“...You did not have to do that, you know.”
“I Don’t Have To Do Lots Of Things / But It Was Fun”
“It... it... was,” Tasque Manager admitted, putting a hand over her face to hide her smile. “Silly!! It was quite silly, silly. And fun.”
The two of them leaned on the balcony and watched the city wink at them.
Tasque Manager unconsciously winked back, as cats were wont to do, and then realized her posture was slouching the tiniest bit and snapped up ramrod-straight.
Hsst, she thought, noticing that in the corner of her vision Queen was smiling fondly, like she was seeing a very familiar ghost.
Later that night, the two were supposed to be relaxing on chaise lounges and watching the night sky above them, with a barrel of blue cheese between them that neither of them could actually eat. Tasque Manager had summoned a variety of her Tasques to enjoy it. Unfortunately, all the hullabaloo had summoned Maice as well.
“Order, order, order, please!” Tasque Manager yelled at a swarm of Maice from the safety of her chaise lounge. This made thirty of the creatures start up irritated comment threads about how one couldn’t love cats and despise rats at the same time and what else were they supposed to eat if they didn’t steal and how it was actually kind of nice and warm inside a Tasque’s belly.
Tasque Manager cracked her whip at them, blowing a blue raspberry, and they scattered.
“My Queen, you are not helpful!” she cried to her Queen, who at the moment was absolutely blanketed in Tasques and Maice alike. “If you do not do something, they’ll form a wheel!”
“But Tassy” Queen protested from where a Tasque was sitting on her face. “Cats”
Tasque Manager huffed and flung her whip down, sending sparks of her irritation everywhere and forcing the Maice to scatter.
“You Know” said Queen with a radiant smile, which was mostly hidden by a Tasque’s tail, drawing Tasque Manager’s gaze to it without trying. This should have irritated her further. “It’s So Funny Getting To Know You Taskqueue”
“Is this a leadup to a quip, quip?”
“No I Mean” Queen’s smile disappeared. “That Voice Pattern Of Yours / ...” She looked away. “... / I Need To Clear Storage Space Again Don’t I / Anyway Where Were We / Maice Right”
“My... voice pattern,” repeated Tasque Manager. “My speech is what, exactly, Queen...?”
“Wait Wait Wait Wait Wait Wait / It Was Never A Bad Thing Not At All / It’s So Distinct / And It Makes Your Speech More Understandable / And I Don’t Know Why I Can’t Say / That I Love It Just Because It’s Yours”
Tasque Manager’s whip stopped crackling in her confusion, and the Maice took their chance to fling themselves upon the barrel once more.
Queen hesitated, visor warping a little to look at her whip. “It... Is Yours Though Right? / You Did Not By Any Chance Pick It Up From Someone Along The Way, Right?”
“I... do not think so—?” Tasque Manager turned back to the barrel and swatted it, gentler this time. “This interrogation means what, Queen? Do be more organized with how you present information, if you so please.”
“Whoops My Bad” Queen laughed, rolling and deep and long, and flopped back down against her chaise lounge. “It’s Just That A Person Who Used To Exist Did That”
“He Was / Hmm It’s A Good Thing He’s Not Here To Hear This” Queen sat up. “He Was A Court Jester Of The Greatest Caliber / Even Though No One But Two People In The Entire World Thought That”
She made a grand, amused gesture, reaching up to scritch a Maus on the head and missing a few times. “The Best Comedy Is Derived From Fear You See / I Think We Made A Brilliant Team Until / Uh / Well Until This Happened?”
“Until what happened...?”
“You And Swatch And Swatchlings And Tasques And Mansion And The Center Of The World / Came To Be / Yep Until This All Happened”
“...And you thought I knew him?” Faraway pink and teal reflected off Tasque Manager’s head as she sat down next to Queen. “...I’m sorry... I do not know who you’re talking about, Queen. Or... what you mean by any of this.”
“I Mean / Gosh I Can’t Be The Only One With These Almost-Memories” Queen said.
And she faltered, and suddenly her smile was so very, very sad as she looked at Tasque Manager’s left ear. “Um / But It’s Okay / That You Don’t / My Code Might Just Be Making All This Up To Figure Out Who I Am Ha Ha”
Queen looked down at where a Tasque (this one was Timberly) was resting on her lap and gently tweaked his nose, smiling.
