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Mundementia One: The Book of the Matriculation
"Greetings." Says the tall one, beetles scurrying in and out of his mouth. "We've been _looking_ for you..."
There is a rustle of movement from behind me. I turn, reflexively, and note that Luke has withdrawn from his holdall a huge barrel-shaped device that winks and glows rather ominously, especially at what appears to be the business end of things. In one swift motion, he leaps from the now-destroyed Lunar Simulatrix Lamp and brings the massive device to his shoulder in what appears to be a firing position, trickles of sweat dampening his fuzzy brow.
"Oop oop oop!" Says the tall figure, cautioningly. "Surely you _do_ realize, Mister Deltalemur, that firing a Marks and Spencer Portable Ion Cannon in a room full of oh-so-MANY other sources of Ambent Energy would be tantamount to suicide? 'Quod sun Ee es Bono Em, es pas Bono Mondutout...' 'The best tool is not always the most effective...' Surely, you remember at least _that_ much from Ypresant..."
"DON'T LISTEN TO HIM, LUKE! SHOOT HIM!" Screams Feeb.
She is, rather unfortunately, a bit too late. The damage is already done. Luke _hesitates._
The shorter of the two fires _his_ weapon. It strikes Luke's Ion Cannon in an apparently critical area, as the lights resultantly flicker and go out, wisps of smoke wafting up from the muzzle.
"Heh. Heh, Heh. Cool." Says the shorter figure.
My eyes widen. Quietly, to Feeb, I hiss, "What the fuck is going on?"
"Daanziger." Says Feeb, in a doomed whisper. "The Logic Prof from Hell."
"Daanziger?" I say. "I've _heard_ of Daanziger... You _told_ me about him..."
"Ashraak is going straight for the kill. Looks like He sent along Stubbs as well, the merciless bastard..."
"ENOUGH!" Screams Daanziger, his beetles scurrying around in agitation, "Whispering is not conducive to good classroom discussion, Miss Dimmesdale! I had _thought_ that I had drrrumed _that_ fact, at least, into your head during Principles of Reason. If you have a comment, PLEASE SHARE IT WITH THE REST OF THE CLASS!!!"
"Uh... heh, heh. Teacher-Dude?" Says the shorter be-beetled humanoid.
"Do these guys... uh... heh, heh... suck?"
"Indubitably, my purulent friend. These three miscreants do, indeed, as you put it... suck. 'Triage et Orbicularis Oris Quanto Secundum.'"
"Cool." Says Stubbs, cocking his weapon.
"Okay, okay. Wait, wait wait." I say, approaching the two figures with my hands held above my head in a congenial fashion.
"*What are you _DOING_?*" Hisses Feeb.
"I'm trying to reason with them." I say, calmly.
"*YOU IDIOT!*" Says Feeb, hissing still. "*YOU CAN'T--*"
"Ahhhhhh." Says Daanziger. "Charles Madison Glass. I've been waiting a long time to meet the fabled 'Guardya de la Duche Verdue.' And now, here we are. Shame it isn't under more pleasant circumstances."
"Listen." I say. "Feeb here tells me that you two are working for my old roommate, Rick. I was wondering if you could just go back to Omega House and tell him that I'm _really_ sorry about throwing a fit over those dirty dishes, and--"
"ENOUGH!" Shrieks Daanziger, in a positively Pink-Floydian fashion. "Your belated efforts to ingratiate yourself with Ashr-- Ashr--"
Daanziger makes a choking sound and trails off. With his one free "hand" he reaches down into his throat, past the scurrying masses of beetles, impossibly far back, down into his very larynx, subsequently withdrawing a rather large rhinoceros beetle which had been, apparently, the cause of the obstruction. He clears his throat and continues.
"Your belated efforts to ingratiate yourself with Ashraak fall upon deaf ears. You are an Insolent Whelp, and it is the will of the Master that you be Withdrawn from the Genetic Bank. 'Friappe cum Turgidor, esta la Nacht-Vierden.' 'From the Bowels, Nothing Good can Come.'"
"Heh. Heh heh. You just said, 'cum' twice and 'bowels' once. Heh heh."
"Excellent attention, Stubbs. Now..."
"WAIT!" I say.
