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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
You know the drill.
Overhead shot. An impromptu command center in the MacBride Foundation Memorial Student Union. The music thrums and swells excitingly in the background. The light is cold, white, distinct, and precise.
At the head of the table sit-stands Dimmesdale. Her code name, I have been informed, is "Ice Queen." She's our logic commander, chief of operations, our link to the enigmatic powers that observe our every move. At her right hand is the tool by which she observes these selfsame enigmatic powers. It is an Indicator. And when it is lit, it means that one of the inscrutable Uberauters is _observing_ our ways and our means. It is tuned, or so I have come to learn, to Number Twenty-Seven, a.k.a. "Hioshi." And it is lit _now_.
"Textbook operations, gentlemen." States Ice Queen, flipping some switches on a controller and summoning before us a spinning, vector-plot diagram in lines of green fire. The red blaze of a laser pointer materializes in one hand, and she stabs its red pinprick downwards. Simultaneously, a face flickers into existence on one corner of the real-time video display.
"This is our mark." She continues. "Richard 'Dick' Sjolund. A former operative in the office of Asset Control for L.U.D.D.D.Amber, now working at Teller's Post Five at the Swedish Fund Trust Savings Bank. He works the entire workaday shift, and has not missed a day for any reason, excused or no, for over seven years. He is a trusted member of the SFTSB Finance Team and is a fairly cagey character. During the Time of Subpoenas, it was Sjolund who seized control of the SFTSB financial helm when the entire management staff was accidentally eliminated by overzealous Presidential Corruption Probe agents, only relinquishing said control when Magnoch Systems seized SFTSB in a brilliant stock takeover; as a concession to his stern leadership, he was allowed to maintain his employment at SFTSB at Teller's Post Five, with a generous stipend paid to keep him quiet about shady goings-on during the takeover project."
"Served in Vietnam, I see." I note, inspecting the words scrolling past, businesslike, on the video display.
"Affirmative." Says Ice Queen. "Honorably discharged, Purple Heart, Presidential Medal of Honor."
"It says here that he climbs into trees to save puppies and kittens."
"Puppies?" I inquire.
"Ambitious ones. Which should clue us in a little bit to the nature of our enemy."
"Why?" I ask.
"Complicated." Says Ice Queen, waving her pointer-hand dismissively, causing a crazy spin of red light to scatter-shot around the room.
"_Cinnamon_ applesauce." I note, still reading the scrolling words.
"Frink?" Says "Genvieve, Lady of Flowers."
"Affirmative." Says Ice Queen. "Anticipating your question, Genvieve, Lady of Flowers, your particular expertise should come in handy here."
"You sure you're translating his choice of code names properly?" I ask, peering curiously at Genvieve, Lady of Flowers.
"78% Chance of accurate transcription, Herr la Guardya. Or should I say... 'Turkey Vulture'?"
"No." I respond. "You shouldn't. Damn it, Feeb--"
"Okay! Ice Queen! Would you _stop_ trying to get me to choose a freakin' code name, already!"
"What's wrong with code names, Sundance?"
"You want the explanation _with_ the profanities, or the one without?"
"Look, I'm just trying to be helpful, here. People get _rankled_ when they get assigned code names that consist solely of color or number schemas. And besides, they don't provide an easy mnemonic link to our actual functions during this operation."
"And 'Turkey Vulture' does."
"In a fashion." Says Ice Queen.
"Or 'Don Pedro.'"
"Or 'Whining Baby Who Can't Just Keep His Lip Shut And Play Along.'" I say, with more than a hint of malice.
"You _deserved_ that one." Says Ice Queen, turning her pointer on wide disperse and shining it directly into my eyes.
"Hey!" I say. "Ach! Damn it!"
"I'm not gonna quit..." She says, liltingly.
"Okay, that's it. You gimme the goddamn laser pointer Right Now!" I demand, still shielding my face.
"Not until you choose a code name."
"TURN OFF THE GODDAMN LASER POINTER!"
"CHOOSE A CODE NAME!"
