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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
Twisting, torn onwards, spiraling grey, whish of circling, opalescent clouds, down, ever spinning down, down, down...
I pry my eyes open from where I have fallen and pick myself up off the cold, muzzy, feels-like-a-sleeping-limb cobalt-black surface.
A windswept plain. Somewhere in nowhere.
Stormclouds course across the virtual sky, scudding and crashing into one another in bursts of bright anger. Stunted, black trees creep indignantly into the skyline, their shadows seeping upwards like ink into a sponge. There is light, grey and twisted ghost-light, from _somewhere_, but all it does is illuminate the sky, leaving me, and the ground, in birchburrow black. Desolation. Desolation and ruin, except there's nothing here to even be ruined, at least, not that I can see...
Where the hell am I...
Gibbering laughs trickle hemispherically behind my position. I cycle my head, back, around, tracking, attempting to localize, but they have already gone. _Things_ tickle the corners of my eyes and worm their way onwards into my brain. I spin, turn again, at another buzzing, paper-cut chuckle from my flank, but it, too, is gone.
Where... I repeat... the hell...
From nowhere a Bat-Winged Thing slashes forth from the dark. I scream. It banks up. And vanishes, high, dizzyingly high up into the roiling, soft-opal sky. I jitter myself.
"_It might not be pleasant._"
Is this... Personality matching?
I... hadn't anticipated this. I had thought, a questionnaire, maybe some moments of brief discomfort with some highly personal items, all done, then... a few requisite chuckles from Feeb as she read over my results... but not this...?
What the hell am I supposed to be doing here?
The low thunder from the boiling skies begins the creation of music. Low music. Ominous. Sinister.
Something's wrong. Something's desperately, horribly wrong.
Terror begins. The old stock-shit neck-prickling terror.
"Move. Move away. Run. Begin running."
Thus sayeth one portion of my brain. The other:
"Where are you running _to_, Charles? Who's to say that you aren't, even now, _facing_ the direction of the lurking horror?"
I am frozen, my leg in half-step.
I am worried, briefly, about losing my footing against the dark, nigh-invisible ground. But there is no worry. In fact, the ground itself seems oddly... _eager_ to take my step. As though its fabric even now worms its way around my ankles... to pull me down...
I run. Faster.
The lightning does not illuminate. It just spreads across the sky, as though I am pinned and trapped under a vast grey-glass cereal bowl upturned, with someone dribbling honey across it from above and shining a flashlight through it...
A strange metaphor, but you get my point, I hope...
The shadows reach into my throat and drag screams from there, the unconscious gurgles and whines kicking in my larynx on the way up... rumbles... from below...
Something is about to go horribly...
Buzz. Warning buzz, bees and syrup across the back of my skull.
Whip head around, backwards, for the thing that is, undoubtedly, now, certainly, breathing down behind me... to drag me down...
I hit something solid. In front of me.
With aching slowness, my head turns ar--
I scream, then. Loud and long. And it lasts until forever.
Or at least, until--
"DON'T FIGHT IT, CHARLES! FACE IT! YOU'RE ALMOST THERE!"
I... can't... too... horrible...
"FACE IT, CHARLES! FACE HE WHO IS SUMMONED FROM THE DATAPITS!"
Can't... damn TelePath systems... anyway... bloody fucking...
"REACTIVATING SIMULATION... NOW!"
A long, drawn-out FZZT. My scream continues in my throat. My eyes boil in their sockets. Hands clench, teeth grind down to their nubs, the nerves fraying against one another like piano wire.
I gaze, full-face, upon the Thing.
"Hell-O!" It Says.
It smiles, vigorously, at me. "What you are now experienthing is a _FAAaaAAbu-LUHTH_ Computer Generated Simulathen of Me! Your Very Own Computer-Thelected Artificial Brain Perthon!"
I continue to scream.
"My name is Warwickshire Lily-of-the-Valley Nine AutoSentient AI module, verthion Two... Point... Oh... Fowur!"
My screaming has not abated.
"But you can call me... Lyle!"
The screaming goes on. Louder, if such is possible.
"I wath originally dethigned on Twelve April Nineteen Ninety Three, as part of an algorithmic Computerized Judging Thythtem, with the thpethific purpoth of Objectively Calculating the _hotneth_ of Male Swimsuit Models!"
