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Mundementia One: The Book of the Matriculation
It's amazing the kinds of things that you don't think about until it's too late.
When we _last_ left our hero, Charlie Glass, he was catapulting himself headfirst through a Time Portal at the hellish Late Cretaceous Wing of Capitol Centre Mall. Here's a quote:
"Fuck it. Let _them_ follow _me_ for a change."
Okay. First off. I want you home readers to try saying this line out loud to yourselves. It would probably be best to try this while alone, so as to preserve your public reputation as a sane, rational individual in the mind of your friends and family; but, really, whatever strikes your fancy. Try several different interpretations: apathetic, annoyed, happy, oh-my-god-look-at-what-they're-doing-to-that-wallaby-ish, sultry, joyous, brassy or any combination of the above. I myself prefer a combination of sultry and the wallaby thing, but that's rather beside the point.
Then, try "hubris."
See what I mean?
Okee-dokey. So. Charlie leaves the scene through a mysterious, glowing portal whose function he does not completely understand with what is, very possibly, the absolute worst conceivable possible exit line save, perhaps, "Ha ha! There's no danger through here!"
About halfway into the opalescent mists, Charles remembers something that Travis had said about "calibration" or something.
Three-quarters of the way through, he recalls the ancient and disused appearance of the twisted silver frame that had supported this particular Time Portal.
Seven-eighths of the way through, he remembers the vines growing across the portal's surface.
Fifteen-sixteenths of the way through, Charles Madison Glass decides that, actually, catapulting himself headfirst through this particular Time Portal was a pretty stupid idea after all, and his neurons in his motor cortex begin firing in the attempt to stop his forward progress.
Thirty-one-thirty-seconds of the way through, the nerve impulses reach Charlie's muscles...
Unfortunately, it is at this point that Reality's "Zeno's Paradox" compensators kick in, and before Charles has a chance to traverse any more fractional distances towards his destination, Reality decides that, well, he's _there_.
We now rejoin Part Nine of "Mundementia One," already in progress, wherein you may or may not hear _these lines!_
"...i... *sob* OH, GOD, Sweetie! I THINK I'm PREGNANT!!!"
* * *
Oh, great. Just great. I'm dead again.
I _hate_ it when this happens.
A short time passes in thought.
Of course... when I was dead before... I wasn't really _conscious_ of _being_ dead...
Another short interval of thought.
But maybe the more you do this, the better you get at it!
Hey! Pretty soon, I'll be the world's _expert_ at being dead!
I wonder how that would look on my resume...
I wonder if...
My reveries are cut short by the arrival of my companions. Specifically, their arrival _directly on top of me._
"Audio Journal Entry Number One: October the Thirteenth, The Year of Our Lord, Nineteen Ninety-Seven. We have now ventured into uncharted areas. Ergo, I have decided to begin keeping this Audio Journal to detail the many strange flora and fauna we shall, no doubt, find here. I have many, many initial impressions of this strange new land. First of amongst them is the impression that it appears to be very, very dark here, and that I can't see a damn thing. Will write more when I have found a light."
The tape recorder clicks off.
"Hold on a moment, Charles. I can't understand you. Luke, could you find me the Affected Dialogue Rectification Relay?"
"Frink." There is a shuffling from the mound of assorted creatures above me.
"MMRPHGHR!" I repeat, no more distinctly but far more insistently.
"Hang on..." Says Feeb.
::CALIBRATING.:: Grinds a mechanical voice from above.
"Got it. Could you give us that again, Charlie?"
"MM. R. PH. GH. R." I say, very carefully.
::MOTHER.:: ::OF.:: ::GOD.:: ::FEEB.:: ::GET.:: ::THE.:: ::FUCK.:: ::OFF.:: ::OF.:: ::ME.:: ::EXCLAMATION.::
"Oh. Sorry." #### Feeb, Casually. There is a whump as Feeb dismounts from the pile. "Buddy, be a dear and get up off Charles, yes?"
"Rawr." Says Buddy. Finally, I can breathe again.
"What the _HELL_ is wrong #### you people!" I say, to the inky darkness where Feeb's voice last came from.
"I might ask you the same question, Mister Glass. What _was_ that stunt you pulled back there?"
"That _stunt_," I say, "Was _kind_ of an attempt to keep from being _eaten._ Capice?"
"You were _supposed_ to stay on the path. Goodness knows what damage you might have done."
"They didn't TELL us there were going to be huge man-eating dinosaurs there!"
