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Mundementia One: The Book of the Matriculation
Four figures. Walking through the bright mid-late afternoon light, through fields of carefully-tended Academic Grass, of ancient Dorian concrete and modernday art-deco prefab. Bunnies stare at us as we pass, birds twitter in the trees, and there's no trace left of the Psychotic Killer Ducks that have, up until now, hounded our steps. We're finally leaving the river valley. Going Feebknowswhere, and going there at a moderate amble through Pastora.
The University West Lawn.
Things are very quiet here, and we walk, each subsumed in a sort of shell of self-absorbed pensiveness.
Occasionally, words penetrate the silence.
"It's a little known fact that one of the Emeritus members of Hoderund's City Planning Council was, in fact, Le Comte Donatien-Alphonse-Francoise de Sade, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century French author of pornographic literature describing innocent persons in unspeakable sexual torture. You can tell from the street designs."
"Really." I say.
She nods chipperly, but her thoughts are obviously elsewhere.
"Guess that explains these hills." I say, breathing a bit heavily from my exertions.
She nods. "The beauty of building a city on a river-valley flood plain. Not only do you get serious property damage after anything more profound than a moderate April shower, but _also_, it allows you to create major important pedestrian and vehicular traffic thoroughfares at absolutely ludicrous vertical slopes like the one we're currently traversing, causing critical heat exhaustion on the upswing and the inability to progress downwards at any pace other than 'mad careen.' Thankfully, the University has seen fit to put those concrete embankments at the edges of major intersections. Goodness knows how many hapless Freshmen we'd still be losing each year if they hadn't."
"Hm." I say.
"You should see it in the winter." She says. And then lapses back into silence.
Feeb is obviously distracted.
Hell, I'd be distracted too. She _could_ have just left me dead. Gone on with her life. A few years down the road, she'd have graduated Magna cum Laude, probably with an Undergraduate Honors Thesis on the scientific proof on the Favorite Colors and Sexual Habits of the Uberauters. Maybe a minor in Eccentric Cackling, or perhaps, Cinematography. She'd have gone on to graduate school, become _Doctor_ Phoebe, and spent the rest of her life pulling down a six-figure salary as a Tortured Mad Genius, switching people's brains around _JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT._ But with the flip of a hatchet switch, she's become a fugitive from Ashraak with a ruined Personal Lab in the Advanced Tech Complex and nothing to show for it but a little bit of real-world practice in saying things like "GONE! MY BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS! GONE!"
For her credit, she's been milking it for all it's worth.
"MY CREATIONS!" Screams Feeb, out of the blue, scaring the sausages out of two or three nearby rabbits. "YEARS OF PAINSTAKING RESEARCH! ALL DESTROYED!"
"The years?" I inquire.
She looks at me. "Sorry?"
"Your '_years_ of painstaking research' have been 'destroyed?' I mean, how _exactly_ do you 'destroy' a 'year', as such?"
She bites her lip in thought. "Grammar was off, huh?"
"I believe so."
"Okay," She says, seeming genuinely interested in my input, "What should you be saying?"
I think about this for a moment. "Okay. Try this. How about: 'My creations, _which have required_ years of painstaking research, _are now_ all destroyed.'"
She rolls the phrase around in her head. Then she tries it.
"MY CREATIONS! _*WHICH HAVE REQUIRED*_ YEARS OF _*PAINSTAKING RESEARCH*_! _ARE NOW_ ALL _*DESTROOOOOOOOYED!*_"
She looks at me. "Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it."
"No." I admit. "Hey. You're the expert. I'm just an English major."
"Thanks for the critical commentary, at any rate."
"Anytime." I say.
"_*I'LL GET YOU FOR THIS, TIME PILOTS!!!*_" More rustling from startled rabbits.
"Huh?" I say.
"Oh." Says Feeb. "Just a little something extra I'm working on in my spare time. They say it increases your job prospects as an M.S. Major if you can demonstrate your ability to serve as a principal villain for a teenage hero group. Pretty cushy job, f'you ask me. You get unlimited funding for whatever wild scheme you can dream up; plus, you can never get killed. Only drawbacks are, one, never getting to see your plans for eternal world domination through to fruition; and two, the constant shame of being soundly trounced by a bunch of peri-pubescent losers with annoying voices. But overall, not bad."