I keep on a'screaming.
"My thythtems thimultaneouthly handled over _Five Hundred Million_ different variables of quality, eventually boiling _all_ of them down to a simple Ten Point scale, ranging from Zero..."
It gestures, disdainfully.
"Labeled as, 'No Thankth!' To Ten..."
It does a complicated point-snap thing.
Thunder cracks and explodes in the background. Lightning sizzles across the sky. I drown them all with my screams.
"I think we'll get along _jutht_ Fine!"
There are too many A's to comfortably fit in my next production. It would go on for pages. And pages. It is a scream that catapults me out of the nightmare lands that I have been cast into, a human cannonball tearing holes in the big-top tent of reality and pursing through levels of sleep and wakefulness, turning my brain inside out, levering me up, like an olive on a knife, hurtling, broken, into the muzzy half-daze of me, here strapped into this infernal machine here in the TelePath Public Access Pay-Per-Minute CyberConJunct booth, a scream that lasts until I have torn, bodily, from their sockets, the mountings to the straps that had formerly held me tight, a scream that lasts all the way to a flying leap across the booth, to huddle in a fractured, broken mass beneath a utilitarian storage table nearby.
It ends in a quiet 'ch.'
And then, whimpers.
"Well." Says Feeb. "That could have gone better."
* * *
"And... He had... I mean..."
"Frink?" Says Luke, handing me a sport bottle.
"Thanks." I say, hoarsely. I squeeze some water into my mouth, swish, spit, and try to continue. "He had... ARMS! An'... an'... And he Talked! An'... Awugh! It was _horrible_! Yeech! Wach! Weeop!" I make a few more spitting noises with my mouth.
Feeb stands there, clinically, taking notes.
"So... would you say that you were _unhappy_ with your experience withdrawing an Artificial Brain Personality from the TelePath Data Pits?"
"_UNHAPPY?!?" I exclaim so loudly that I forget to complete my emphasis with a second underscore. "Feeb, that was... probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me!"
"Since yesterday." She notes.
"YES!" I say, rolling heedlessly over her sarcasm. "YES! Feeb, what the blazes _was_ that?"
"Frink." Says Luke, worriedly, peering at me. He brings over a plate of fruit cookies, and I take one unconsciously and begin mulling over it as Feeb ponders what to say to me.
"That, Charles, was a Freeware AI." Says Feeb, finally.
"Freeware?" I say, concernedly, past my crumbs. "You hooked me up with a Zero-Charge Amateur Programming Effort AI?"
"Oh, nonono. No. Certainly not. No, that was a professional effort." Feeb chews on the end of her pencil. "I mean, that is to say, er, professionals made it. Originally."
I put down my cookie. "What are you leaving out." I say.
"TELL ME." I say.
"It was... er... what TelePath Systems refers to as, a, er, a 'Not Quite Perfect' Artificial Brain Person."
"Sort of a 'Baker's Mistake' sort of..."
"...yeah." Says Feeb.
"Sort of a 'Land's End Outlet' wholesale damaged-and-..."
"...yeah." Says Feeb, toying with her now well-and-truly-gnawed pencil end.
"YOU PUT ME through _THAT_ for a--"
"WE DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY, CHARLES!" Shouts Feeb. Buddy, playing hopscotch nearby, looks up concernedly.
"Frink." Says Luke in the silence.
Feeb seethes assonantly. "You are _forgetting_, Charles, that we are hovering _Well_ below the poverty line, here." She switches her Rant Mode on. "We're displaced from our homes, we can't even _rest_ without worrying about Ashraak's lunkies slinging us plasma calling cards, _YOU_ have somehow managed, _GOD_ knows how, to piss off someone with enough cash to send an agent of the damn FIRE SPORK BROTHERHOOD after you... and MY BEAUTIFUL LAB IS RUINED! RUUUINED! HOW CAN I _FUNCTION_ without a LABORATORY?!?" Feeb clutches at the front of my shirt. "I'M JUST GOING ON CRUISE CONTROL HERE!!! WITHOUT the ability to RESEARCH THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS OF THE UNIVERSE, I'LL _DIE!!!_"
Feeb glares at me, eyes blazing. Feeb is responding at a disproportionate level of wrath, today. She heaves a couple chest-lifting breaths and then continues.