"TURN OFF THE GODDAMN POINTER!" Finally getting my bearings, I leap at Ice Queen, wrestling her arm away. Those few students who have not already been driven away from the Union HubRoom by Feeb's insistence upon dickering with the lights for proper ambiance now begin packing up their trays and books and whatnot, finally having had enough. Our titanic battle continues.
In our struggle, the laser pointer rests for a moment too long on an otherwise unremarkable (and probably Mundane) Freshman in the process of departing the HubRoom. He is promptly and savagely wrestled to the ground by a passing blue-clad Campus Safety Officer. We two are heedless.
"Excuse me." Comes a gruff voice from nearby.
We freeze, in mid-struggle. Genvieve (Lady of Flowers) sucks wetly on a straw suspended in some kind of caffeinated soft drink, looking on with some amusement.
Feeb and I turn our heads towards the voice.
"Excuse me." Repeats the middle-aged security-uniform`ed man standing nearby. "I'm gonna have to ask you not to wave that laser pointer around like that. I've had to tackle too many innocent bystanders targeted by assassins using laser-targeting scopes to look upon false alarms with any degree of humor."
"Er." Says Feeb.
"Sorry... er... officer..." I peer at his badge. "Steve?"
"I'm currently going to issue the two of you a warning." Says Steve, ignoring me, and beginning to write up a precautionary citation on his little yellow pad. "You must understand the gravity of this situation, though. This is the kind of thing we had back in the Bermudan War."
"Laser-sighted sniper rifles?" I ask, mildly. Feeb and I have still not untangled ourselves from our struggle.
"Damn straight." Says Steve. "'Course, the damn Bermudans didn't target _people_ with these suckers, you understand."
"No?" Says Feeb, inquisitively.
"Nope. Cinematic Bullets. Went for the gas tanks on our Jeeps." Steve bows his head, shaking it slightly in sorrow.
"Not very subtle, for snipers." I note.
"No." Mutters Steve, a quaver in his voice. "But Damn sneaky. They's Damn sneaky bastards, Bermudans. They ain't _natural_, I tell you!"
"Sir..." I say.
"TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES!" Explodes Steve, suddenly. "DAMN NORTH KANSAS CABLE COMPANY SAYS IT'S GODDAMN 'TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES' MAKIN' SO I CAN'T GET THE GODDAMN 'HISTORY CHANNEL' WITHOUT OCCASIONAL INTERRUPTIONS IN THE AUDIO FEED!" He narrows his eyes, dangerously. "But I got 'em figgered out!" He hisses, tapping his forehead. "IT'S THE GODDAMN BERMUDANS!"
"Sir?" I say, a bit more quietly.
"TEACH 'EM TO MESS WITH _MY_ CABLE TV!" Bellows Steve, somewhere on the near edge of tears.
"Steve?" Says Feeb, gently, presumably continuing in her habitual vein of being nice to people named 'Steve.' Also, presumably to avert some kind of further catastrophic emotional response.
But it is to no avail. Steve breaks down in sobs, and then, after a while, tears the warning-ticket from his pad, crumples it into a little ball, and throws it, girly-fashion, at us.
"DAMN ROYALISTS!" He screams. "TAKE YER GODDAMN WARNING!"
I do, gingerly.
Officer Steve staggers out of the light and subsequently, out of the now-deserted HubRoom, slamming the doors behind him.
"Well." Says Feeb, attempting to regain her internal Ice Queen, as the echoing clang slowly subsides.
"Frink." Says Genvieve, Lady of Flowers.
"Rawr." Says... Rawr. It was the only code name we could get out of him. Rawr sits there, calmly, his saurian bulk leaning back in what passes for his chair.
"Frink." Adds Genvieve, nodding at Rawr.
"Genvieve, Lady of Flowers and Rawr are right." Agrees Ice Queen, looking over her clipboard. "Charles, you and I were at fault there, but Steve also bears some responsibility. He's obviously operating at a Gratuitous Reference Level easily five times the legal limit."
"Frink." Says Genvieve.
"Oh." Says Feeb. "Genvieve, Lady of Flowers wishes to inform the team that his new Code Name is 'Mr. Orange.' Please update all official documents."