"Huh." I say.
We lapse back into silence and continue trudging along up the steep incline of the West Lawn.
Yeah. I'd be distracted too, if _I_ were in Feeb's place.
And then there's Luke. I never really _did_ understand much about Luke. And now that his effective vocabulary is reduced to a sum total of two vocalizations ("Frink" and "Wheeooo") my chances for doing so in the future seem to have diminished exponentially. What possessed this sweet-toothed raccoon-like prosimian with a penchant for complex weaponry and swinging on things to put his life on the line for _my_ sake, I'll never quite know. Perhaps it's just the fact that he was Feeb's part-time lab assistant... an innocent roped into a situation way beyond his control. Or maybe... maybe it's something far deeper. After all, wasn't _I_ the one who helped him to understand Euripides' _The Bakkhai_ for his Dramatic Literature class? And _that_ was when I was Mundane. Goodness knows what I _really_ was doing for him at the time. Perhaps expending some of my, presumably, angelic powers to assist him in warding off some bizzare spiritual parasite. Maybe he feels honor-bound to defend me. I wish I could tell him that all debts are settled between us. After all, who the hell am I to bring about this kind of a loyalistic reaction? I'm Dirt! _Pond Scum!_ No! No, Wait! _Blue-Green Cyanobacteria!_ Whose evolution, far back in the primordial soup, caused the metabolism of Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen, a gas _extremely toxic_ to over _ninety percent_ of the lifeforms existing at the time! And _they_ ended up POLLUTING THE _ENITRE ATMOSPHERE_ with _TOXIC GASES_ in their BLITHELY SENSELESS EFFORTS TO GO ON LIVING, _HEEDLESS OF THE MASS DESTRUCTION THAT THEY WERE CAUSING TO THE *ENTIRE BIOSPHERE*!_
And... and... what about Buddy?!? Sure, he seems to--
"Light's back on, Charles. Has been for a little while now. You weren't by chance engaging in angsty wallowing-in-self-pity narration, were you?"
I stop. "Um." I swallow. "And... um... if I was?"
"Just checking." She says, consulting a clipboard. "If you _were_, then I _think_ we have a good idea which of Them is watching us right now. Differences in the Indication and all."
"Who?" I say, a bit curious.
"UA Twenty-Seven. He or She has an propenchant for it. Since we know that He or She is tied to your POV, I was assuming, since we're seeing the same qualitative changes in the Principal Indicator as we did in controlled situations using an experimental sample of fifteen 'Generation X' Poets, that you must have been engaging in some form of Angst. And since we were all walking around in silence, I naturally assumed it was self-narration. Right?"
"Right." I say, my mouth dry. "UA Twenty-Seven?"
"Purely an arbitrary label. I've gone on to name this particular one 'Hioshi,' now that we're an object of his/her apparent interest. Kind of a play on 'He-Or-She.' I liked the sound of it."
"Hioshi the Uberauter." I say.
"HI, HIOSHI!" I shout, waving at the sky.
"Shh." Says Feeb. "Don't taunt him or her."
"Right." I say.
"Frink." Says Luke, for no discernable reason.
"Listen." I say to Feeb. "Not to add any _more_ worries to this particular situation, but are we going to be getting in some kind of trouble, here? I mean, we just kind of 'offed' a fairly high-ranking professor in the Logic department back there. _Is_ there a criminal justice system in you guys's world?"
"Certainly." Says Feeb. "But I wouldn't get too worried about it. Daanziger isn't dead."
"He's not...?" I say, feeling a new worry to replace my old.
"'Course not." Says Feeb. "Daanziger is Ashraak's A-Number-One Fiend From Hell. You think ripping him apart from the inside with an adult male sheep is going to stop him? Might slow him down for a little while at best. Probably less than usual, even, now that the Medical People are working for Him."