“Wait, are you saying that...” Tasque Manager hesitated, one of her hands (the fourth or fifth one) anxiously pulling at her dress. “You are... generating memories of... your past? Before... this?”
“I Guess You Could Put It That Way?” Timberly pushed up on Queen’s han d with his snout, and Queen rubbed underneath his chin, very gentle despite her sharp metal finger. “More Like I’m... Remembering Them? / I Don’t Think I’m Making These Up Ha Ha Ha”
She looked at Tasque Manager, smiling tightly. “Because That’d Be Super Ridiculous Right Ha Ha / Making Up A Bunch Of People / And I’ve Have To Get Myself Checked And Maybe Have To Install A Few Updates If All These Things I’m Remembering Aren’t True Ha Ha”
Tasque Manager looked down at Timberly, and then looked up at Queen, and then made an executive decision.
“You may tell me more about your... memories,” she said to Queen primly, straightening up. “I will file them away for you! You can’t keep that all inside you, you’re running out of storage, storage...”
Queen paused her petting of Timberly, her expression blank with surprise. “...Really?”
“Yes, yes!!” Tasque Manager beamed. “It is one out of the many tasks I would be happy to perform for you, my Queen. My storage is much more up-to-date, date.”
A perfect, slightly relieved smile spread across Queen’s face. “Tasque Manager I Hope You Know That The Zeppelin Thing Wasn’t Just For Show”
“Yes, yes, I know—! Now, help me shoo those Maice away, kittens.” Tasque Manager stood, stretching and clicking her joints, and the Tasques obligingly hopped off, pouncing on any Maice nearby. “Where would you like to start, Queen?”
“What About / The People / The People I Remember” Queen scooted aside to let Tasque Manager sit next to her as well. “Seems As Good A Way To Start Building A Place Than Any”
The night sky stretched around them as they slowly remembered a world together; endless, fathomless, cold.
Tasque Manager looked across the gap to the Shop from inside Swatch’s new café, which was closed for the night.
Castle Town was asleep. No one was out this late—no one but dear Ralsei, whose silhouette darkened the windows of his castle as he hurried to and fro—organizing things, saying goodnight to his friends—thinking no one noticed. Tomorrow she’d have to catch him, overwhelm him with Tasques, force him to take a seat at the wonderful café he loved but never visited except with his friends because he was so busy otherwise, and let him and Swatch talk.
And the Shop, in comparison with the rest of sleepy Castle Town, was lively with activity. Those three young men who’d run such a small rebellion against Queen—with so vague a purpose, too! She could not understand it—were setting up a variety of golden speakers outside, poking their heads through the entrance and laughing at what they and someone else inside were saying.
She did not know how to organize these thoughts running rampant through her brain.
Queen’s old companion, your Shop is still as rumpled as ever, ever! she could say, strutting across the gap. Sweet Cap’n Cakes would scatter in her wake, and there would be nothing holding her back from throwing the door open in full and—
She wondered, briefly, distantly, how much information it would take to overload this Darkner who Swatch and Queen and Tasque Manager herself had all quietly decided was dead, and thus should be treated and processed that way.
And I heard Cap’n say you’re missing an eye even though you were always so irrationally worried about your face being symmetrical, and you never come outside at all even though Queen said you would patrol the ends of your world until you were too tired to take another step, and—
“I am being ridiculous,” she grumbled, turning back to her Tasques, who had all decided to help her take over the café for Swatch while Swatch was busy helping Queen. “Ridiculous! Quite! Order, order, O—R—D—E—R, A—B—C—D...”
Task, Timberly, and Tasqueen came up and nuzzled her, perhaps all sensing her emotional turmoil at once, and she sighed and kneeled down to lean into their soft static bodies. “D—E—F—G...”
This was not even her past to handle—this was not even hers. And now that it was true—had always been true...
Maybe I will visit Seam, she resolved after a moment. And maybe I will manage to act perfectly normal and civil about it all, all. And then we’ll see how to tell Queen and Seam both, civilly, about the Devilsknife. And then we will move on in full.
“Come now, sweet kitties,” she said, and they all trotted after her to the exit in the back of the café, a line of Tasques in a row. The last one shut the door with their paw, and the café went dark.
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