"COULD WE _PLEASE_ GET THE HELL ON WITH THIS!" I shout.
A silent pause.
The exciting music returns as the four of us crowd around the blazing-green vector-plot. "Right." Says Ice Queen, firing up the laser pointer again. "This is a schematic of the Swedish Trust Fund Savings Bank. Now, as you know, we're operating under a pretty tight time constraint here, based on the business hours of the financial institution in question."
"Which are?" I ask.
"Open at 9:00 AM."
"And..." I say, leadingly.
"Close. 9:00 AM."
"So... they're... not open." I say, frowning.
"Technically, no. The SFTSB, presumably to inhibit the possibility of anyone actually making a withdrawal from it, began reducing their hours of operation to a few, select, inconvenient daytime hours sometime back in mid-1996."
"But it wasn't enough." I say. "Forced to cut back more and more, they eventually arrived at the bass-ackwardsly sensible but practically ludicrous solution of not, technically, ever actually being open."
"Right." Says Ice Queen. "How did you know that?"
"Precedent." I say.
"Regardless." Says Ice Queen. "This leaves us with a very small window. At 9:00 AM, the SecuBorg will come around, turn on the entryway lights, and trip the automatic door locks open. Having done so, they will promptly trip them closed again. In the time it takes to transmit the electrical current _from_ the switch _to_ the door locks, we must be _inside_ and well on our way to Mister Sjolund's teller counter."
"...daunting.." I say.
"Nevertheless, not impossible. Rawr, you create a diversion out front, here on Moniker Street. The usual."
"I think the red lipstick, yes."
"Rawr!" Says Buddy, pleasedly.
"You switch the light-bulbs _here_ with paralytic nerve gas dum-dum's. Have the switches trigger to tiny electromagnetic hammers that will shatter the glass of the fake bulbs and then engage a little fan to blow the gas all over the place. Should slow the Sec's down."
"Nerve gas?" I say, blinking.
"Yes." Says Feeb. "But you should be able to avoid it. We've got antidotal pharmaceutical reflex-reaction agents crammed into this little transdermal patch, which you will surreptitiously apply to your inner thigh prior to your entry."
"Surreptitiously? To my _inner thigh?_"
"I'm wearing blue jeans." I say.
"You'll think of something." Says Ice Queen.
"I'm _already_ thinking of something." I say, mildly.
"Good!" Says Ice Queen, on flyby, gesturing wildly around the map with her pointer. "You will proceed here, to the foyer. Turn Left, once in the foyer, and proceed straight ahead. This should bring you to Sjolund's window. Apply a transdermal patch to Sjolund in the same fashion that you did your own."
"Nuh-uh." I say, my eyes wide.
"Charles, without this step, Sjolund will seize up in neurogenic spasms as a result of the gases permeating the environment, and pass into a coma lasting fifteen minutes or more. By then, the SecuBorg will have ejected you from the facility. We _can't_ give you that much time!"
"Let Buddy do it!" I say, gesturing wildly at him.
"Rawr!" Says Buddy.
"All right." Says Feeb. "Rawr, after a significant period of distraction, rendez-vous with Charles at the teller windows. After neutralizing Sjolund, Charles, you give him DeJesus's Key and ask for Box Seventeen. If he balks, we go to Plan B, which Mr. Orange and I will be preparing for even as you two are working on Plan A. Orange, you crawl into the ventilation ducts here and set up a snoop-post in the main axial conduit, which I will be monitoring from an unmarked surveillance vehicle outside hooked up to the LogiComNet. If we have Noncompliance, we boot backup systems and whip up a batch-dump, based on our database cross-references marked-up against his LCNet profile; then, given supplementary data by detailed photostatic and telemetric scans of his present situation and, subsequently, pending confirmation of his personal data, we construct an elaborate scheme, and you carry it out."
"Gets kinda sketchy there at the end." I note.
"Well, you know." Says Feeb.
"Not really." I say. "What then?"
"Once our scheme is in place, and you have the box in your hands, our cruisers will advance in a shielding action, while you and Mr. Orange penetrate the superstructure of the facility. These plans show a critical weakness that we believe will prove their downfall. This vent, indicated here in red, leads to the very core of the facility. A couple thermite charges in there should take out both the main reactor _and_ the power regulator on the north tower."
