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Mundementia One: The Book of the Matriculation
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ee-youch, eeeegggghrk.
* * *
"How did you like it?" Asks Feeb, smiling brightly.
"I didn't." I say, still wincing.
"Oh." She says, looking genuinely disappointed. "Some people really enjoy having their bodily wastes suction-catheterized."
"I," I say, "am apparently not one of these selfsame people."
"Ouch." I add.
"Frink." Says Luke, sucking on the free lollipop that the nice man with the street-corner do-it-yourself Suction Catheterization machine gave him for being such a good little Lemur while he was undergoing the same process. Luke is looking better, finally. If anything will get you out of Feebspeak-induced Catatonia, it's having your bodily wastes sucked forcibly out of you by a disturbingly big and noisy machine. Luke likes lollipops.
"I'm really hoping that you didn't have this idea _entirely_ with the thought that this would all be for my enjoyment, Feeb." I say.
"Oh, no." She says. "It's a precautionary measure. The _last_ thing we want to do is to get into the Mall and have any of us need to use one of the public restrooms."
"Frink." Agrees Luke, emphatically.
"Dare I ask," I say, my headache coming back again, "why not?"
"Utterly suicidal. Public restrooms are _very_ holy places to Ashraak. Litter and Profanity, remember?"
"Right." I say. Then, in an arcane murmur, "'The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.'"
"True." Says Feeb. "Except for in our particular case, they ain't subways. Restroom Defacement is practically an act of regular worship for the Ashraakites. Think Stalls and Hand-Dryers."
"Hand-Dryers?" I ask.
"Sure!" Says Feeb. "Stubbs is mostly in charge of that. He's the guy responsible for scratching out the letters on the automatic hot-air dryer instructions to make them read "Push Butt, Rub Hands Gently Under Arm."
"_Stubbs_ is the one that does that?"
"Yep.." Says Feeb. "Hundreds upon thousands of American Dryer Corporation hand-dryers in Men's Rooms throughout the Midwest and beyond, and you'll be hard-pressed to find _EVEN ONE_ that doesn't have the instructions scratched out partways to form banal, vaguely obscene, and completely non-humorous messages. The little runt gets around, he does."
"Wow." I say. "I always _thought_ that seemed strange."
"Now you know." She says. "He also was the original composer of 'Here I Sit, all Broken-Hearted.'"
"Ouch." I say.
"Port-a-Potties (tm) are even more sinister, of course. They started out as little roadside shrines to Him, but He quickly realized that they had the potential to be even filthier and more unsanitary than their fixed counterparts. Not pleasant places to be. Especially for people like us."
"What did you say?" I say, backing up a bit. "Back at the beginning. Right after the brand name?"
I shake my head. "How the hell are you doing ####?"
"Practice." Says Feeb. "Anyway. The restrooms in Capitol Centre are the worst of all. Not only are they public restrooms, and thus subject to Ashraak's power, they also suffer from characteristic Mall mismanagement. Some time ago, The City of Hoderund, responding to public complaint, ordered Capitol Centre to, quote, 'either clean up your restrooms or we will be forced to come in there and shut them off from public use.' Capitol Centre Mall responded, quote, 'Sod off. You're meddling with powers you can't possibly hope to comprehend.' The City promptly sent a crack team of heavily-armed Inspector-Marines in, equipped with the most sophisticated technological arsenal that money, at the time, could buy."
"Never heard from them again?" I say, anticipating.
"Exactly." Says Feeb. "The only clue that anyone was ever given was single, final radio broadcast sent via a portable satellite phone carried by the team's Communication Tech. It stated, simply, in a quiet, awestruck voice, 'My God... It's Full of--'"
"FRINK!" Shouts Luke, alarmingly, just in time to warn us of an oncoming wildebeest stampede. The four of us leap for cover just in time. In passing, Buddy snatches one of them with his razor-sharp claws and spends a disturbingly short time shredding it into Raptor Chow. I grimace at the sight of it, even as I am recovering from the shock of being nearly killed yet again. It's beginning to become old hat.
Whatever. They eventually pass. Traffic resumes.
"So anyway." Continues Feeb, continuing her walk towards the Mall as though nothing has just happened. "No one ever dared go near those Restrooms with hostile intent ever again. It is hypothesized that, due to unresolved labor problems with the janitorial staff, regular upkeep and cleaning was delayed for a long enough period of time to allow the mildews and other assorted fungi to gain a sort of communal intellect through natural course of evolution. It is further hypothesized that this communal hive-fungal-mind thing is two-hundred-fifty _BILLION_ times more intelligent than the average human being. It is _FURTHER_ hypothesized that, through sinister experimentation, the hive-fungal-mind thing has actually managed to open gateways to the Lower Planes of Reality and has been very subtly preparing to gather a vast army of Creatures from the Nether Pits who will eventually sweep forth in a Vast Firey Scythe Across the Land, gaining conquest of first the Universe of Capitol Centre, and then of our own pitiful reality."
