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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
"FEEB!" I scream. And am dragged backwards into the darkness.
And then, we are two. On an unplanned tropical vacation gone horribly, horribly wrong. The One Can is impossibly heavy in my hand, and its honeyed suggestions have long since grown to insistences and have newly become a roar in my head. It is all I can do to drag myself forward. IlsaBuddy is, in fact, doing most of the dragging. Hitty hangs loosely in my hand, ringing and sparking as it bounces against the sharp, black rock.
I do not know how long it is we wander the lava tubes; I do know that it is only IlsaBuddy's strong forward gaze that guides us at all. From my perspective, we wander in darkness, lost and alone.
I would have given up a thousand times now were it not for IlsaBuddy's firm hand and the knowledge that Feeb thought the destruction of this Can was worth...
I cannot even bring myself to say it. I did not see the blow fall. Hope lives.
It is probably not more than a few minutes that we wander -- the length of an ocean voyage, perhaps -- but it seems like an eternity.
And then, space opens before us again.
After so long in red, the blue of the sky far above is startling; it's just a coin of blue, a tiny ring of heaven at the peak of Monte Penwell high above us, but it is no less potent for that.
The central cone of Monte Penwell is in fact no such thing. We stand at the edge of a vast, domed chamber of basalt, and to my dazzled and Artifact-wearied eyes it looks large enough to store a planet. Columns of smoke float up from far below, where a shaft leads to the unfathomable depths which contain the collected debt of Felix de Trephane, who I am now convinced must be the biggest financial dorkwad in the whole entire universe. The air is black and foul, but certain impossibly and incredibly hardy vines and creepers have yet taken up root in the porous rock, giving the place that really sorta ancient sorta feel. A fat, arching peninsula of rock leads out into the choked airspace of Monte Penwell's interior, a stubby spur of stone stretching out over the pit.
The Artifact roars in my head. I stumble, and nearly lose my grip on the Can. If I were to drop it here, at the edge, I cannot think that it would reach the Debt of Felix, catching and lodging as it would upon the sharp rocks. My one option seems perfectly, overdramatically clear.
"IlsaBuddy," I say, my voice tasting like dust and gravel in my mouth. "Remain at the ledge. Stand to one side." I breathe, cough, then lick futilely at my parched lips. "Come to me if I fall," I continue, "but elsewise, stay back. This burden is mine to bear."
"Rawr," says IlsaBuddy, quietly, nodding her head. From somewhere behind us there is a terrific noise. Magma displacement, perhaps. The disquiet rumble of Monte Penwell. IlsaBuddy glances back over her shoulder, but says nothing.
My feet are iron, my legs wood. I set my jaw, and begin my ascent of the spur. Far below there is a rumor and a trouble, as of great engines throbbing and laboring.
It is an impossible climb. I should not be able to make it; nevertheless, and in defiance of everything rational in the whole wide world, I do. With every step, the One Can shrieks at me in clear distress. I am forced to see, and discount, every shallow tangible (and intangible) thing I have ever longed for in my relatively brief life. Ten thousand images with each and every footfall. Fame. Power. The affection of millions. That one really cool Hoth Base playset where you could push a button and the little plastic blocks of ice would fall all over your guy that my parents would NEVER BUY ME AND NOW IT'S TOO LATE BECAUSE THEY DON'T MAKE THEM ANYMORE AND THE LAST ONE I SAW WENT UP ON eBAY FOR, LIKE, TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN BUCKS.
I give it all up. Feeb may have died to see this can destroyed. And no Hoth Base playset, no matter how cool, is going to change that.
It almost gets me on the G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier, though. Rubbish, I decide, at last, shaking it off. The missiles probably don't even shoot.
Tormented, but still proud, I finally reach the apex of the spur; I am seized by vertigo and buffeted by harsh, smoky winds. I fall to my knees. The great chasm of Felix's Debt stretches beneath me.
I extend my hand out over the abyss; the doing of it feels like it does when you're on one of those UFO-shaped rides at the fair where it spins you around and around and around really fast and you try to lift your arm off the bench but it's really super-heavy, only, like, a hundred times that. Also, in keeping with the 'ride' theme, I feel like I'm going to puke.