"Frink?" Says Luke, uneasily.
"Don't worry." Says Feeb. "It _should_ be just like Beggar's Canyon back home."
"WE DON'T HAVE ANY 'CRUISERS'!" I finally burst out. "Nor do we have any 'thermite charges.' And what the _hell_ is a _bank_ doing with a nuclear reactor on site?"
We all look at the blazing green-lined plans for a moment.
"Hm." Says Ice Queen, after a moment. "Thought some of the minor details looked a bit weird. Huh. Orange, did you remember us maybe hitting the selector switch while we were struggling over the laser pointer?"
"Frink..." Says Luke, narrowing his eyes.
"Damn." Says Phoebe, petulantly, gazing at the map and biting her lip.
"Look, let's not waste any more time here." I say. "We're already running a little late, by my watch."
"Ah, yes. But _your_ watch isn't _synchronized_ with ours."
"Whatever." I say, leadenly, beginning to pack up my holdall. "Just tell me one thing. Where does the applesauce come in?"
Feeb looks straight at me.
"Complicated." She says, after a moment of thought.
"Thought so." I say.
"We ready, team?"
"Hands in the middle."
Feeb's narrow elfin hand, first, suspended in the white light, above the center of the table. Then Buddy's massive saurian claw. Luke's fuzzy little monkey-paw follows. And finally, my own reluctant offering.
"LET'S... GO... RUN... AN ERRAND!" She bellows.
Welcome to my world.
* * * * * * *
Mundementia One, Book Two: The Book of Going Forth
a case study in the continuation of running gags
apologies to George Lucas and, heck, everybody else, too.
* * * * * * *
Fade camera back in. The Pedestrian Mall, Downtown Hoderund, in the shadow of the state-famous 'Three Women Pissing' fountain. The location is Matron-Mother Skreng's Olde Chicago Grille and Traveling Apothecary Shoppe. It's a nice, semi-cool day out, perfect for blue jeans and a T-Shirt. The time is Breakfast. And the meal is hot-dogs. It's a wonderful breakfast, which has the added benefit of being somewhat nutritious, albeit if and only if one would consider supplementing with a nice, crunchy bowl of vitamin caplets. Or, alternately, a sampling from Matron-Mother Skreng's more "unusual" seasonings. We've seen the jars that she keeps in back of her ponderous pushcart of a hot-dog stand. We, at least I, kinda wish we hadn't. Despite all this, however, she appears relatively inoffensive to everyone save perhaps her cat, to whom she seems obsessed with feeding various types of citrus fruit.
"Prevents Scurvy!" She cackles. "Sailors need it. Bleedin' gooms all over th' playce, iffn' they doon' get it." With two savage chops of her big cleaver, she slices another hapless lemon that might have otherwise enjoyed a more fulfilling future elsewhere into chunky wedges. "'ERE, KITTY, KITTY, KITTY!" She screams, picking up the dripping hunks of lemon and wandering off in search of her cat, who during this recitation seems to have taken the wisest possible option and run off to hide somewhere.
"Strange old bat." I note, watching her depart while munching on a single with mustard and onions. "Good hot-dogs, though."
"Aren't they?" Says Feeb, alternately taking bites of her own and tinkering with a small black sleek-ovoid device laying innocently nearby. "Mother Skreng is a darling. And quite a fixture to the student Wizards of L.U.D.D.D.Amber. Offers some of the rare exotic preparations that the bookstore doesn't dare carry. One feels sorry for her cat, of course, but otherwise..."
"So." I say, finishing one roll and going on to the next. "Should we open this baby up?"
Feeb glances at the long, narrow safe-deposit box that sits quietly on one of the weathered wood benches of the Ped Mall. "Prolly." She says. "I want to congratulate you on your actions this morning, Charles, by the way. You handled an admittedly dangerous situation with a commendable lack of violence."
"I wasn't the one who suggested blowing the place up." I note. I pat the box once or twice. It sounds hollow, like all good boxes should be. "All for one lousy safe-deposit box. Y'know, we probably _are_ going to have to return this thing. We aren't actually supposed to take the whole damn box along."