With my chin held high I say, "Ashraak wants me, he can have me. All I ask is that you spare my companions."
"No." Says Daanziger. "It'd be easier to just kill you both right now." He cocks his weapon.
"WAIT!!" I say.
"Both?" I say, frowning.
"Yes!" Says Daanziger. "Both! You and... the..."
For a moment, all of us pause, considering the implications of this statement.
And then, with a "Wheeooo!" dredged up from from the Ninth Level of Gehenna, Daanziger's face, such as it is, vanishes in an abandoned hurricane of Grey Frinking Lemur Dropped From Above and Served Angry on a Bed of Lettuce.
Stubbs's gun erupts into a blaze of airborne lead, his shots shattering Feeb's Frankenstinian resurrection machine, the shelf formerly holding the Indicators, and a glass jar containing some unidentifiable spleen-like organ which falls to the floor with a wet splat and promptly begins hopping around and singing a medley of Sinatra's Greatest Hits. Luke manages to get his tail wrapped around Daanziger's neck in the true Alien Facehugger fashion and subsequently attempts to claw out the infernal don's unseeing eyes with his sharp fingernails. Feeb and I dive for cover behind a terminal bank.
"'All I ask is that you spare my companions!'" Says Feeb in a mocking falsetto.
"...it sounded good..." I say, a bit lamely.
"Right." Says Feeb, dullishly.
"What the hell are they using in those guns?" I say, surveying the wreckage nearby.
"Cinematic bullets, probably." Says Feeb, rummaging around in her holdall. "One shot destroys anything large and technical, shatters glass of any thickness or density into millions of fragments, opens or seals shut any lock, depending on your particular need at the time and punctures any pneumatic tire that Goodyear can put out. Plus, when they run out, you just pop in a new clip. No limit."
"What do they do to _people_?" I say, worriedly.
"Machinery is their preferred target. But if they're aimed right, they're heat-specified to seek out the heart or the critical viscera. You've generally got time to squeak out one last line, and then *kaput.* Your choice whether it's humorous or tragic."
"Gee." I say, in awe.
"Uh. Heh heh." Says a searching voice on the other side of the terminal bank. "Could you two... like... come out? So I can, like... kill you? Heh heh."
"EAT SHIT!" Screams Feeb, finally producing from her bag a suspiciously wicked-looking object. "I've got a plan. Here. Take this."
I do so. "What is it?"
"What am I supposed to do with it?"
"You call _that_ a 'plan?'" I say.
"No!" She says. "You keep him busy. I've got work to do. Cover me." Feeb breaks into a sprint along the terminal banks, passing the lab porcupine, which I notice is still sitting there contentetdly gnawing on the salt-block. Shots ping out from Stubbs' gun, smashing the delicate equipment behind her as she goes. I pop up from my position of cover and fire the needler. Unfortunately, the only experience I've ever had shooting _anything_ was with a .22 rifle back in the Scouts, so my aim is a bit off. I manage to skewer a few individual members of Stubbs' beetle layer, but that's about it. Many more take the places of the ones I _do_ manage to kebab.
Stubbs whips around. "Heh. Heh, heh. You suck, dude."
BLAM! KERBLAM! KERPOW!
"Heh. Heh heh."
"_Hey! That's Life... That's What... People Saaaaay..._" Hop. Splat. Hop. Splat.
"STUBBS!" I say, altruistically, from my position of cover, "Throw down your weapon now and no-one gets hurt!"
"Yeah." Says Stubbs. "That would suck. Heh heh."
KABLOOM! PANG! CRASH!
Okay. Not the best choice of words, I admit. I leap up once again and fire off another volley of razor-tipped needles. The shot is better aimed, but does no more damage than the first one did.
"Heh. Heh heh. 'Your weapons are, like, useless against me.' Heh. Heh heh."
Stubbs is getting closer. I fire off one more volley and then abandon my position, searching for more intact cover elsewhere, my assailant's gun creating interesting sound effects directly at my heels. I stumble wildly towards the big butcherblock table supporting the porcupine cage which, being big, heavy, solid, and most critically, non-technological, has escaped a majority of the damage thus far.
It is only then that I notice the Porcupine.
