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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
The door crashes open.
"Hello." Comes a sultry voice from the open portal.
Monsieur L'Abbe and I look up, startled into attention. Silhouetted in the light of the doorway is a statuesque, Aryan young woman dressed in impossibly tight coveralls. Flanking her are two vaguely human bodyguards with nasty-looking weapons of exotic design. Even in the strong backlight, I can see that they are 'swarthy'. She, on the other hand...
"I am Doctor Ilsa 'Boom-Boom' Chagrin." She says, a faint Germanic accent playing flirtatiously around the edges of her voice. "I am the chief executor here at the Chateau de How Come Eh, and in my off hours, I serve as the General's principal sex object."
"Wow." I retort.
"And you," she says, turning to me, her bosom lagging behind a bit, "must be Charles Madison Glass. The General has taken an... interest in you, boy. And anything the General takes an interest in... _I_ take an interest in."
"The feeling, I assure you, is mutual." I say, in a debonair fashion. "Mind helping me up off the floor?"
"Certainly. Jorge, Pick Herr la Guardya up." One of the motile walls moves to comply. "Horribly clumsy today, aren't we."
"Clumsy in _some_ areas." I say, mustering suave as the big fellow hoists me upwards. "There _are_, however, certain areas where being supine is considered a selling point."
Ilsa walks up to me and touches one long, delicate finger to my chin. Her breath comes hot upon my face.
"That is the single most ridiculous pick-up line I have ever had the misfortune of hearing." She says. Ilsa wanders back near the door, and the perturbed swat, which L'Abbe had been preparing ever since the arrival of Ilsa, finally connects to my shoulder.
"Ow." I note, glaring at him.
"Focus!" Hisses L'Abbe.
"Mister Glass!" Intones the dame. "You have in your possession something that the General is very intent upon having. And what the General wants, the General gets."
"Lucky man." I say. L'Abbe prepares another swat, and I move leisurely out of the way.
"Will you surrender it voluntarily?" Asks Ilsa, her chin high.
"He will do _no_ such thing!" Quavers L'Abbe.
"I'm open for negotiation." I note.
"He is not!" Protests L'Abbe.
"It appears that you have certain issues to resolve." Remarks Ilsa. "Perhaps I might touch the scale a bit here and say that the General has the ability to make things _very_ unpleasant for those who thwart his will." Darkness gathers around the milky complexion. "Very, _very_ unpl--"
"Doctor Chagrin!" Comes a nerdy young voice from the corridor.
"Bother." Remarks Ilsa, turning back to the door.
"Doctor Chagrin!" Says a runty red-haired fellow in glasses and another set of tight coveralls, although his, by contrast, don't do all that much for me. "Goodness, I'm glad I found you."
"What _is_ it, Walter? I happen to be in the middle of an intimidation session at the present time!"
Walter adjusts his glasses and begins shuffling through a large and disorganized stack of papers. "Oh, you know, it's just more of these damned requests from the peons." He picks one off the stack. "'Mighty Generalissimo, I have an idea in mind that I'd like to run by you wherein my family is able to get a small sack of potatoes and a chicken for dinner, as my mother-in-law is visiting us in two weeks..." Walter pages through the papers. "The microscopic stuff, really. Food for the populace, a new leather-awl, could I please not be a sea anemone this week... all the usual."
"Give." Says Ilsa, pulling a pen from her breast--
Her _breast pocket_, and starting in on the triplicate forms, applying her broad, loopy and excitingly curvy John Hancock to each one in turn. "I'll just be a moment." Says Ilsa.
"I'm _real_ sorry to bother you, Doctor, but the General, well, he's busy preparing for tonight's Masquerade ball, and these requests just _have_ to go out today or else the populace will start getting antsy about them..."
Ilsa waves him off. "It is not your fault, Walter." In a few minutes, she has finished with the stack, which she returns to the wormy little man, who promptly rushes off down the hall.
Ilsa composes herself. "Now. I believe we were just at the point where you were refusing to give us the object of our desire."
"We were." States L'Abbe, his chin high.
"Very well." Says Ilsa. "We are a civilized people here, and for this reason, I will not ask Jorge and Bill to tear your arms off and attempt to ram them both down your throat simultaneously until you comply. You will be ours soon enough."
I squint my eyes slightly, fighting off my hormones. "You're not making sense. You kidnap me and my friends, toss me into prison, and then promptly cease to lay a finger on me on grounds of propriety? If you're going to treat me like shit, you could at least be consistent about it."
Ilsa looks at me coldly. "Perhaps you have misestimated our own priorities, Mister Glass."
"Perhaps." I say, squaring my jaw. "Or perhaps there's more to this than just taking the... item in question... from me. What exactly _aren't_ you saying, here, Doctor?" I'm not sure quite where these words are coming from, but they sound pretty impressive and heroic and such, so I don't sweat it too much.