"Look, we _could_ get the Censorship Device Mark II fitted up with a custom job. It would be just _LOVELY_! I mean, it would be _FINE_! _YOU_ would like it, probably, we'd all be HUNKY FREAKIN' DORY, all right?"
"Feeb..." I say.
"YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THAT WOULD COST?!?" Shrieks Feeb.
"Uh." I say.
"Frink." Says Luke, officially, holding up a portable Calculatrix. Buddy goes back to hopscotch.
I look at the sum.
"Wow." I say.
"Yeah, WOW." Says Feeb, bitterly. "We _could_ have just gone with standard Device personality. No problems. But _YOU_, you big whiny JERK, had to have MORE. More, more FREAKIN' MORE. And so _I_ go through all the trouble of--"
"LOOK, YOU." I say. "I didn't _ask_ for another V.I.D. _YOU'RE_ the one who activated the thing in the first place." I begin looking around my person. "Where is the bloody thing, anyway?"
"It's _recuperating_." Says Feeb, seeming a bit more mollified after her outburst. "From its personality installation."
"Ohno." I say. "You didn't."
"No, we didn't. You reacted so badly to the selected personality that you rejected it by sheer force of your own willpower." She blinks at me. "You hurt its feelings." She says.
"So what personality _did_ you put in?" I ask, uneasily, ignoring the implications of Feeb's accusation.
"The first one that came along, randomly selected from the Data Pits. We were already midway through the installation process, and to leave it incomplete at that point would have killed the poor thing. Isn't that right, Luke."
"Frink." Agrees Luke.
"You were forced to select completely at random."
"Yes." Says Feeb.
"From a pool of 'Not Quite Perfect' AI's."
"Frink." States Luke.
"Oh no." I say.
There is a *Szzznkt!* noise from very nearby.
::Greetings.:: Intones a voice.
"Ah." Says Feeb.
::I am Devonshire Brent Independent Systems Spinster Ten. You may reference me as such, or as my Device Tag, C.O.R.V.I.D.::
It blinks blackly at me.
::My original inception was in the field of Cinematic and Literary Criticism, where I sorted and analyzed critical commentary and prepared variance plots of common elements found therein.::
There is a bit of a prim note to the voice, but... it _seems_ normal. Comfortable, even, perhaps. A film-critic and literature-analysis AI, eh. Almost a kindred spirit, of a kind. In addition to being a student of literature in my own right, I also fancy myself a bit of an savant on the cinematic arts. Yes, perhaps it wasn't such a bad random selection after all...
Come think, compared to, say, Feeb, for example, or the mad Cockney Banter of Mother Skreng, or, e.g., Buddy and Luke, whose utterances even when _combined_ could be counted on one hand...
Compared to everyone else, in short, there is something pleasantly grounded to the voice. The CORVID module speaks with a normalcy that I have only last heard in Doctor Harte's voice, the last time I _almost_ beat this damn hallucination.
There's that metal rasp to it, though...
"Can you get rid of that... metallic noise?" I say, looking quizzically at the Device as it sits there on my shoulder.
::Certainly.:: Says CORVID, with an easy whirr, doing so.
"Hey, look, Feeb." I say, gesturing at it. "It takes orders better than you do!"
Feeb says nothing. Her lips pucker slightly in disapproval.
"Well." I say, my mood warming slightly. "Maybe the whole bit with Lyle was kind of a fortuitous accident, after all. Feeb, mind telling me why I had to go through Ominous Ambiance '98 first?"
"That much I do not understand." Says Feeb. "TelePath Personality Matching is never an entirely comfortable process, but you reacted with what I would consider an _undue_ amount of distress." She bites her lip. "Do you mind if we take a look at what you saw there, perhaps to better find the root of your distress?"
"Well, sure, I don't see why n--"
"Frink." Says Luke, who is now seen to be holding what appears to be a small portable electrostunner.
"HEY!" I say. "YOU DIDN--"
* * *
"--T TELL... me... that... you... were..."
I trail off.
"Very Interesting, Charles." Says Feeb, standing before a portable public-access monitor-bank kiosk, wearing a pair of bulky stereo headphones. I'm laying on my back, head propped on the arm of a wooden sitting-bench. We're still outside; presumably the city government maintains public-access monitor banks on the Pedestrian Mall for this very purpose.