"Plus, they _never_ have enough toilet paper."
I nod. "That _is_ bad." I say.
"And no matter _how_ many sub-dimensions and pocket-universes that Capitol Centre expands into in an ever-ravenous desire for more Floor Space, THERE IS AND EVER SHALL BE _ONLY ONE SET OF RESTROOMS._ And it the women's room has only two stalls."
"Feeb," I say, "Why do people _go_ to this place at all?"
She grins at me. "_Convenience._" She says.
And then we are there, before the monolithic doors.
* * *
::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux B.E.E.R.I.N.G.K. APGAR
Wheedle DataBoost !!! Shoogie Woogie doo.dah.day@heheheBOB
SHANUGGIENET Philodox SpamBurst Whoop Shadoobie --> Parsing::
For these upcoming Holiday Seasons ('97,'98,'99,'00,'01,'02'03,'0&&&\
LINE TOO LONG--TERMINATED PREMATURELY
&&&\ot enjoy the simple pleasures of shopping at Capitol Centre Mall?
Absolutely everything you'll ever need. Ever.
::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux -> NonParsing::
* * *
"Aw-roight!" Says a strangely familiar-looking safari-guide-type fellow wearing Outback garb topped with a festive Santa hat and carrying a disturbingly large rifle. He speaks to us all in a heavy Australian accent as he paces back and forth in front of us. "Oi am Presumin' thut we oll are 'ere for th' soime purposes, oy?"
There are general courses of agreement from the mass of rather confused and befuddled-looking shoppers surrounding us.
"Yes." He says, muttering to himself. "Yew all are 'Oliday Shoppers. Am Oi Correct?!?"
Some more confused nods. Nothing to inspire a lot of confidence. The guide picks up on it.
"Roight." Says the guide. "Jest in coise any of yew all are 'ere all _CunFyoozed_, Let me remoind yew that this Ex-pee-dishun is intended for the West Ter-shee-airy Fornax Deep Four Food Court and Parts North-Westerly _AUN-Lee._ Those of yew with destinoishuns _NOT_ part of this par-tick-yoo-lar wing of the Mall would do best too de-p&&&\
::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux -INTERRUPT
RE: MAXIMUM SPECIALTY DIALOGUE QUOTA EXCEEDED
?Shartooie Dataflux Sysadmin writes:
//Message (STORY: Mundementia One (6/not entirely sure)) Specialty Dialogue Quota Exceeded--Aborting all non-essential Specialty Dialogue Processes//
::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux -RESUMEwill be departing _here_ from the West Main Annex Fountain Court. From there, we will be taking a path through _here,_" The guide gestures with a pointer to the glowing holographic map before us. "The Upper Concourse. From the Upper Concourse, we will proceed to the Hall of Portals and take _this_ exit to the Late Cretaceous. Further instructions from there. _You_ are here to shop. _I_ am here to keep you alive. Is that understood?"
Another chorus of half-hearted murmurs. A hand raises.
"Um. Mister Travis?"
The guide whips around.
I stammer a bit. "Did you say... um... Late Cretaceous?"
"Yes. But don't worry. You'll be appropriately equipped by the Quartermaster. Now Disperse. And meet back here at 0540. Clear?"
One more series of half-hearted murmurs.
"Right." Says the guide. And leaves.
I turn slowly to Feeb.
"Late Cretaceous?" I say, innocently.
"Yep." Says Feeb. "Capitol Centre applied for the most generous multidimensional zoning permits available for their business district, but eventually, even they exceeded their metarealitical constraints on space. Undaunted, as always, by the City Council, Capitol Centre promptly expanded their Floor Space into various historical eras as well. Rather clever, actually. Only problem is, to have _access_ to shops in either that area or beyond, shoppers have to pass _through_ the specific era in question. In terms of Victorian England, the only real difficulty is Oscar Wilde. However, in our case, things are a bit more tricky. That's why Capitol Centre thoughtfully provides these 'safaris' to several of the more 'dangerous' areas of the mall. They also, thoughtfully, provide other essentials as well."
Feeb gestures towards a storefront all a-blaze with cheery Christmas lights and a-wash with cheery Christmas Muzak. Mall employees in bright red and green aprons wearing festive Santa hats or "haloes" of tinsel process an ever-moving stream of consumers through their lines, issuing each shopper some "essentials" that send a deep twinge of fear through my gut. The sign above reads, simply, "Quartermaster."
Feeb gestures grandiosely.