"So many questions." Muses Ilsa. "He does not realize that he is in no real position to be demanding _anything_, information or no, does he." She snaps her fingers. "Come, my tremendously muscular servitors. Mister Glass is not going anywhere anytime soon. Let us leave these two to their... deliberations."
In a shuffle of raw sex and muscle, the three figures leave us to our own company again. The door closes with a ponderous thud.
"Damn!" I curse. "Why the hell did I do that? I mean... she might have... I could have... we would have been able to..." I tangle up my fingers a bit. "You know."
"Do not fool yourself, boy. You would not have given her the One Can, even had she offered to strip you bare naked and cover you with raspberry sauce. You would have faltered at the last. Its lure is far, far too strong."
And the weird thing is, I can almost feel him being right, even though the raspberry sauce thing does sound kind of appealing. "So what the hell am I supposed to _do_ with it?" I say, shaking my head in confusion. "No grocery store in the world would have enough cash on hand to accept it in deposit. And if I throw it away, even assuming that I could, someone will just recover it. Odds are that'll be Stein-working-secretly-for-Ashraak or the General, here, and I don't think I particularly want either of these fine fellows having it."
"Finally, some measure of clear thought from you."
L'Abbe nods, solemnly. "The Can must be Unmade. You must go to the Island of Monte Penwell, here in the Bermudan chain. There, and _only_ there, will your purpose be made clear."
"Forget it. Make my purpose clear right now, or no dice."
L'Abbe sighs. "Very well. The Island of Monte Penwell is the storehouse for the largest single collection of bad debts ever accrued by a mortal being. This dubious honor belongs, incidentally, to my young nephew, Felix Trephane. Bring the One Can to his collection of debts, and the two forces will unmake one another."
"Lemme get this straight." I say, making parallel lines with my hands. "You have secret knowledge of a vast, hidden... debt. Located on one of these islands."
I blink a few times. "It's just that, suddenly, something about this is seeming kind of familiar."
L'Abbe nods. "I hear the same from others, from time to time."
"So." I say, looking antsily around the cramped little cell. "I've got to get out of here, correct?"
"Correct." Says L'Abbe, with an air of vague hopelessness.
"All right, then. How?" I begin pacing the cell. "These walls must be horribly thick! The guards were a bit lax on the visiting procedure, but they were taking advantage of my disorientation today, and I doubt if they'll let it happen again. And the door," I say, as I wander over to it, "is made of one foot of solid bronzewood planking, reinforced with steel beams, and locked with a..."
"It... er... isn't locked." I note, at last. And I seem to be correct. I turn the knob a couple times to make sure, even going so far as to swing it open a few feet. "What the hell kind of cell is this?"
"Don't get your hopes up..." Cautions L'Abbe.
"They forgot to lock the damn door!" I exclaim, hopefully not too loudly.
"It will do you no good, child, leave it be. You must think of a different way."
I gesture, impatiently. "A different way than the damn door?"
He sighs and shakes his head. "I can see that I'm not going to convince you. The General doesn't _need_ locked doors on his cells. His control over this island is nearly absolute."
"Yes, but, I mean... at least I'd be out of this cell, right?"
"Go on, go on." He waves at me, weakly. "I'll be waiting."
I screw up my face at him, and decide not to offer to take him along, the nutty old bastard. Scanning quickly about for guards, I lunge out into the hallway, and follow the shadows, searching desperately for an exit. For a moment I consider going to find my friends, but I quickly realize the folly of this plan; I'm going to have a hard enough time locating the exit alone, much less the place that Luke, Buddy and Feeb have gone to. I resolve to free myself _first_ and _then_ come back for them, once I have a few more resources. Thus resolved, I eventually locate a large, palatial kitchen, bustling with cooks and servants and scullions; from here, there's bound to be some sort of a back entrance, and I eventually locate and make a break for it, upsetting trays of food as I go. A band of angry cooks actually chases after me for a while, but I elude them, make my way to the exit, and out into the streets. From there, it's a simple task to blend in to the relatively eclectic citizenry of Bermuda, and thus fearless, I make my way to the docks on the lower streets of the city, hijack a fishing boat after a short but dramatic battle, and ply my way into the open sea, and the promise of freedom, beyond.
"See?" Says Monsieur L'Abbe.
"Hey!" I protest. "I just escaped!"
"No." Says L'Abbe. "You didn't."
L'Abbe gestures to a hitherto-unseen computer terminal on one wall of the cell, its cheery little e-mail browsing window open.
There is one new message.
* * *
TO: <Wretched Captive> email@example.com
SUBJECT: Your Story
HAHAHAHAHA! LOL! :-) You Fool, you cannot escape me so easily! Your recent untitled work, regarding the liberation of Charles Madison Glass from this island, regrettably does not fit in with my ongoing plans for my own use of this character. I'm going to have to declare this sequence of events Non-Canonical, and in the future, please clear any story ideas regarding Charles's escape from the Chateau with me _before_ you start in on them. Also, please take a moment to peruse my Story Universe Rules (attached) so that in the future you do not waste your pitiful little efforts in a vain attempt to defy me. Thanks.
