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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
In the cluttered and cavernous motor pool of the Chateau de How Come Eh, the single most valuable object on the face of the earth sat alone on the seat of an armored car and sulked as well as it is possible for a marginally-sentient empty evil soda can to sulk.
From all around, there came the noise of fierce battle, of explosions and rending metal, and of excited prosimian chittering that sounded, to the soda can, rather like the word "frink". The soda can was not impressed. As an artifact of Ashraak, its main purpose was to tempt mortals and cause them to fall into lives of greed, profanity and poor environmental stewardship, and while there certainly was a lot of scrap metal flying around the subterranean motor pool at the moment, and while this did give sparse satisfaction to the callous waste-chucking part of its personality, it was not a terribly happy empty soda can right now.
The main reason for this was that--
With a wild cry that might be onomatopoeically transcribed as "Wheeooo!", a Ring-Tailed Deltalemur executed a flying leap from the roof of the cab wherein the One Can sat. The furry grey creature caught the lip of the open driver's side window with one toe as he passed, spun his direction of movement a full one hundred forty degrees and landed in the driver's seat, his bright and copper-colored eyes shining with something like divine radiance. In one hand, the creature held an angry-looking man-portable flak cannon whose ammo chamber, the One Can knew, was loaded with gyroscopically-stabilized rocket-propelled explosive fragmentation shells. By the One Can's count, exactly eight hundred and eighty-six of them had been fired from this same weapon since the motor pool's automated defenses had been tripped approximately twelve minutes ago, and with an exultant howl, the creature on the seat upped the count to eight hundred eighty-nine, sending three more bright rounds out into the darkened motor pool to connect with three more automated robot guardians, the resulting explosions also taking out a nearby subcompact automobile.
In his other hand, the creature held a thirty-two-ounce soft drink in a plastic cup with a lid and a straw, from which he was intermittently slurping soda. And in one of his foot paws, the one not engaged in catching window edges mid-leap and such, was a cellophane-wrapped package of Hostess brand Sno-Balls; they were the pink variety.
Three more shells shot from the Deltalemur's weapon out through the open window--the ensuing explosions actually caused the armored car to shift a little--and then, with a certain degree of incomprehensible grace, the Deltalemur swapped the contents of his paws, one for the other, until he was clutching the flak cannon (still aimed out the window) with one foot as he bustled around in the steering column wires, attempting to hotwire the ignition with one hand while eating a Sno-Ball with the other. The cup had somehow moved to a nestling point within the curl of the creature's striped tail, and amazingly, he was still drinking from it.
Thrice more the flak cannon barked, its trigger operated by the pronounced grooming claw on the Deltalemur's second toe. There ought to have been a fourth shot, but the last trip of the trigger yielded aught but the empty click of a hollow firing chamber. Undaunted, the creature tossed the half-consumed Sno-Ball up into the air, caught it in his jaws and used his newly free hand to snatch and knock into place a fresh ammunition box of high-explosive shells for the flak cannon. Then, with another wild leap, the Deltalemur swung up and out of the cab, leaving the hotwiring job unfinished in favor of the superior gunnery position afforded on top of the cab roof, trailing a thin, green and (briefly) airborne trickle of fizzy beverage behind him as he went.
The One Can scoffed darkly. In actuality, the noise came from a bit of superheated air forcibly pressed across its top opening by one of the outside explosions, but however coincidental its physical manifestation, the mood was quite definitely the same. This, it mused, was the sort of trouble one gets into when one accidentally gives a Ring-Tailed Deltalemur an assignment with 'steal what you must' as a rider clause.
After obtaining a moderately-sized open-top motor fishing trawler by wholly legitimate means (he had bought it for the price of one _really really_ nice mobile phone) Luke had picked a crosswise path through the wrecked streets of How Come Eh on a wild shopping and scavenging frenzy, curiously echoing the simultaneous progress of Lyle the Iconoclast, who had been destroying various and sundry things in his ultimately successful attempt to find a decent quantity of lilac sailcloth. In all cases, Luke had made every effort to find and recompense the proprietors of the little and occasionally very very wrecked shops he had taken things from, and when he had been unable, he had carefully noted the size, location and probable original function of each little bit of rubble from which he had stolen something for the purposes of later reimbursement. Let it not be said that Luke de la Deltalemur was not an honorable critter.