"Essentials such as Guns."
* * *
At 0540 the party sets out, Mister Travis in the lead in a stern and Australian manner. We are a ragged bunch, half-confused and haggard, eyes alternating between wild rabbitlike terror and cold, flinty determination. There is a sort of a comradeship among us, a slowly-developing juxtapathy of kindred souls all trapped in a situation beyond our control, but at the same time, it is an uneasy alliance; for while we know that in the hours to come, our lives may in fact be placed in the hands of one of our comrades, we _also_ know that if the supply of Sleep N' Snore Ernie dolls at the local mall branch of Toys R' GOD does not meet our demand, we will most likely rip each other to fun-sized bits in the resulting panicked melee for what there remains.
We don't want to be here. But we must.
We are Holiday Shoppers. And we have Guns.
I finger my rifle, holding it as I might an alien slime-mold, as I look cautiously about, eyes scanning the nearby spaces for danger. I know that the other members of my platoon share my apprehension as well, for I see the same looks on their faces.
All except Luke, of course. Luke is just happy to be here. Luke apparently requisitioned a _very_ impressive weapon from the Quartermaster, because when he handed over his ID to be scanned, the employee at the desk made a quick little gasping sound and called her manager over to look at her terminal screen. There was a whispered discussion, which I was not party to. And then, I managed to pick up the words, "Give it to him."
"But... Mr. Camering!" Squeaked the girl at the desk.
"Give it to him." Repeated the manager.
"But... But... a Level Seventeen Red-Gold Exotic Arms Authorization Permit?!? _NOBODY_ has that!"
"He's a _Lemur_, Shelley." Said Mr. Camering. "We have a little saying in Armaments Division: 'Never Question a Lemur.' Odds are that he knows more about it than either of us."
"Frink." Said Luke, calmly, with a businesslike suck on his lollipop.
In the end, Luke walked away with a medium-small sidearm, approximately the size of a large automatic pistol. There _was_ something rather menacing about its appearance, and the brief mention of "warp-propelled heat-seeking laser-guided splinter flechettes" did nothing to decrease my overall level of anxiety. In a clearly obnoxious display of power, he also requisitioned a Santa Hat, a Plen-T-Pak of "Big Red" gum, Mr. Camering's toupee and a night at the Rainbow Room with Shelley. Luke appears to be one _happy_ Lemur right about now.
Feeb rather disdainfully declined the assignment a weapon in that hoity-toity "You will witness the power of my science" sort of way.
Buddy apparently chose to rely on his own teeth and claws, and I, frankly, didn't much blame him. I've seen what he can do with 'em.
And when they got around to scanning _my_ ID...
"Mundane." Said Shelley, somewhat disdainfully, reaching for a whole big rack of depressingly small-looking pistols.
"Whaywhaywait a second, here." I said. "I'm being catapulted back to the Late Cretaceous and _That's_ all you're giving me to defend myself?"
"I'm sorry, sir." Said Shelley. "But that's as a Mundane, that's all you're cleared for."
"He's not." Said Feeb, moving gracefully back to my side. "Charles came out of Mundanity late last night. He's now at Mundementia One. We just haven't had a chance to update his ID's."
"Oh." Said Shelley. "'Fraid we'll have to field-test you, I guess. What," She asked, rummaging around behind the counter and eventually producing something, "Is this?"
I looked at it for a second.
"A squid." I said.
"On either side of the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the filed the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott."
I swallowed, and proceeded calmly. "Quoting, it seems, Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shalott.'"
"Okay." Said Shelley, putting the squid back behind the counter. "Mundementia One. 'Fraid that still the best we can do is this rifle. Is that okay?"
I indicated that it was, for fear of what I would have to see in order to go any further. And thus armed, I rejoined the group and we, in the fullness of time, set out.
* * *
A sign, in passing:
Capitol Centre Mall.
We take you there. You buy it. We bring you back.
You probably won't die!*
* (According to most recent statistics)
* * *
As we walk from the Fountain Court towards the Main Concourse, passing through the eerily blue-sinister byways of the Mall, I sidle up to Feeb, still scanning around for danger. Luke and Buddy are a bit ahead of our position; Luke decided to give Feeb a break with Buddy's leash.
"Holiday decorations are up a bit early, this year." I say, attempting to ease my way into a conversation.
"Actually," Says Feeb, "They're a bit behind schedule."
"Really." I say, with a note of confusion. "Maybe they were hoping to find better ones than these." I reach out to finger some ragged and threadbare garland hanging from an ornamental light-pole.
"Actually, I hear those were quite nice when they first went up."
Suddenly, I'm sensing where this is going to go.
"How long... erm... have these been up?"