She is clutching the bars of the cage, staring at me--or more specifically, my right hand--dreamily.
"Meep." She says, in a breathy whisper.
I look down at the object of her apparent interest.
The Needler Pistol.
"...for crying out loud..." I mutter.
BANG! KERBANG! KA-PWING!
I sit there, crouched behind the table, despair and hopelessness neurotransmitters flooding my synapses.
Suddenly, thoughts start clicking through my brain.
It's so crazy, it just might...
Quickly, I stand up and begin fiddling with the door to the porcupine cage. The prickly little amorous rodent grows ever more excited.
I vault clumsily over the table so that I am standing directly between Stubbs' line of fire and the door to the cage.
"Hey! Uh... You!" I say, unable to think of anything more clever than that in the heat of the moment.
Stubbs whips around.
One one thou-
I fall to the floor.
The cage door swings open.
Acting quickly, I toss the needler, grenade-like, in a broad, long-distance parabola directly to Stubbs' last known location. It's hard to see details from my position on the floor, and accurate throwing is even more challenging. But the effect is right.
The lovestruck porcupine follows the path of the flying needler with anxious, gleaming eyes.
She charges after it.
Two seconds later, there come screams from the other side of the row. Nice loud ones. I don't even take the time to congratulate myself, running as I am for better and more constant cover.
"_Hey! Strangers in the Night... Exchanging Glances..._" Hop. Splat. Hop. Splat.
A moment or two pass in tumult. Then, amidst the commotion, I hear heavy footsteps. Daanziger. A pause, I imagine, while he surveys his companion. Then...
"Mister Glass! You _do_ realize you cannot hide this way forever..."
"Heh. Heh heh. Ouch. Heh heh."
A bit lower, to Stubbs. "Find the girl. I'll deal with La Guardya."
I find myself wondering briefly what became of Luke...
"Like. Okay, Professor-Dude. Heh. Heh heh. Ouch."
Stubbs scurries off. Daanziger begins his approach, cleaving through wrecked machineries with his unearthly stride, sightless eyes scanning the nearby area for evidence of me.
"Shit." I remark to myself, and continue running.
"Oh, little Chaaaaarlie..." Says Daanziger. "Someone's been a very, _Very_ naughty student today..." Smash. Kerklank. Smash.
"_Why, it's... Almost Like Being... in Love..._"
Daanizger is taking the direct route now, knocking down as much heavy, bulky metallic stuff as he possibly can, believing that it will prove to be a greater obstacle to me than to him. He is, unfortunately correct.
Run. Run, Run. Stop. Run the _other_ way. Run. Run more. Avoid falling heavy thing. Keep running. Throw self under stable big heavy thing to shield self from falling big heavy thing. Squirm out from underneath. Keep running. Dodge bullets. Et cetera, et cetera. I shan't bore you with the details.
Suffice to say that there comes a time when the options have come to a close.
I stand in a cul-de-sac of metal wreckage. The walls of twisted and broken machineries rise several meters into the dark air, all around. Sharing the cul-de-sac with me is a large, familiar looking wire-mesh cube. That's not important right now.
What _is_ important is the tall, imposing, profoundly deadly-looking beetle-covered figure of Daanziger standing at the mouth of the cul-de-sac. He adjusts the collar of his tweed, idly, and dozens of tiny insects scurry away from his touch.
"Ah." He says.
A familiar looking wire-mesh cube. Apparently empty.
"So. Nowhere left to hide, eh? You surprise me, Herr La Guardya. I had _thought_ you would be a more formidable adversary than this." He clicks the hammer back on his pistol with a sharp... well, click.
How long has it been...?
I edge my hand backwards towards the latch of the cage behind me. "So. Professor Daanziger. Feeb tells me that you're--"
"I refuse to let myself be caught up in a conversation with you, Mister Glass. Any issues you could possibly raise will become utterly irrelevant in a matter of moments. 'Die Yattica Bloy, Quiavait Moramis.'"
Cautiously, silently, I lift the latch. The cage door ekes open one tiny fraction of an inch. "And what's up with that, by the way? That _isn't_ Latin, in case you were under the misconception that it was..."
The tiny brown Mexican cockroach scuttles onto my foot. Timing. Timing.