The car, a TAVC Brink-Meyers Unfriendly Edition (incidentally, the exact same armored car that had conveyed them to this island several hours ago), now held most of the spoils of Luke's expedition, which included the flak cannon (currently held by the lemur) along with copious quantities of ammunition; one 32-ounce 'Intermediate Gulp' fountain Surge, no ice (ditto); seventeen packages of Hostess Sno-Balls (seven point five of which had already been consumed); a two-ounce atomizer bottle of spray cologne (Coty's "Raw Vanilla"); two bandoliers of concussion grenades (from a secured armory within the Chateau, the same place he had obtained the flak cannon); a souvenir Aerosmith pin; the latest issue of _Wired_ magazine; a small bean-stuffed plush organ named, per its tag, "Spleeny" (from the highly popular collectible Beanie Organs line); twelve kilograms of gourmet jelly beans (peach and mango flavored) and one of those little floaty pens where a ship sails back and forth inside the barrel depending on how you tilt it.
Lemurs have a somewhat loose grasp of the concept of "essential equipment".
More explosions. More licks of light creeping through the heavy armored glass of the car's windscreen. And then the D'lemur was present again; his whiskers were slightly singed, and he was in many places soot-stained, but he was undaunted, unfazed, and riding the tide of some tremendous emotion that bothered the One Can to no end. Stabilizing himself with his tail, Luke performed a few more quick dickers with the ignition and suddenly, the TAVC's rather throaty V16 roared to cumbrous life. Frinking gleefully, he suspended himself crosswise over the driver's seat, kicking the window-up button with one toe while cueing up with his hand a blisteringly loud and digital-perfect rendition of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Touch and Go" on the armored car's suspiciously well-appointed sound system. The red-hot flak cannon was cast aside into the passenger seat, giving the One Can a minute dent in the process; thus did Luke hand it the most gross indignity it had ever suffered in all its years of mysticocorporeal life.
But there wasn't a damn thing the One Can could do about it, because, aside from its tremendous monetary value, the One Can's principal power was to Tempt, and the problem it was facing was...
Outside the car, the horde of robotic defense drones gathered, clustering themselves before the great bay doors that led from the motor pool to the world outside. Scuttling and swooping, they arranged themselves into defensive matrices, bringing all available weapons to bear upon the monstrously thrumming armored car, half a motor pool away.
With wild noises rising in his throat, Luke de la Deltalemur tossed, in sequence, a copy of the Greater Combined Mislocated Bermuda Phone Directory and his own self onto the driver's seat of the armored car and positioned his wide black hindpaws carefully over the foot-and-a-half-high stacks of two-by-four scraps that he had carefully duct taped to the operator pedals.
Luke hadn't had time to locate the outer bay door controls before the alarms went off.
He didn't foresee that as being a problem.
The engine thundered at the merest touch of Luke's paw to the gas. Halfway across the wreckage-strewn motor pool, the virtual cloud of drones rose up as one creature, poised as if to strike. To the noise of synthesized electric guitars blazing away in the background, Luke shifted the TAVC's automatic transmission past "D", past "1" and "2", down to a setting that was helpfully labeled "Ramming Speed."
Then, he popped the second of the two Sno-Balls from his current package into his mouth.
"Wheeooo," he said, breathlessly.
...there wasn't a damn thing the One Can could do about it, because, aside from its tremendous monetary value, the One Can's principal power was to Tempt, and the problem it was facing was that Luke de la Deltalemur currently wanted for absolutely nothing and was, at this moment, the single happiest creature on the face of the earth.
Luke floored it.