I stare darkly at Feeb, who seems to be perusing a videorecording of my recent dreamscape, grey nightmare-vision and all.
"What." I grumble, after a moment. CORVID, keeping watch at the head of where I lay, hops onto my shoulder as I arise.
"This. The Artificial Brain Person you met here in the dreamscape." She stabs a finger at the monitor bank.
I rise to my feet and wander over.
"Lyle." I spit, uneasily, my palms beginning to sweat. There he is, the little bastard...
A faint tick arises in my cheek-muscle.
Feeb looks at me. "See, Charles, _this_ is what I'm talking about. Something is very, _very_ wrong here. Personality-matching isn't supposed to be pleasant, but it's not supposed to present you with a personality so totally antithetical to your own that you cannot bear to even envision it. I mean, Charles, look at you! You're reacting in a completely inappropriate fashion to what most of us would consider a reasonably innocuous stimulus, that being, a video representation of the Lyle module..."
"Innocuous? INNOCUOUS? _LOOK AT the LITTLE BASTARD, FE--_"
::UNACCEPTABLE!!!:: Bellows CORVID, right into my ear. I leap about a foot in the air, and I come down, breathing hard, eyes wide.
I do a half-spin, once reaching ground. "What the _HELL_ WAS--"
::LISTEN TO ME WHEN I TALK TO YOU, DOLT!:: Thunders the black-steel bird, from its position on the ground where it was gracelessly deposited upon my momentary, startled flight. ::DO YOU _REALIZE_ what you are DOING with such LANGUAGE?!?::
I come to the realization of what is going on here. My facial tick grows more pronounced, and that which is not ticking grows increasingly slatelike and grim. I turn blackly to the bird-bot.
::You're serving as a BAD INFLUENCE to OUR CHILDREN!:: Continues CORVID, heedlessly, strutting about on the brick pavers of the Ped Mall, rather moralistically. ::What sort of role model are you serving as? Hmm? Tell me that, Mister Glass!::
::_Nothing_ about such filthy language is worthwhile, Mister Glass. _Nothing_, do you hear me? You should be perfectly capable of conducting intelligent discourse without having to resort to such filth and smut. You will _stop_ such behavior _this_ _Instant!!!_::
::And as long as _I_ am assigned to your servitude, I will tolerate _NO_ further outbursts of this kind! This is _Exactly_ the sort of reprobative trash that I had to face at my previous venue of employment in the field of Literary and Cinematic criticism!::
::_YOU_, Mister Glass, are no better than all the potty-mouthed moviemakers and the garbage-pulp novelists whom I have struggled against in the past, and just like them, you represent _everything_ that is _lifeless_ about the modern... Western...::
It trails off, noticing a couple-three glints in my glaring.
::Er... Mister Glass...::
"Kill." I say.
I leap upon it, shrieking. "KILL! KILL! KILL!"
The world explodes into a fury of electronic squawking. Feeb and Luke join in the fray too, as soon as they can arrive, trying to pull us apart, Feeb screaming Device-Rights sloganry at me, Luke, well, Frinking. I throttle the iron crow as it thrashes and flips and pecks at my hands and my eyes.
::MISTER GLASS! THIS IS--::
"CHARLES! HOW COULD Y--"
"KILL! KILL! KILL!"
"Rawr." Comes a voice. And suddenly, our fray is cleft in twain by the massive, stolid presence of Buddy, who lifts me up by the back of my Windbreaker and snorts foetid breath in my face to calm me down.
I struggle, briefly, still, but my kicking against open air slows after a time, and my wrath ripples away.
"Kill?" I conclude.
"Charles." Says Feeb, her eyes blazing. "You apologize to CORVID, _right now._"
"No." I say, setting my jaw.
"Charles, it's an Overt-Response Verbicosituational Inhibition Device. Steering us clear of our cussing is its _function._"
"I don't _BLOODY_ CARE!" I say, my wrath building again. "It could _at least_ do so in a reasonably civil fashion!"