"Phoebe," says the One Can, quietly, the Invisible Pepsi logo on it seeming to glow in the smoke and the dark. "I can give you Phoebe back."
"How?" I sneer, but it's a weak sort of sneer. "What are you talking about?"
"She's dead, Charles. You were unable to see the fall of the lash. But I know."
"You were in the lava tubes, same as me, you stupid hunk of tin! None of us saw!"
"Look," says the One Can, patiently. "Do you see any eyes here? Duh? I have a perceptual sense field unrelated to any of your pitiful human modalities. And I'm telling you. She's gone."
It's lying. It has to be lying. It would say anything now.
"All the more reason to let you fall right now, you stupid piece of garbage." I cough, again. "She died so that you could be destroyed. It'd be the most satisfaction I've ever taken from a single act of littering."
"And then? Charles Madison Glass, what good would it do you to end _my_ life and yet lose... your one true love?"
"She's not my one true love," I growl. "Maybe the other one is. Was. The one from where I come from. Maybe I was just delusional all along. I keep expecting her to be the girl I had a crush on approximately three days ago before everything became STUPID and now she keeps on hurting me and screwing me over and... being... different... so you can go FUCK OFF! Hear me?"
I will my hand to open with every shred of muster I can bring to bear. Nothing. It's as though it's not even my hand--
A finger! I can move a finger! With a terrible groan, I spring my index finger away from the cold, hard surface of the Can.
"_Kept_ on hurting you and screwing you over, Charles," says the Can. "Past tense. Remember? I can fix that."
It's easier this time. My middle and ring fingers fly away from the surface. I now clutch the One Can between the thumb and the pinky finger of my left hand. Hitty lies forlornly upon the stone to my right.
"This is pathetic!" I say. "You're a quantity of money! A really large quantity of money, sure, but money nonetheless! You can't bring someone back from the dead!"
"True," says the One Can. "But I can buy you a new resurrection machine. Like the one you wrecked in Phoebe's old lab. You still think like a Mundane, Charles Madison Glass."
I swallow, hard. It is lying, isn't it? About Phoebe being dead? Doesn't it _have_ to be lying in a situation like this? Isn't that... protocol?
"Pity," says the Can, "the genetic samples and residual brainwaves have to be collected fairly quickly after the death in question. Not much sense in you trying to make it back home to the resurrection machines at the University, bearing the shredded corpse of your lady-love. Even if you could wrench her back to life, she'd be a soulless vegetable at best, a rotting and feebly-animated corpse at worst. I could have one delivered here. Instantly. You have no idea what a little financial clout can get you..."
It trails off, then starts again. "I can teach you that, Charles Madison Glass. I can teach you what a little financial clout can get you. Because I... have a very, very large amount of financial clout _indeed_."
"Stupid... lying... piece... of shit..."
I pull my thumb away from the can. Acting almost of its own volition, my pinky snatches at the empty space and comes up with the little pull ring on the top of the can. The One Can now dangles treacherously over the void, suspended by my tiniest finger.
"She did the same for you," it says.
I squeeze my eyes shut.
"_You owe her, Charles. You owe her her life._"
My will breaks, at last.
"...all right," I say, quietly.
"There you go," says the One Can.
"But I'm destroying you again, first chance I get!" I say. "Sure, I'll use you as collateral for a sizeable enough loan to buy me an insta-delivered resurrection machine. That's what you had in mind, yes?"
"Of course," says the Can.
"And I'll buy this whole damn island! And build... a road... out to it or something! And then I'll build some kind of an impermeable fortress here and I'll hire a whole bunch of mercenaries and ninjas and everything to protect me and my friends from Ashraak forever! And I'll put a hot tub in or something, but THAT'S IT, YOU HEAR ME? THAT'S ALL I'M DOING!"
"Oh, certainly. Your willpower is commendable, Charles Madison Glass, after all, I should know. I'm certain you'll be able to hold yourself to those limits."