* * *
In a flash of narrative fiat, Dr. Ilsa "Buddy the Dinosaur" Chagrin and I rematerialize in the middle of a rainstorm on the crowded shores of the island, blessedly and thankfully out of harm's direct way. So swift is our entirely canonical descent to the docks of How Come Eh that we actually beat the noise of the explosion down the mountain. It comes shortly: a big, ponderous, rumbling thing, studded with bangs and crackles, with a light show to match.
Very nearby to us is Feeb, shouting into her phone. Aside from the three of us, everyone else that surrounds us is a General Ortega of some variety. It's really kind of trippy.
"CHARLES!" shouts Feeb. "YOU MUST LISTEN TO ME! GET OUT OF THE CASTLE NOW! THOSE MISSLES THAT WERE FIRED WERE FIRED FROM _*WITHIN THE CHATEAU*_! I REPEAT, _THE MISSLES ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE CASTLE!_"
I tap her on the shoulder. "Feeb?"
Feeb screams, whips around, and slaps me once across the face.
"Oh," she says, then, smiling sheepishly. "Sorry. Just a little worked up there. Hee hee. Mua ha ha."
"Rawr," says IlsaBuddy, shielding her face from the rain with one porcelain arm.
"S'aright," I say, wincing and rubbing my cheek. I take a moment and to look up at the great castle far above me. It is burning. Bits of it have fallen off. The entire wing that once contained this evening's masquerade party is a hollowed shell, the lavish accommodations crushed, crumbled to dust and then stepped on with extreme homosexual prejudice by my awful robot nemesis, still visible to me as he clings to the outside of the beleaguered Chateau.
"Well!" says Lyle, his overwhelming voice echoing down from the heights of the island. "Well well well! Mithhion, as they thay, accomplished!"
I clench my teeth and let out a hissing breath, barely able to keep my eyes on that horrible creature far above. "Feeb," I say, quietly, my gaze fixed, "there were people in there."
"Relax, Charles, they're fine."
I round on her. "For certain definitions of the word 'fine'!" I say, spitefully. "Including but not limited to peculiar and downright ludicrous ones including immolation and dismemberment!"
"You turned them all into Ortega moments before the blast hit," reminds Feeb, the light from the fire and the storm playing across her rain-damp face. "That makes them all principal characters. Didn't those universe rules you were whipping around say something about there being a prohibition against that?"
This gives me pause. I think for a moment.
"Y'know, you're probably right," I say, at last.
"Of course I'm right!" says Feeb. "I'm the smart one!" She smiles brightly at me. "So what happens now, huh?"
"We make good on our escape," I say.
Far above us, the Iconoclast Combat Droid idly tut-tuts, looking around a bit. "Shame about the methth," he remarks in his booming voice, looking about. "Thith place could totally use an exthtreme home makeover or something. I wonder if--"
From far out to sea, floating over the choppy storm-raised waves, there comes a screech as of somebody raking their fingernails across a cubical aluminum chalkboard which is itself being meanwhile crushed by an industrial laundry-mangle. Though still faint and distant, it is easy to hear that at its source it is very, very loud.
"...and we do it fast. Before the radioactive iguana I created gets here." I turn to one of the many Ortegas in the anxious and milling crowd around us. "Excuse me! Sir!"
"Ma'am!" corrects my chosen Ortega, in Ortega's deep and booming voice.
"Ma'am," I say, wincing slightly. "Would you mind awfully if, at some time in the near future, my life story involves a part where I and my friends actually get off this bloody island forever?"
My selected Ortega looks at me funny. "No," he (she?) says, quizzically, and in doing so, frees me from Ortega's awful moderation power. I can actually feel my soul vibrate as the geas placed on me by the General's e-mail evaporates. This is good news, because I fucking hate geases.
"_Thank you_," I say, emphatically, turning back to my companions. "Feeb, Buddy; let's find Luke and get ourselves the Old Milwaukee Light out of here."
"Excuse me," continues my chosen Ortega, "but what's going on here? I don't understand!"