"Dear Boy. I _know_ my Latin. What I am _in fact_, quoting, is the far more scholastically challenging Western Precursor _to_ Latin, which bears up more of the Philosophies of--"
I was waiting for that wide-open British /ah/.
Almost casually, I flick the little cockroach towards Daanziger's gaping mouth. It is quickly lost amongst the beetles crawling in and out of the hellish prof's respiratory system. Daanziger sees my foot move and fires, but he is distracted, and the shot goes wide, crashing into a transponder array just left of my head and blowing it up in a pastel arrangement of sparks. The force of the explosion leaves me soot-faced and breathless.
"_I've got you... Under my skin..._"
Daanziger levels the pistol again. "NOW--" He shrieks.
And as if on this cue, there is a muffled *Wheep* sound...
I shan't describe precisely what happens to a person when a full-grown adult male sheep suddenly materializes in their respiratory tract. Suffice to say that it is, in layman's terms, fairly ucky.
The sheep looks rather confused. Not much of a switch, but hey. As for the mangled shreds of corpse surrounding it and the rapidly-dispersing horde of beetles on the floor nearby which work their way quickly into the cracks and crevasses of the broken machinery, well, those were the ucky parts.
Picking my way through the assorted bits of undead flesh, I pat the sheep once on the head, grab Daanziger's pistol, and go off in search of Stubbs.
It's all a matter of following the sniggers.
"Heh. Heh heh. Like, 'Come out with your hands up.' Heh. Heh heh." He's still looking for Feeb, sounds like. Maybe I'm not too late...
I come across the little bastard searching through rows upon rows of big, heavy steel lockers. Stubbs is looking to be in pretty poor shape, much as you'd expect from someone who's been given a serious come-on job from a lovesick porcupine. Hundreds of quills protrude from his body at every imagineable angle. The beetles just crawl around them, but Stubbs himself isn't looking too hot. Good.
"Heh heh. 'Olly olly oxen free.' Heh heh. Dumbass. Heh heh. Ouch." Clunk. Another locker opens to his questing gaze.
I theatrically step into line of fire and raise the pistol. "Hey!" I say, still unable to think of anything creative.
Stubbs turns with unimaginable speed and fires. Daanziger's pistol takes the brunt of the damage, being mechanical. It shatters in my hands.
Next time, just _fire_ the damn thing, Charlie...
Finding myself weaponless _again_, I have no choice but to... you guessed it... run for cover.
Okay. Let's do this one more time. Run. Run, Run. Stop. Run the _other_ way. Kerpwing. Run. Run more. Run.
Two out of two. Damn it all, anyway.
Hemmed in by walls of metal, rendered crabwise by a recent stumble, I can do nothing but stare as the prickly homunculus before me progresses ever-so-slowly forwards, sniggering as he comes.
"_I did it... Myyyyyy Waaaaaaayyyy..._"
"This music sucks." Remarks Stubbs. He fires off a shot into the darkness, and the Sinatra Organ collapses into silence with a dull wheeze.
"Heh. Heh heh."
Stubbs advances, the smell of his turgid flesh mixing with the sharp odor of gunpowder. Free advance beetles from the area of his feet scuttle across my fingers.
Stubbs levels the gun at me. We're both hemmed in by the big metal lockers. No porcupine cages, no SheepRoaches, no anything...
He draws back the hammer again...
There is another audible electro-mechanical *clunk*. Blinding light floods the area from above.
"GENTLEMEN!" Screams a voice.
The locker directly behind Stubbs bursts open to reveal a reptilian monstrosity of considerable proportion.
"Rawr." Says the monstrosity, elocuting nicely.
Stubbs doesn't even have time to shoot. With one massive swipe, the huge creature sends the little bastard flying out of my field of view. The gun clatters to the floor, and discharges; the bullet ricochets of two of the big metal lockers and caroms back to where it started, shattering the gun itself into worthlessness.
All goes quiet.
Then there is a brief sound of a single voice saying, "Heh."
And then, silence again.
His job apparently over, 'Buddy' trots out of the picture, following the direction of his swipe. Stupefiedly, I follow.
I eventually catch up to the loping saurian in the clear space approximately one-quarter of the way down the long axis of the room. Stubbs is there, an expression of blank, mindless shock on his undead face.