"AND THEN," I say, "I'm going to take the REST of the money, and invest it all in a whole bunch of really big corporations! Blue chips! No risk! Hell, I won't even care what they do, or what they make, or what the hell they're wrecking in the meantime! It won't matter! I'll have so much stock that even tiny little price gains will net me millions and millions of dollars! And I'll pay back all the loans I took out, and have enough left over that I'll FIND me one of those damn Hoth playsets and I'll KEEP ON THROWING MONEY AT WHOMEVER OWNS IT, UNTIL THEY _HAVE_ TO GIVE IT TO ME!!!"
"That's the spirit!" says the Can, brightly.
"AND THEN I'M TOTALLY THROWING YOU INTO THE VOLCANO HERE ON MY OWN PRIVATE TROPICAL ISLAND!!! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!?"
"Crystal," says the can. "A ha. A hahaha."
"All right!" I say.
I call out to IlsaBuddy, my dead, dull arm still extended out over Felix's Debt where I had left it; I could not move it, not even for all the money in the world.
"Change of plans, Bud!" I croak out. "I'm... uhm... choosing now not to do what I came to do."
"Rawr..." says IlsaBuddy, warningly, from the far-off rim of the cavern.
"Er, yeah," I say. "The Can is, uhm... mine. And stuff."
IlsaBuddy tenses, and leans forward. I can see echoes of the enormous killing dinosaur in her eyes. "Rawr," she says, darkly, making a cross to the far end of the spur.
My still-good hand, my right, scrabbles at the rough stone and lights upon Hitty, my faithful blade. "Don't you do that! This is for the best, Buddy! This is for Feeb! If you're too fucking slow-witted to see that, then... by God, I'll..." I raise my blade.
"RAWR!" says IlsaBuddy. And she lunges forward.
At that moment, many things happen.
Something seems to strike Buddy violently in the back. Her legs are knocked from under her and she is flung aside, striking her head against the stony floor of the ledge.
Fast, inhumanly fast, a three-foot-long grey prosimian quadruped shape streaks up the spur towards me, long striped tail flowing out behind it like a banner of war. It comes relentlessly, snarling, howling, and, well, frinking. It is upon me in an instant, crying out like the wild thing that it is. I swing with great force, but clumsily, due to my awkward position, and I miss terribly. My second blow connects, drawing small blood and more howls from the creature.
With uncommon force, Luke de la Deltalemur -- for that is who it naturally is -- wrestles me down to prone, my arm still hanging out over the chasm as though it were plastered there. Repeatedly, he beats my good right hand against the unyielding rock of the spur until Hitty falls from my nerveless and bruised fingers.
Then, he seizes Hitty, brings my faithful blade up in a tremendous double-handed killing stroke...
...and he cleanly severs my left pinkie finger.
Bellowing with rage and loss, I bring my right hand around in a lightning arc and snatch the One Can mere moments before it tumbles into the abyss and it is gone to me forever.
I take a deep breath and--
My severed pinkie finger is still there, trickling blood, hooked in a death grip upon the pull ring of the One Can of Doom.
There is a single, solitary force in the universe more powerful than my greed, more powerful than my lust, more powerful than my desire for hot tubs, authentic Star Wars merchandise and secret island fortresses populated by whole bunches of ninjas and badass mercenaries all kowtowing to my every whim. More powerful even than my dedication to, my need for, the girl Phoebe; she who has been called my One True Love.
That one single force is my unadulterated revulsion from all things Gross.
I look at it, for a moment, grimacing and curling my lip.
"Ewwwwwwwww," I say.
Then, operating at a level little higher than reflex, I promptly chuck the gore-splattered can, my once-finger still attached, into the yawning chasm of Felix's Debt.
I then look at my left hand, blood still welling from the the stump of my severed finger.
From far below there comes a roar. It is the noise of a hundred million billion gazillion dollars of debt being paid off in one single instant. It is a very, very good roar.
But I'm not paying attention. I'm still staring at my mangled hand.
I turn to look at Luke, my face blank.
"Frink," says Luke, apologetically, shrugging.
I pass out.