I take a deep breath and turn back to this Ortega, one Ortega out of a hundred, a thousand Ortegas. When I speak, it is in my best, my most earnest, my greatest empowering tone. I can almost hear the background music.
"For years," I say, "for your entire life, you have labored under the despotic whims of an overwhelmingly powerful overlord who has controlled nearly every aspect of your life, down to your very physical being. For years, your bodies have been enslaved to this island, forced into shapes man was never intended to take, anchored forever to this dead and dying land. For years, one man has been your master."
I gaze intently at my audience; I say "audience" because by now more Ortegas have gathered, hearing the power of my words. The young and the old, wise and foolish, men and... well, other men. All Ortegas. Down to a one.
"And I tell you now," I say, my voice ringing proudly as I begin to raise my arms, "that this is still the case. One man now masters each and every one of you. One man controls your lives. One man shapes your destinies. One man says what it is that each and every one of you will be, on this day, and for all days to come."
I look at them. I see the fear in their eyes, but I also see the hope. My pride swells, and I raise my hand into an exultant point. "That man is Ortega, as it has always been," I say. "But things are not the same, will never be the same, ever again. For now... for the first time, in all your long lives... _that man also is you_." I point again. "And you! And you! And you! And you and you and you, you and you!"
My arms are fully outstretched now. I am fairly shouting, overwhelmed with this strange emotion, and I imagine that my countenance is well and truly radiant.
"Former ladies and current gentlemen," I say, my voice thundering, "_You Are Your Own Ortega!_"
And there comes an enormous cheer. I feel swept away, utterly transported.
"That's... kind of weak," whispers Feeb.
"Shaddup," I say, grinning from ear to ear, the sound of the rain and of the crowds filling my ears and my heart.
And I sweep her off her feet, take her into my arms, and amidst the noise of rejoicing, I move to kiss her, for the first time in my entire life.
...naturally, it doesn't work out that way. This sort of thing never does.
In the midst of our noisy triumph, our collective eardrums are suddenly battered almost to bursting from that horrible scream again. It is loud. Close.
_Directly Off Shore._
The wave of my charisma breaks, my sway over my audience shatters into confusion. In my startlement, I drop Feeb rudely to the damp and cobbled street below. She makes kind of a 'clunk' sound. Far above us, the massive head of Lyle the Iconoclast swivels out to gaze out at the far side of the island.
"Holy shit!" exclaims Lyle.
"Ow!" says Feeb.
"Oh no!" says one of my many Ortegas, pointing across the island. "Look!"
I look. Everybody looks. We all look, to the docks on the far side of the island.
Wading there in the shallows is a giant radioactive iguana of truly prodigious size, its scales glistening in a hundred thousand different shades of purple. It towers over everything nearby it save for the mountainous island itself.
"RAAAR!" cries the giant radioactive iguana, loosing a bolt of something presumably radioactive and also quite purple from its gullet into the air. "RAAAR!" it repeats.
It really kind of appears to be enjoying itself.
"It's Godzilvy!" shrieks one of the Ortegas.
"It's _who_?" I shout back, trying to come to grips with the fact that somebody seems to recognize a creature that I thought I just wrote into existence a couple minutes ago, and what's more, seems to know said creature on a first-name basis.
"Godzilvy! Cute little baby girl giant radioactive iguana of the Atlantic!"
"Listen, buddy," I say, but not to, y'know, capital-B Buddy, who is currently messing around with helping Feeb up off the ground. "I've seen quite a few mutated horrors in my... couple... um, days..." I rapidly collect myself. "And to me, that thing doesn't look like a baby female _anything_ in any rational sense that I can personally muster!"
"You're so wrong!" shouts Ortega. "Godzilvy is but a child, and she is also a friend to children!"
"So we're... not in danger?" I say.
"Oh, no," says Ortega. "She squashes buildings, wrecks ships, causes untold thousands of dollars in property damage and threatens the life and physical well-being of everyone on the island."
"But she's a friend to children."
"Naturally," says Ortega.