"One does not question these things in war." Says Feeb.
"Rawr." Says Buddy, munching on his seventh Plain Vienna Brat.
"Besides." Says Feeb. "It's not like Sjolund didn't give it to you of his own free will."
"Feeb." I say. "You must understand that immediately prior to me asking him for Box Seventeen, a large, pieced-together Construct Utahraptor wearing bright red lipstick and a fashionable Fall evening gown had just reached down into his pants and slapped a transdermal drug patch onto the bare skin directly below his briefs, incidentally placing Buddy's three-inch razor-claws less than _centimeters_ away from Good ol' Dick's hopes for posterity. I'm not sure as to what legally defines 'free will', but I'm pretty sure that that _might_ have been a questionable context."
Mother Skreng shows up before Feeb can reply, dragging her hapless cat behind her on its leash. "Found the dearie! Lept oop to a drainage gooter, 'e did. Sully little 'fing." Mother Skreng's accent wobbles wildly around the vulgate British dialects as she talks, traversing the entire range from street-corner flower-merchant to oblique middle-class Pepperpot and in doing so, all ports in between. "Luttle beastie, E' don' know wot's god for 'im!" With a wet splorching noise, she shoves the hunk of lemon into the poor little thing's face.
"Scurvy?" Asks Feeb, delicately flicking bits of displaced lemon pulp off her double-extra-kraut.
"Yes, dearie?" Says Mother Skreng, looking up from her project, the cat mrowring pitifully in the lull.
"Cats don't get scurvy." Says Feeb. "They make their own Vitamin C. As do all felids. As do all canids, for that matter. As do virtually all members of any mammalian species save, perhaps, the Primate order and the Guinea Pigs."
Mother Skreng blinks at her. "Cor." She says. "Sorry, Kitty." She drops the cat with an undignified splat, and it promptly goes to hide under the pushcart. "Oi remember hearin' soomthing like tha', acshally, dearie." Says Mother Skreng, pontificating. She shrugs, then. "The Oold brain ain't wot she useda was, Oi tell yew. More sausag'z?"
"Rawr." Says Buddy, and gets another brat tossed to him. Luke picks pleasedly at the remains of his dish of pickle-relish, and makes a "no thanks, I'm stuffed" sort of gesture with one hand. Feeb and I perform similar gestures of our own, and Feeb turns her attention fully to the as-yet-unidentified ovoidish device, tweaking it with a jeweler's screwdriver.
"Wull, then." Says Mother Skreng. "Iff'n ye're fooll fer yahr joorney, seems luk Yoo'd best be oopening yer box, thun!" She glances importantly at it. "Yoo 'ave the key, wot Meester De-hay-zuus give to ye, do ye?"
"Yes." I say. Then, I look at her. "How did you know about that?"
"Oo, cor." Says the herb-monger. "Mister Dee, an' me, we goo woy back."
"I see." I say, with narrow eyes, recalling the anomalous middle-aged black man, the quest for whose guidance had taken up most of... yesterday.
"Oo, don' yoo go guttn' Soospishus at Dear Old Moother Skreng." She says. "Yoo juest oopen the box, doon' mind me." She goes back to pottering with her stand, scraping down the onion-grill.
With one more uneasy look at Mother Skreng, I retrieve the key from its lanyard around my neck. It gleams, oddly, in the sunlight, its shining surface striking an odd contrast to the dull, anodized-zinc metal of the safe-deposit box. Moving simply and without fanfare, I place the key into the lock and pop the lid. I peer inside. Feeb sets aside the device that she's been working on and does the same. Luke and Buddy follow suit. We regard the single content.
"A book." I say, sweeping away the obligatory layer of dust that accumulates on all books, everywhere, even ones sealed tight in bank safe-deposit boxes. "The title... is written in some Runic Letters. I can't read it."
"Cor." Says Mother Skreng, abandoning her grill-scraping to come over and look at it as well. "'Burleyque's Tome oof Mystical Artifacts Used for th' Droiving Back oof Eeyvil.' Lot oof us 'ave been woondering where tha's been, loytley."