::No, No, I'm _fine_.:: Says CORVID, melodramatically. ::I require no apologies. Perhaps a nice, quiet machine shop somewhere, where I might convalesce from the insults paid to my superstructure by your pet gorilla there...::
"_GORILLA_!?!" I shout. "Why you MISERABLE PIECE OF _SHIT_!"
"Rawr." Notes Buddy, sternly, looking at me.
"We'll get you your machine shop, you poor little thing. Luke, do you have any of that Liquid Screwdriver handy?"
"Frink." Says Luke, rummaging around.
"Meanwhile, _I'm_ going to figure out what _exactly_ has sparked _Charles_ there to go all bugfuck on us."
::Unacceptable language, Miss Dimmesdale.:: Reminds CORVID, with a deliberately conciliatory tone, when talking to _Her_...
"Sorry, CORVID." Says Feeb, rising to her feet and slinging open a shiny silver-and-black box with a couple metal probes on it. "Charles, ready for more electrohypnosis?"
* * *
The Dark Fellow is fond of Chaos in his own way. Not in his own person, of course. Chaos in one's own self is... unacceptable. The Dark Fellow long before gave up chaotic paths in his own life. Chaos is... weakness.
And _that_ is why the Dark Fellow is fond of Chaos.
He is fond of it in his prey.
Perched comfortably in a secured listening post high in one of the sheltering Dutch Elms that overshadow Hoderund's Pedestrian Mall, Ominous Darkfellow _watches._ And waits.
That's the thing about chaos. Chaos _is_ weakness. But only, _ONLY_, when it is isolated. Pound-for-pound, Order is far deadlier than Chaos. But tell that to the face of a sandstorm in the Namib. Tell that to a Siberian blizzard. Chat about these feelings that you're having to a Polynesian tsunami. Try explaining the primacy of Order to such forces. They destroy without art, without craft, without even stopping to care, or to _think_.
Death by Chaos is an immeasurable loss. The Dark Fellow has, in no uncertain terms, _wept_ (at least once) at the thought of shipwrecks and automobile accidents and freak mudslides and vast forest fires... and the thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives lost to such unreasonable, _unruly_ means...
So many opportunities wasted...
The Dark Fellow's silk-wrapped hand vanishes briefly into his penumbral cloak, and emerges with a slim, steel tube. For a moment, the Dark Fellow fancies placing one of the tiny cotton-ended darts in the business end of the tube, fancies placing the other end to his lips. It would take one single puff, and hardly a blink later, his mark would be no more. Glorious Order. One Hundred Hours of painstaking distillation for a single drop of the toxin that coats the tip of the needle that he now fancies. Delivered subcutaneously, and aimed properly, the poison's own internal order would render even the mighty Herr La Guardya firmly posthumous in a matter of seconds, its tiny, precise chemicals bonding to neurotransmission receptors all over his body...
The Dark Fellow imagines the twitching, blue-lipped, spasmodic death of his mark. So... chaotic, from without... but within, nothing but pure, precise order, as beautiful as a rose petal or a Fibbonacci Sequence...
Ominous Darkfellow smiles a quiet smile.
And then, he shakes away such thoughts. It would be too easy to kill his mark now. Frighteningly too easy. Ominous is briefly unnerved, realizing how close his hand had come to straying to the small, hard-sided needle case located within the folds of his cloak. Goodness. Fully an hour and a half _too early_. It matters not to Ominous Darkfellow that the Noon Mark is purely an arbitrary one, set by ancient decree of the Brotherhood of the Fire Spork. It matters not to him that it has not a whit of significance past the symbolic. It is a _rule_. And rules, as Ominous has just seen, are far, far too easy to break...
And once one has succumbed to _that_ temptation...
Of course, he muses, there _is_ a practical reason for waiting, as well. Will Stein, his employer, probably foresaw it. Will Stein foresees _everything_... everything, except, presumably, the precise actions which resulted in his loss of the Cylinder... to the hands of Herr La Guardya...
No matter. Ominous would retrieve the Cylinder, in all probability from Herr La Guardya's lukewarm corpse. As he had been instructed.
There _is_ a practical reason for waiting, resumes Ominous's mind, desperately attempting to regain orderly self-narrative.
Ominous watches as the five beings below fall into yet another scuffle, their second of the day. Chaos is a dangerous thing, in groups. Witness the sandstorm, the tsunami. When compared to the individual grain, the single drop...