"Twelve years, for those particular ones." She says, holding up a tricorderesque instrument to the pitiful garland. "They'll take them down this coming Christmas. That's what they were slated for, way back when."
"They hung these decorations twelve years ago. For this Christmas."
"Yep." Says Feeb. "A couple of weeks from now they're going to hang the Christmas 2017 decorations. They're supposed to be lovely. Shame that they'll be all tacky by the time we actually get there..."
"So." I say, making rational gestures with my hands. "Capitol Centre, some many years back, began the process of hanging Christmas decorations earlier and earlier each year."
"Right." Says Feeb.
"First October, then back to May, then to February, all that?"
"And they got _SO_ carried away one year that they started hanging decorations for the _NEXT YEAR'S_ Christmas before _THAT YEAR'S_ Christmas was even over with.
"Sort of an Event Horizon or something."
"Mm hm. Things sort of picked up speed after they lapped one year. You're really getting good at this, Charles."
"Thanks." I say, weakly.
"I'm sensing that this wasn't really what you wanted to talk about."
"No. Actually, it wasn't." I say. "I needed to talk to you about that scene back at the Quartermaster's counter."
"Okay." I say. "'Mundementia One?'"
"Ah." She says. "The categorical term for the status of someone who was born Mundane but has has had the condition dissolve for whatever reason. We say that they're in 'Mundementia One.' That means that you, for example, are in a twitchy, panicky stage wherein you're still not entirely comfortable with any of this and are, generally, reacting badly to learning the truth about the world. The Mall still considers you less dangerous and clueless than a true Mundane, however, and so trusts you with a bigger gun."
"I'm not _getting_ this!" I suddenly exclaim, causing one panicked shopper in our Safari group to reflexively fire her sidearm, blowing away a couple of festive Christmas lights. Mister Travis glares at me from the head of the group, but says nothing. I continue on, somewhat more quietly.
"I'm not getting this, Feeb. Are you saying that all this time I've been battling malevolent demigods, warding off psychic parasites, all that... and yet, I've been Mundane the whole time as well?"
"Well, yes." Admits Feeb.
"But..." I say. "But... I must have been using _some_ forms of supernatural power and such to successfully repress Ashraak the first time. And what was that that Daanziger called me? 'La Guardya de la Duche Verdue?' That's _certainly_ not a normal title..."
"Of course not, Charles. You were an archangel-in-training your first year here at L.U.D.D.D.Amber. But in a vastly courageous display following your entrapment of Ashraak, you denounced the Fraternal Order of Gods for their corruption and joined the English department, sacrificing your divine status on a question of principles alone. Gutsy move by you."
"Thanks." I say, idly. "But... if I was doing all this fantastical stuff... how the blazes did you all know I was Mundane at all?"
"Oh." Says Feeb. "They test you for it at birth. But it becomes pretty apparent, really, anyway. Mundanes, like yourself, go around in this sort of half-wistful confused-looking daze making completely inappropriate comments for the situation at hand. And, of course, it's printed on your Student ID."
"Oh." I say.
"Mundanes are fairly pitiful creatures, actually. Most people either harbor a sort of condescending pity for them or go around laughing at them behind their backs. Y'all remain blissfully unawares, of course. Frankly, I don't know how you do it."
"I _thought_ so!" I say. "I've always _felt,_ somehow, that in some weird and not-quite-definable way, people were constantly laughing at me for something that I never could quite understand. I thought it was just low-grade paranoia!"
"Nope." Says Feeb. "We really were laughing at you."
We continue on in silence for some time, passing storefront after storefront until...
The byway corridor that we've been following thus far opens abruptly out into a vast, magnificent space extending from sea to shining sea. Our anxious, witless group now looks down from a high balcony upon an atrium of God filled from gangway to hold with a marauding throng engaged in the processes of Holiday Consumer Glory. There is, I sense, a fully functional amusement park somewhere herein, as well as two or three luxury hotels, a private heli-VTOL landing complex, a zoo, a circus, an opera hall with a resident opera company, and, of course, seventeen acres of South American Rain Forest, painstakingly transported here, disoriented fauna and all, just for the heck of it. I think I catch a glimpse of the city of Calgary somewhere down there and, perhaps, the entire state of Rhode Island itself, presumably purchased by the Mall in order to further drum up Tourist interest. There is a sense of 'Frontier' about the place... a wild and lawless city-state perched on the edge of the Unknown and loving it.
"The Upper Concourse." Intones Mister Travis. "Last bastion of Civilization on our path before the West Tertiary Fornax Deep Four Food Court. Any of you blokes want to turn back now, this is your last chance."
None of us say a word.
"Right." Says Mister Travis.
He gestures dramatically with one hand, and we follow him into the flux.