Right into the A.S.F.D.
"Heh." Says Stubbs, electricity arcing across his body, blind eyes engaged in illusions too horrible to contemplate.
"Nice work..." I mutter.
"Thanks!" Says a voice from above. Feeb hops down from one of the cabinets. Luke is there, too, looking a tad bit threadbare, but otherwise okay. "Thank _you_ for baiting the trap so well, Charlie!"
"Anytime..." I say, limply, still cautiously regarding the dinosaur nearby.
"I'm sorry." Says Feeb, noting my gaze. "I'm being rude, here. Charles, this is Buddy. Have you two met?"
It is a testament to my distractedness that it is only now at this very moment that I finally register exactly what Feeb is saying.
My gaze follows my point.
He's big, for one thing. Brownish-greenish stripey-looking hide. Nasty looking claws on the fore and hind limbs. Wicked teeth.
It's a dinosaur. Looks like a Utah Raptor, if I recall my Bakker correctly...
There's something not quite right about it, though. the limbs aren't precisely the same length, for one thing. The head is a bit off-kilter. And then, I notice the stitches...
I continue to point. "This... is... your _boyfriend_?"
Feeb looks at me from the dark side of the moon. Then she laughs. Luke joins in, frinking jovially to himself. "Oh, good heavens, no. Was _that_ who Buddy was in your little scheme of things? A-ha! A-hahaha!"
I frown. "What the hell _is_ he, then?"
"Very simple." Says Feeb. "_Lots_ of Mad Science majors construct humanoid monsters out of spare parts. And a _few_ M.S. majors have worked on re-creating the dinosaur in the modern age. But _NO ONE_ has _EVER_ tried to RE-CREATE a DINOSAUR-CREATURE in the MODERN AGE out of SPARE PARTS of OTHER DINOSAURS! _AND THEY SAID IT COULDN'T BE DONE!_ Well, _WE'LL SEE_ WHO HAS THE LAST LAUGH NOW!!! YEEEEE-HA-hahahahaha... MUA-Ha-hahahahaha..."
She trails off. "How was that?"
"Nice." I say, approvingly.
"Frink." Says Luke.
Buddy just sits there.
"Thanks." Says Feeb. Suddenly, her mood darkens a bit. "At least _something_ is going right today."
"Hey." I say, blandly. "We're alive."
"Frink." Says Luke.
"But just look at this place! AN ENTIRE LIFETIME of WORK! RUINED! _*RUUUUINNNNNNNED!*_"
"You're really getting good at that."
"Thanks!" She beams.
"Frink." Says Luke, warningly.
"Luke's right." Says Feeb. "This place is a loss. We'd best get out of here before Ashraak thinks of something _really_ nasty to throw at us."
I blink at her. "_That_ wasn't nasty enough?" I say.
She clucks her tongue, cautioningly. "Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. We have one whole week to go. You've only been alive again for less than a half an hour. This is only the beginning..."
"Great." I say, leadenly.
"Chin up." Says Feeb, showing me the Principal Indicator, which has gone back to blinking an ambient red. "It's reading 'exposition' again. Maybe we've got a little time for a breather."
"Maybe. Maybe. _MAYBE._ Feeb, whoever these 'Uberauters' are, it's _abundantly_ clear that they are holding all the cards, here. We can't _possibly_ see into their minds. The best we have are these damn little indicators, and we're not even sure what they mean half the time. How the hell are we supposed to predict where the fuck this story is going?"
"Very simple." Says Feeb. "We talk to one of them. Come along, troupe. We've got _work_ to do."
"All in time, Charlie. All in time. Luke, you got your bag of stuff?"
"Frink!" Replies Luke affirmatively.
I pick mine up from where I dropped it when we were first assaulted by Daanziger and Stubbs. "Gotcha." I say, weakly. Go with the flow, Charles...
"You ready, Buddy?"
"Rawr." Says Buddy.
"Right." Says Feeb. "Let's head out."
And the four of us walk to the blasted-in door to the Lab, leaving the brain-destroyed Stubbs behind in his eternal fantasies, out towards the sunshine of the daylight city beyond.
It's going to be a looong week.