"Sure they did." Remarks Feeb, her voice moving around in the darkness. "In that pamphlet they handed out directly before we entered the Portal. You _did_ read the pamphlet, didn't you?"
"Mmmr." I say, indistinctly.
::NO.:: ::I.:: ::DID.::--
"SHUT THAT DAMN THING OFF!" I scream, my patience #### again exhausted.
"Frink." Says Luke, sourly, and the voice dies.
"Well. That explains your irrational behavior back there." Says Feeb, her voice coming nearer. "Really, Charles, I know I should _know_ better than to expect better of you, but I keep doing it anyway. Hold this."
"What is i--AAAGH!"
My eyes are quite nearly burned from their sockets by a whitish light that reminds me of that time that my half-brother and I had a staring-directly-at-the-sun contest going. I won a buck off him that day.
"Thank you." The light swings away as Feeb wrenches it from my grasp and begins looking around.
"What _is_ that thing?!?" I say, the usual bewilderment of dealing with Feeb catching up again in force.
"Carbonate lamp. Useful in spelunking." There is a pause. "Very neat word, that. Spelunking. Spelunking Spelunking Spelunking."
"Frink." Says Luke, cheerily.
"Luke has reminded me of the time when he and I created a two-part chorale to the tune of 'Canon in D' on the very subject of Spelunking. The word, is, in fact, featured rather often in the recitation. Would you like to--"
"NO!" I say, looking about me wildly in the ghost-white light. "Cripes, you folks are making me really miss Reggie _already._"
"Who?" Says Feeb, curiously.
I stare at her for a moment. Then, I muster my smugness, walk right up to her and wave my hand dismissively in her face. "Oh! NOT IMPORTANT!" I say.
She smacks me on the cheek. Hard. "OW!" I exclaim.
"Close one, there, Charles. Eye-seeking cerebral parasite on your Zygomatic Arch. Few more seconds, you'd have been Bantha fodder."
"Let me see." I say, my jaw clenched.
"Can't. They dissolve into neutral component gases directly at the moment of their deaths." She shows me her open hand. "See?" She says.
I glower at her. "You just made that up so you could slap me."
"Perhaps." She says. "But are you _sure_?"
Neck muscles clenched and veins pulsing in my forehead I break eye contact. Damn her anyway...
A few moments pass in silence.
"What sort of damage?" I ask, simply.
"Pardon?" Says Feeb.
"Frink." Explains Luke, to her.
"Oh! To the timestream. Charles, the _reason_ you were supposed to stay on the path is that any changes you make to the past have _serious_ repercussions on anything and everything in the future, up to and including altering _everything_ familiar to you. Entire individuals can up and cease to exist, because of your interruptions to the normal cycles and such of life. You kill something in the past, that's one prey animal that a _predator_ doesn't kill, thus causing _it_ to die of starvation sooner than one would normally expect... thus causing a specific patch of _grass_ to have fertilizer that it would not otherwise have gotten, thus causing it to grow. Ergo, a 'cow' (gender-neutrally speaking) will get a meal that it would not otherwise have gotten, thus making Farmer Bob decide that said cow is indeed fat enough for the slaughter rather than, say, sending it to the glue factory. THEREFORE, *YOUR GREAT-GRANDFATHER*, on that _ONE CRITICAL DATE_ wherein he first proposed to *YOUR GREAT-GRANDMOTHER*, will order _STEAK._ And... BECAUSE THERE'S ONE EXTRA COW THAT THERE WAS NOT, PREVIOUSLY, THE MAITRE'D will _NOT_ SAY 'Ahm sahrri, sahr, we do not have ze steak tonight.' HE _WILL_ SAY, 'Ah, oui, sahr, 'ow would sahr _lahk_ eet?' AND _THEN_... YOUR GREAT-GRANDFATHER WILL _CHOKE_ on his T-Bone TRYING TO GET THAT LAST BIT OF MEAT OUT OF THE LITTLE NOTCH IN THE TOP, AND THEY WILL HAVE to do the _HEIMLICH MANEUVER_ on him and he'll SPEW into the CABERNET SAUVIGNON, and your POTENTIAL GREAT-GRANDMA will say 'EWWWWW!' and she'll DUMP the lug RIGHT THEN."
She breathes, once.
"And you, friend, will cease to be."
I stare at her. "But... But you killed a frogging TYRANNOSAUR back there! All I did was run a ways through the jungle!"
"Actually... no. We didn't." Says Feeb.