"You can read this?" I ask, looking up at her.
"'Course oi can, dearie. These are Ylf-Runes. 'S'loike a seccun' language to me. Oo, cor, look. There's a paperclip." Her gnarled hand reaches out, grabs the book in a no-nonsense fashion, plops it on the nearby bench, and flips it open to the marked page. "Cor..." She breathes.
"What? What is it?" I ask, glancing at the exposed plate. It's a woodcut of an ancient blade of some kind, long, straight and slender. The words and captions, of course, are foreign to me. "What does it say?" I ask.
"Th' Lost Bloide oof th' MacGuffins." Breathes Mother Skreng, in a hesitant whisper. "Cor." She adds.
"What?" I ask.
"Really?" Says Feeb, perking up. "_The_ Lost Blade of the MacGuffins?"
"The soime, dearie. Yew aren't by chance been' targeted for death by a malevolent demigod, 'ave ye?"
"Why yes!" Says Feeb. "We have! Just yesterday."
"Wull then!" Exclaims Mother Skreng. "Meester Dee gave yew advoice, an' 'e gave it _good._ Ye's prolly on the run, now, warding off 'is 'ellish minions at every turn, always lookin' over woon shoolder..."
"That sounds _exactly_ like us!" Says Feeb, wide-eyed and blinking like some poster-child for the Psychic Friends Network.
"Wull." Says Mother Skreng. "'Ot seems as thoo Meester Dee feels 'ot the Fabled Lost Blade of the MacGuffin Clan of North Scotland is yer won, troo chance to make it owt th' week and to stroike a blow against yer adversaries. Ye see, lassie, a loong loong toime y'go, Thayr wuz an Aynshent Scottish Hero boy th' noime of Rowan Huge-Expanses-a'-Wasteland. Now Rowan, 'e wuz--"
"YICK!" I say, way far back in my throat.
Feeb, Mother Skreng, Buddy, and Luke turn to face me, as one mass.
"What." Says Feeb.
"Another God-Damned Quest. Right?"
There is silence.
"A legendary blade." I continue. "Lost for centuries. Our only hope against the darkness. Am I coming close here?"
"Wull, sooperfichshully, dearie, boot--"
"Boot nothing." I say. "The answer is No. Although I find it hard to believe that Queen Voria Starbender is going to magically whisk all of our problems clean away six days from now, I am _not_, repeat, _not_ going to put my skin in danger on some half-assed quest for the Mythical Solution Blade. Am I making myself even remotely clear?"
"JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!" I scream, suddenly. "JUST SHUT UP! You people don't _UNDERSTAND_ what the _HELL_ it's like being me of late. All right? You just don't. Jesus _FUCKING_ Christ! YOU DON'T EVEN EXIST! NONE OF YOU! YOU'RE ALL PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIC DELUSIONS BROUGHT ON BY A HORRIBLE MEDICAL ACCIDENT! I'M _DYING_ IN THE REAL WORLD! _DYING!_ And all you people care about is finding more fun ways to put me through horrible pain while I'm here. Well, I've had e-fucking-nough. READ MY GODDAMN LIPS! I QUIT!" I slam the box shut, for emphasis, and stalk away, to go stand in a more lonely place.
After a few long minutes of silence, there is a voice at my elbow. "Charles?" Asks the voice.
"Yes." I say, sullenly.
"I thought I would bring you something." Says Feeb.
I turn around, and look at her. Cradled in her hands is the strange black device that she's been fiddling with, off and on, all morning. There is an odd brushed quality to the black enamel, a tendency for light that touches it to linger selfishly within its surface, rather than to reflect blithely off. In this light, at this angle, its shape is finally revealed to me; a bird. A largish crow-like mechanical bird, with feathers of matte black steel.
"What is it?" I say, frowning.
"It's a V.I.D. A Verbicosituational Inhibition Device. I've been dickering with it ever since last night in my hotel room at the Traumatically Nerve-Deafened Capybara Flophouse. It functions along the same lines as our old Censorship Device."