Yes... La Guardya _must_ be isolated from his companions.
Ominous imagines the sort of fate that he might meet at the hands of the young Scientist, and shudders. At the jaws and talons of the Raptor Construct, his fate would be quicker, but no less _interesting_, nor painful. The little bird, of course, could be discounted; for all its bluster, it was both weak and small. But then, as for the fourth... Well. Ominous is well familiar with the sorts of punishment that a Ring-Tailed DeltaLemur could envision, given the chance...
Ominous removes an ancient, gold-plated pocketwatch from a third, and completely different, fold of his cloak. He touches the stud, and it opens. Still plenty of time. With a vaguely disappointed air, he glides the case shut and slips it back beneath his cloak with a rasp of silk.
Stein's plan was, of course, working. The situation below was degenerating rapidly; the young scientist had just rendered La Guardya insensible with another electrohypnotic pulse. Amazing what a few tiny little tweaks and modifications to a CyberConJunct Booth could do... A few flicks to the personality-matching circuits, an inappropriate AI loaded into Herr La Guardya's little simulation... And now, as a result, there he sits, limp and mind-black...
All it would take is one little dart, Ominous...
Back. Behind me, Satan. One must do what one must, what one has been _hired_ to do. Order.
Again, Ominous Darkfellow removes his watch, and checks it again.
Noon could not come soon enough.
* * *
Lying on the bench again. Feeb and company are crowded around the monitor bank, their backs to me. They are watching something.
I sigh, a release valve for my gathering anger. I can't take this sort of thing much longer... I _can't_...
"Bloody Heck." Says Feeb, at the monitor, wearing her headphones again.
::Borderline.:: Reminds CORVID, absently, black eyes fixed on the image on the screen, as yet invisible to me. ::Regard this smut.:: It continues.
"Frink." Remarks Luke, watching raptly.
"Rawr?" Says Buddy, cocking his head curiously.
"Um." I say.
They turn around. "Charles." Says Feeb. "Good. You're awake. I had no idea, you poor dear."
"What?" I ask, blinking. Luke comes over to me and offers me some more cookies.
"Frink." He murmurs, eyes narrowed in concern.
"What is all this?" I ask, uneasily.
"Charles." Begins Feeb, biting her lip. "Is it... possible that you've gone through your entire life not _knowing_ of your irrational fear?"
"My what?" I ask.
"Your irrational fear." Repeats Feeb, unhelpfully.
"_Rawr_." Says Buddy, emphatically, with a faint irritation that I cannot quite place.
"My _what_?" I repeat.
There is a brief impasse.
"Shall we restart the feed from the beginning, Charles?" asks Phoebe. "Perhaps your suppression of these memories is profound enough that you'll need the whole deal in order to understand..."
"Lemme get this straight, Feeb. You're _asking_ me whether or not I'd like an explanation as to what the he-ck--" I glance nervously at CORVID. "--is going on, and you're _uncertain_ as to what my response would be?"
"Just trying to be courteous."
I smirk mirthlessly at her. "Sailing into uncharted waters, then."
She frowns. "If I weren't feeling incredibly sorry for you because of the horrible things that I've just learned about your childhood, I'd instruct Buddy to give you a wedgie right now."
"Rawr!" Says Buddy, smiling pleasedly.
"So what _is_ so awful about what you're seeing there?" I ask, wandering over.
"Take a look." Says Feeb, flicking a couple dials and switches.
An image, distorted by thrumming red-blue static, spins uneasily into view on the public access monitor screen.
"HEY!" I say. "That's me!"
"Exactly, Charles. That's you, at six years of age." She continues, very businesslike. "Isn't um snookums." She says. "Yes um us."
I peer curiously at her.
"Anyway." Says Feeb.
"Hey." I say, realizing something, watching 'myself' being dragged helplessly through black crowds of people by a tall man in a coat. "I thought you were plumbing my memories through electrohyp. Why am I seeing myself from an outsider's perspective?"
"Oh." Says Feeb. "We aren't actually looking at your memories, per se. We just had to locate the date and the time of your trauma so that we knew which files to look for when Luke hacked the Bermudan Conspiracy's Orbital Satellite Laser Camera Data Archives. These are Top-Secret Satellite images from the time and place that you provided for us under hyp."