"RAAR!" roars Godzilvy. "RAAR! Hee hee hee! RAAR!"
"Oh... my... gawd!" bellows Lyle from above. "What the hell are you thuppothed to be?"
"RAAR!" replies Godzilvy, breathing a shot of radioactive energy which rakes across Lyle's shoulder.
"Gah!" cries Lyle, patting at his now-flaming sash. "My corthage!"
The Ortega I've been talking to turns to me, grasping me by the lapels of my scarlet tuxedo. "Quickly!" he yells at me. "What are we supposed to do?"
"Look," I say, calmly. "I just handed you your own destinies and made you virtually omnipotent to boot. I think I've done my part." I remove the Ortega's hands from my tuxedo and brush out the crumpled fabric. "Feeb?" I say, turning briskly back to my companions.
"Alright, you!" calls out Lyle to Godzilvy, his heavy and weapon-crusted arms slightly akimbo, hands on his hips. "I thpent the better part of thith afternoon arranging thith sash, and now you've gone and thkorcht it!" Lyle clucks what passes for his tongue in an annoyed fashion. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to DETHTROY YOU ENTIRELY!!!"
Missiles fire from the peak of the island, coupled with a salvo of military-grade anti-aircraft lasers. With great expertise, Godzilvy nails each and every incoming projectile with her radioactive breath, causing them to detonate harmlessly in the airspace above How Come Eh. The lasers she merely shrugs off. More violet death is unleashed upon Lyle.
"Ow!" says Lyle, reeling slightly and holding on to one of the standing spires of the Chateau for balance. "Damnit! You've compromithed a few of my thythtemth!" He huffs a breath. "Lookth like I have to go and INVADE YOUR PERTHONAL THPACE if I want to to thith properly." And with that, Lyle swipes his hands together and begins his descent of the mountain.
"Come on," I say. "I don't want to be here for this." I begin standing on my tiptoes, trying to see over and through the crowd of tall, stocky men to find my last companion. "Blatz!" I swear. "Where the Michelob is Luke?"
As though responding to my cue, the noise of an automobile horn floats above the confused din. I strain, and eventually see a vehicle nosing its way impatiently through the gathered crowds of Rafael de l'Ortegas. It's an armored car, a familiar-looking one at that. I don't remember the massive scorch marks on the protective plating, and the calibration of its engine sounds a little off, but otherwise, it is identical to the armored car that I briefly remember being dragged out of several hours ago when we first arrived at this tropical island lunatic asylum.
The car works its way up to our position. The window rolls down.
"Frink!" says the driver, enthusiastically. "Frink frink wheeooo!"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure," I say. "I don't suppose you thought to get us something that can, y'know, _float_ or something?"
"Frink," says Luke, nodding. "Wheeooo."
"All right," I say, crossing to the passenger-side door, opening it, and standing rakishly on the running board. "Feeb, Buddy, hop in back. We're blowing this vaguely Carribean pop stand."
On the far side of the island, Lyle finishes his beleagured descent, and begins to wade into the shallows, looking as stern and menacing as it is possible for a really really gay robot to look. Godzilvy waits for him, fifteen hundred thousand tons of giggly mutant purple children-loving wicked reptilian monster, claws at the ready.
"RAAR!" says Godzilvy. "Hee hee! RAAR!"
IlsaBuddy dutifully clambers through the rear door of the armored car; Feeb hesitates.
"You sure you don't want to stick around, Charles?" she calls to me, glancing over her shoulder as our two titanic combatants join into battle, beginning the long, slow process of forcing each other out to sea. "Aren't you the teeniest bit curious as to how it's going to turn out?"
"Feeb," I say, "I know how it turns out. _I wrote the story._"
"Oh," says Feeb. "Right. I forgot." She nods, clambers in, and slams the rear door. "Rock!" she says, after a moment. "It's Spleeny the Spleen (tm)!" I do not, and do not wish to, know what she's talking about.
Luke kicks the car into gear, and we are moving, even before I am fully inside. Somewhere nearby, our boat is waiting.