"Feeb?" I say, blinking at her. "You're not still cut up about that, are you?"
She waves her hand, wiping away tears. "Immaterial." She says. "Point being, I've noticed that of late, we've become lax on our potty-mouth behavior again. I had... thought that I would make this a sort of communal property. But..." She looks, bright and damp-eyed at me.
"What." I say, nonplussed.
"Well... Charles, frankly, I think your outburst has indicated that you really need a companion Device. I think it should help you feel less lonely at times."
I look, wryly at her, but I can never quite ever resist being at least a little emotionally affected by seeing a grown Feeb crying, no matter how ludicrous the contextual situation.
She holds the simple, black, art-rendered crow out to me with the air of a benediction.
"Oh, all right. Turn it on." I say.
She does so. With a *Szzznkt!* it springs to active life, its eyes flickering into black-beady-amber luminescence. Feeb carefully places it on my shoulder. "Yours." She intones, more to the crow than to me. There is a faint *Zip-whirr* as the Device seems to register this command. And then, all is silence.
"Neat." I say, looking at it. "What does it... erm... do? blot out our cuss words, like before?"
"Not exactly." Says Feeb, her eyes suddenly clear again. "This is what we call an 'Overt-Response' Verbicosituational Inhibition Device. Adding, then, to it, a brief detail on the shape of its phenotypic structure, it becomes a 'Coraxiform' Overt-Response Verbicosituational Inhibition Device. A 'C.O.R.V.I.D.'"
"'Overt-Response'?" I ask, still trying to get a good look at it, sitting as it is on my shoulder.
"Try it." Says Feeb.
"AWK!" Shrieks the bird, nipping me savagely on the ear.
"OW!" I say, indignantly. "Damnit, tha--"
"Jesus Christ, Fee--"
"That's it. I'm turning this thing off again." I grab the CORVID violently around its middle, and begin hunting around for some kind of power switch.
"You _Can't_!" Says Feeb, blinking at me. "Charles, you and I have created a _life_ here!" She glares at me, then, sternly. "And you _cannot_ simply abandon it as though nothing happened."
I grind my teeth.
"Awright. Fine. What the hell ev--"
"AWK!" The damn thing bites me again. I toss it convulsively at Feeb. It flies in her general direction in a jumble of iron feathers for only a moment, and then smoothly banks back around to land on my shoulder again. "Awk." It says, smugly.
I seethe for a moment.
"All right! FINE!" I say, then, glaring alternately at Feeb and her horrid Device. "The CORVID doesn't look really inclined to abandon my shoulder, here, so I'm keeping it--on one condition. I will _not_ have yet another mono-utterance supposedly-communicational non-entity as a member of our party. You get this thing some kind of actual verbal language da-...rn chop chop, or little birdie goes into the nearest industrial box-crusher I can find. I do _not_ have the patience factor that I once did, Feeb, and I'm in _no_ mood for fu-...ooling around here." I say.
"Charles." She says. "To give it actual, human-grade verbal language, we're going to have to install a slightly more sophisticated AI."
"Trying to withdraw the exact precise right AI from the TelePath Data Storage Pits might require some serious personality-matching."
"Let's just do it." I say.
"It might not be pleasant."
"Look." I say. "I stand firm in my previous conviction. I will _not_ have this thing bonded permanently to my being and yet not being able to do anything but say 'awk' and bite me its whole life. We will do whatever is necessary. Okay?"
"Okay." Says Feeb, brightly.
* * *
"Is this... erm... necessary?" I ask, looking around at the savage collection of sharp wires and planes around my head.
"Yep." Says Feeb. "Almost ready to go, here."
"Wait. Aren't you gonna say 'This won't hurt a bit'?"
She looks at me.
"Nope." She says, finally.
"Oh." I say.
Then, fully processing this statement, I append the word "Shit."
"Awk." Mutters the devil-bird from its position on Feeb's control panel.
"Now just hold still." She says.
"You strapped me down." I remind her.
"So I did." Says Feeb, breezily, placing her gloved hand on the business end of the massive steel switch that dominates, and is, indeed, the single operational control of the gargantuan panel before her. "Oh, well."