"Frink." Agrees Luke.
"Rawr." Says Buddy, worrying at a hangnail and thus not paying any attention to us.
"How... how did you escape?"
She sighs. "You really _didn't_ read the pamphlet, did you."
"No." I say, sullenly.
"Here." Says Feeb, thrusting it into my face, indicating a passage near the end.
* * *
Shoppers in the Late Cretaceous Wing are advised that the specific fourth-dimensional characteristics of the path through this selfsame wing necessitate that you will encounter what is conventionally termed a "Tyrannosaurus Rex." Because of the looping nature of the timescheme of the Path through this wing, be assured that every shopper faces this exact same extinct saurian, and that there is no need for alarm. Shortly before actually _reaching_ the path, the creature in question will suffer a sudden, fatal heart attack and then a tree will fall on it and cause it to die even more. You will be in absolutely no danger whatsoever. Thank you.
* * *
"Good job, Charles." Says Feeb, mockingly.
"I mean... who knows? Perhaps in some scheme of reality, the reality that _you_ may very well have just destroyed, you were a reasonably cool and popular individual who was extremely appealing to members of the opposite sex... but now, you're you. And the beauty of it all, since history may very well be rewriting itself retroactively, is that you wouldn't even _remember_ being this other, far superior Charles in your current, rather mediocre--"
"ENOUGH ALREADY!" I say. "Can we get on with this? Where the hell are we?"
"####," Says Feeb, "Cross-referencing what we see around us to my calculations, taking into account the age of the Christmas decorations..."
"Frink..." Says Luke, probing some fossilized tinsel with a little paleontologist's pick.
"...we are currently in the NetherRealms of Capitol Centre."
"The NetherRealms?" I say, caught up once again in Feeb's infectious question-sucking dialogue.
"Yes. The NetherRealms. You know how Very Good places in malls have Very High rental rates?"
"Yes." I say.
"And mediocre places have mediocre rates?"
"Yes..." I say, quiet inexorability filling my gut.
"And the relative popularity of each store kind of relates proportionally to it's relative goodness of place?"
"Wait." I say. "These are the _really_ unpopular stores?"
"Bingo." Says Feeb.
Buddy looks up from his hangnail. "Rawr?" He says, looking around.
"Sorry, champ. False alarm." Buddy looks disappointed, and goes back to his hangnail.
"So." I say, peering curiously around me. "Let me guess. Negative rents."
"Right." Says Feeb. "The Mall pays people to keep stores down here. Sometimes quite a lot."
"What's the downside to this?" I ask.
She sidles up to me and says, in a conspiratorial whisper, "The savage natives..."
"Right. Let's get out of here. Now." I crunch across layers and layers of fossilized tinsel creating kind of a carpet across the ground nearby. "If we're in the Mall, yet, there should be a directory around here somewhere... Ah!" I hurry over the uncertain surface over to a large vertical placard in the shadow of a giant forgotten holiday-teddy-bear draped in garland like some Aztec Idol covered in vines and creepers.
"Shan't do us any good, Charles. It's been quite a while since those things have been updated..."
"Hush." I say. "Where are we headed, again?"
"Cinnabon." Says Feeb.
"I won't even ask." I say. Rapidly, and with great precision, I cross-reference the incredibly complex three-dimensional map pictured on the placard to the little list of shops beneath. "Ah." I say. "Here it is. Right next to 'Marco's Shoppe of Ynterresting Thingges from thee Far Eastern Landds yf Godde's Creation.'"
"I see what you mean." I say.
"Give it up, Charles..." Says Feeb.
"No! We just need to find a store around _here_ and compare it to the map. _Then_ we'll be able to orient ourselves. How about... that one?"
I inspect the store towards which my finger is pointing. It's a smallish front, bearing an odd resemblance to a sort of chapel of some kind. The small, arching portal is flanked by two identical statues of the same figure, a rather pissed-off looking domestic housecat.
"Oh. Looks like it's run by the Monks of Saint Sabrina, the Twice Spayèd. Patroness of unnecessary surgery. It's probably a limb amputation shop."
I turn slowly to look at my frizzy companion.
"A limb amputation... shop."
"Yes." She says, matter-of-factly.
"WHO THE _HECK_ WOULD WILLINGLY GET A LIMB..."
My mouth trails off as my eyes engage in the watching of _something_ emerging from the gothic doors...
"amputated..." I say, my tongue dry.