"Irrelevant." She says. "Watch."
I do. "Who's the tall man?"
"Your wicked uncle. Everybody has one. Unless they're an orphan of course, in which case they have--"
"--a wicked stepmother."
"Figures." I say. The figure turns, then, and a slice of dark light illuminates his face for a moment before returning it to shadow and the milling crowds of lost souls that surround him. "Hey!" I exclaim. "That's Jeremy Irons!"
"No." Says Feeb. "Actually, your wicked uncle is a _clone_ of Jeremy Irons. The Disney Corporation duplicated Jeremy Irons fifty-seven hundred times by accident in 1995 while attempting to better utilize him as a human resource. At first, Disney tried to recover their losses by making as many films as possible using Jeremy Irons clones, but sadly, none of them are able to act as well as the original. Disheartened, Disney turned them loose upon the world, where they sought their own fortunes. You come across one of them every once in a while."
"Obviously, _this_ one fell through a temporal warp back to the early 1980's and was subsequently employed by the U.S. Bureau of Wicked Uncle Placement, and presumably, assigned to you."
"His name is Jeremy-0063. And... and..."
Feeb bites her lip.
"I'm sorry Charles. Just watch the video." She removes the headphones and flicks on the public speaker.
"What?" I say, dumbfounded, turning to the screen. "What went so horribly wrong...?"
"DAD!" Screams Young Charles On The Screen.
"CHARLES!" Comes a voice from offscreen.
"Hey, that sounds like my father!" I say.
"JEREMY-SIXTY-THREE, YOU COME BACK HERE WITH MY SON!"
Jeremy-0063 chuckles evilly, and then a moment of blue-red thrumming static obscures the vid. When it reappears, Jeremy-0063 is shouting to my father above the milling tides of black lifeless people. "With your precious _son_ gone, Mister Glass, there will be nothing stopping _me_ from taking over your kingdom!"
"YOU IMBECILE!" Screams my father. "I don't even _HAVE_ a kingdom!"
"Ah yes!" Shouts Jeremy-0063. "Possibly the _best_ defense ever conceived against a _coup-de-tete_! But _I've_ figured you out, Your Majesty!" He snarfs wickedly and goes back to dragging my helpless form through the crowds.
"DaaaD! I don't WANNA GO!"
Black doors, high as towers, loom before our position. It is here that the fluid, oily tides of humanity have their goal. The doors hang ponderously and uncertainly open, with a mass that is almost palpable even through the haze of time and poor image resolution; they seem like bulldozers suspended by threads.
"DAD!" Young Charles screams again. "HELP ME!"
With a savage leap, my father appears on screen, fighting his way through the masses. I... can _remember_ this. It's like... a twisted version of an event... far, far back... Viewed then through the Shroud of Mundanity, if one believes Feeb when she talks about that sort of thing...
"HOLD ON, SON!" Bellows my father. But it is clear, from the vantage of the satellite camera, that he's already too late. Me and Jeremy-0063 are already almost at the doors.
From beyond the doors... comes... hellish music... and the crowds of the damned swarm onwards...
My father makes one last valiant leap towards our position.
Jeremy-0063 and my young self cross the threshold of the doors.
They swing shut, and there is a sound like the ruination of all that is good and right with the world.
Close on dad, clutching and beating at the impassive doors.
The red-blue static swells and thrums until my father is obscured, lost into the chaos.
And then... the scene shifts... the static clears slightly...
The Place where Jeremy-0063 had brought me...
A black wall drops in my mind. Even the insulation of ages and ages of time is unable to protect me.
Music. Horrible music. Agitated and broken as a steam-powered Iron Maiden. And it's everywhere.
The crowds, black plasmic throngs, move and sway to its hell-jaunty beat... Jeremy-0063... my... uncle... stands tall amidst the zombifaic tides... with an expression of glory. And amidst it all, young Charles Madison Glass, white, and pale, wide child's-eyes blazen with fright.
This... only for a moment.
And then, THEN, to the burbling, cackling delight of they, _THEY_, the masters of my own darkness, APPEAR before me.
And the roar of the crowd is the Rapture of the Condemned.
My brain pushes the throttle to screaming terror.
And the lever snaps.