"That's another thing I don't get. I thought Ashraak was just a minor demigod-in-training. How the hell did he get so all-fired powerful?"
"His particular Sphere. It gets a lot of energy from College Campuses."
"... and Profanity. I should caution you that anyone using more than five generally-accepted profane words in sequence devotes themselves, mind and soul, to Ashraak, for a limited period of time." Her eyes shift, warily. "His servants could be _anywhere..._"
I bury my head in my hands. "This just keeps getting better and better, Feeb. What about the Medical People?"
"Comps Exams for the Allied Health students took place last week."
"Oh no." I say.
"Laaaaata stress going on. Laaaaata idle swearing. Laaaaata people in the Hospital School unwittingly devoting their spare time to Ashraak's Work."
"Frink." Says Luke, glumly.
Buddy walks along behind Feeb, his leash dangling dispiritedly.
Feeb takes off on a new tangent. "Which reminds me. We've all been really quite lax about the whole profanity issue. It _might_ be the case that every time _we_ use even one of these words Ashraak gets some inkling of our whereabouts. I suggest that we--"
In a matter of milliseconds, I am turned towards my frizzy-haired companion and have my finger poised in the area of her face. This holds for a long moment. Then...
"Feeb." I say, quietly. "Are you implying that now, upon my being catapulted into the Hallucinogenic-Twilight-Zone-Bizzaro-Lucy-In-The-Sky-With-Diamonds version of Life As I Know It, and furthermore being hounded on every side by Killer Ducks, Demonic Professors and Swarms of Homicidal Beetles, and _furthermore_ being told that _any_ new person I meet could feasibly be working for Ashraak and thus be out to kill me as well, that _now_ you're saying I can't even _describe_ this selfsame situation as being 'Shitty'?"
"Not really. We just have to take pains that we're not heard doing it." She whips out a small gray palm-sized device with several gray knobs and buttons and a couple of gray flashing lights thereon. She holds it up for my inspection..
"What?" I say.
"It's a Censorship Device. Watch." She fiddles with some of the gray knobs and buttons, and the gray lights intensify in their grayness.
A faint hum builds and dies in my ears.
"'####'". Says Feeb.
I look at her. "Is something wrong with it?"
"No!" She says. "I'm just testing it. You try it. Cuss."
"####". I say. Then shrug. "Nothing's happening."
"That's what it seems like to _you._ But now that this thing is on, it'll cloak our profanities from any supernatural beings that happen to be listening in, _including_ Ashraak."
"Neat!" I say. "####, ####, ####, ####, ####, ####, ####. Can I see?"
"Sure." She says, holding the device out to me. "Just make sure that you don't..."
The vaguely ovoid Censorship Device falls to the concrete sidewalk with an ominous sound. It promptly begins rolling back down the steep River Valley Hill which we have just ascended, bangs into the concrete embankment at the bottom, caroms into the intersection of the streets below and is idly stepped on by a passing rhinoceros just coming out of the traffic light.
"...Drop it..." Says Feeb...
We all scurry _back_ down the hill, running into each other in a ludicrous gravity-assisted descent. Once there, Luke scampers out into the intersection, retrieves the Device and plops the benighted thing back into Phoebe's hands. She glares at me, and then looks at its displays.
"'Fuck.'" She tries again. ####, she shakes her head. "It seems to still be working. There's no way to be sure without the diagnostic computers back at the Lab, and you know what sort of shape _those_ are in by now. I just hope that it didn't get miscalibrated or something."
"Sorry." I say, lamely.
"'Fuck.' 'Fuck.' 'Fuck.'" She sighs. "There's no way to be ####. we're #### going to #### to try to keep the cussing to a minimum, just in case." She shakes her head. "Well. Come along, folks. Time's a wasting."
The four of us look back up the gargantuan River Valley Hill.
She sighs again.
"Let's get a move on."
"Feeb." I ask, at last. "Where _are_ we going, here?"
She pauses a moment, looking up towards the crest of the Hill.
"Downtown." She says.
And a gleam re-enters her eyes.