The vaguely-humanoid reptilian monstrosity walks casually away from our position, colors in his multi-chromatic skin cycling slowly as he does so. A rather large part of one of his arms seems to be, well, somewhat missing.
He notices my stare.
"Cool, huh?" He says.
I do not respond.
"Sure, it'll grow back in a couple months. But, you know." He grins, disturbingly. "I gotta be me."
With a flourish, he walks away into the darkness, whistling.
Feeb taps me on the shoulder. I'm still watching the direction in which he departed.
"As you can see, however, not _many_ people would benefit from such a shop. Ergo, its inclusion here in the NetherRealms."
"I want to get out of here." I say, rather calmly. "I want to leave this place, Feeb. Get me out of here."
"All righty, Charles. We'll just activate this little alien artifact which I've stolen from 'The Dig.'"
Holy music fills the air as Feeb whips out a semi-transparent blue sphere which glows with an intensity to rival her bedamned Carbonate Lamp. There is a wire pick-point of white crystalline wire floating in the deep sapphiric blue of the sphere. It rotates slowly, then settles on a specific direction.
"The device points this way." Says Feeb, mildly.
"What's it pointing to?" I inquire.
"_The Way Out._" She says.
I blink. "No catches?"
"No catches." She says, smiling faintly.
"Wow!" I say. "Really?"
"Really." She says.
"I can't _believe_ it! One of those damn devices is finally proving kinda actually _useful_ to us!"
"You're forgetting about the Censorship Device." #### Feeb. "_If_ having that rhino step on it didn't completely throw it out of whack." She again whips out the gray, beleaguered little device. She shakes it a couple times. It rattles, pitifully. "Rather hard to say." She says.
"What's that rattling noise?" I ask.
"I _really_ have no idea. It never did that before. Luke, you wanna have a look at this?"
Luke wanders in Feeb's direction. I, being a guy and thus possessing highly specialized brain motivation centers giving me a natural affinity for broken mechanical devices owned by female acquaintances, am compelled to wander over and look at it myself.
I happen to be closer to Feeb than Luke is.
"Ya know," I remark casually, "That _might_ just be a bit of the casing rattling--"
Feeb glares fire at me. "Don't you touch it."
"No, really. Maybe if we dislodge it or something..." My guy-hormone driven hands are reaching itchily for it. She whips it out of my reach several times. I continue to advance on her.
"Luke!" She says, panickedly.
"Frink!" Says Luke, running more quickly.
"Seriously," I say, blithely. "We could just maybe pry the casing edge up with a screwdriver or something and get that little sucker out of there, and--"
"FRINK!" Says Luke, his eyes wide. He leaps...
He is too late. Feeb and I both Zig the same direction a few scant milliseconds before Luke reaches us. Feeb fumbles her grip on the Device, and it flies out of her hands, bounces off the Mall Directory and rolls, inexorably, towards the door to the Chapel of Saint Sabrina.
Achingly slowly, it bumps into the threshold of the slightly ajar gothic portals.
It rolls inside.
Instantly there is a hideous screech, as one might hear if one decided, against all better judgment, to host an elementary wood-shop class for the legions of the damned.
It lasts but a second.
Then, the door flies open, and the Device, smoking slightly, flies outwards in a broad parabolic arc and lands heavily at our feet.
Feeb blinks mildly at me and picks it up. The little Device's shell now contains no less than twenty-three small rents and one really big one, each of them neatly blackened and cauterized around the rims.
"Sorry." I say, bluntly.
"'Fuck.'" Says Feeb, to the machine, inquisitively. She sighs. "Well. Now there's _really_ no way to tell. Thank you again, Prince Charming."
"Frink." Says Luke, grumpily.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay? We can get this thing fixed later on. Can we just get out of this place?" I look around nervously.
"Sure." Says Feeb. "But first, we _probably_ should do _something_ about that rather angry-looking mob of slavering anthropomorphic rats holding execution cudgels."
I frown. "What angry-looking mob of slavering anthropomorphic rats holding execution cudgels?"
"Oh. The one right behind you."
"Oh. Okay." I say.
"_*WHA--::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux -INTERRUPT
RE: INCAPACITATION OF NARRATOR
?Shartooie Dataflux Sysadmin writes:
//Message (STORY: Mundementia One (8/not entirely sure))
Principal narrator has suffered an unconscious episode
and is unfit to continue narration. Searching for
backup auxiliary narrator.
//No acceptable auxilliary narrators detected shutting down