P.S. I also found your story poorly written. Especially the bit about the cooks chasing him. Ludicrous!
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." -- Vishnu
* * *
"Non-Canonical?!?" I exclaim.
"Yes." Explains L'Abbe, solipsistically. "It means that the actions that you attempted did not fit in with the artistic vision of the current Moderator, and ergo, must be stricken from the rec--"
"I _KNOW_ that!" I say, fuming. "But how can he _do_ that? It doesn't even make _sense_! I had a perfectly reasonable escape worked out there, well in keeping with the logical boundaries of the Chateau!"
"It's his island." Says L'Abbe, sighing heavily and clicking twice on the little attached document icon, then printing out a paper copy of the resulting document on a laser printer which, much like the computer itself, I seem to have failed to notice until just this moment.
I retrieve the paper to save myself the indignity of waiting twenty minutes for L'Abbe to complete the gesture of handing it to me. "'Universe Rules'?" I say, incredulously, upon perusing it.
"Indeed, child," says L'Abbe. "This island functions by the whim and will of Ortega and his trusted lieutenants -- Doctor Chagrin, to whose feminine wiles you nearly succumbed, is one -- but it can only function via a complicated series of rules and prohibitions." There is a plink, and another row of characters lights up on the screen. "Ah." Says L'Abbe. "A new story, from one of my Internet friends."
"This is absurd." I say, shaking my head and cramming the paper into my pocket. "The man's insane. He gives you e-mail access to the outside world, leaves your cell door unlocked, and promptly re-writes reality every time you attempt to leave? That's just... so... backwards."
"You're one of his cherished guests, Herr la Guardya. He might even let _you_ wander the halls of the Chateau. Just so long as you never attempt to escape the island. You're quite soundly trapped here, Mister Glass. That is, until you give him what he desires." L'Abbe gazes at the screen for a bit. "Ah." He remarks. "Goody. A new Consistency story."
"What's this?" I ask, wandering over, my eyes narrow.
"A small fringe group of Bermudan citizens, filled with frustration and anger and being forced into involuntary metamorphosis at the General's whim. They write fantastic stories about what the island would be like if its citizens were able to maintain the same shape for the rest of their lives. This fellow," he gestures at the screen, "is a particular favorite of mine. He writes stories about filling out income tax forms. Of course, nothing that any of them write has any real effect upon the General's canon, so it can get a bit depressing at times. Most of them do not even realize that people like you and I live out _their_ dreams every day."
"That's another issue." I say, sensing a good opportunity for a segue. "I still don't understand why the General isn't just threatening to turn me into a paraplegic koala unless I give him the damn Can. What's stopping him?"
"The Can shields you from his power." Says L'Abbe.
"But he stopped me from escaping."
"Ah." Says L'Abbe. "'Escaping' is a fish of a different variety. The General holds sway over the walls, the doors, the streets in the town below, the boats in the harbor... everything. He can easily claim that any number of factors involving these items would have ceased your flight. However, _you_ are still your own master, as long as the Can protects you."
I shake my head. "That still shouldn't stop him from introducing me to the hot irons. Or, hell, how about just whacking me on the head and taking it away from me?" I begin pacing. "Something's not right. Ortega wants more from me than the Can."
"I'm... certain I wouldn't know what that would be, child." Says L'Abbe, softly, gazing absently at the computer screen.
I toss my arms in exasperation, and shift topics. "What about you? What protects _you_ from him?"
L'Abbe ponders this for a moment, then switches off his computer and shuffles over to me, cupping his hand around an area acceptably close to my ear.
"My Plot Device." He says, in a conspiratorial whisper. "I am the bearer of a sacred Relic of the Over-Authors." He fishes around inside his filthy rags and removes a small, alabaster-white ovoid etched with strange and electrical runes.
"Really?" I say, inspecting it. "You work for them?"
"Undoubtedly. I cannot fathom their minds, of course, but by some strange happenstance of divination, I became charged with being here to meet you and to impart my store of knowledge."
"Surreal." I say. "You ever talked to them directly?"
"No." He says. "Signs and portents and urges only."
"Lemme tell you, it's a trip and a quarter. _Very_ weird people, based on the one I met."
He nods, faintly. "An experience to remember, certainly. I have only observed them from a distance, and it has garnered me much information. But alas, as for cogitating a means of escape from the clutches of the General, I am of no use at all."
I wrack my brains for a few moments, and then throw myself down upon the straw pile. "Damn it!" I exclaim. "Why does this sort of thing _always_ end up being _my_ responsibility?"
L'Abbe gums this for a while, and seems about to answer, when there comes a faint humming from the recently-unearthed Plot Device. I look up, peeved. "What?"
"The Plot." Says L'Abbe, solemnly. "It's thickening. One of Stein's assassins is nearing the island."
I raise myself from the pile in the manner of Philip Lombard. "Who? An agent of the Fire Sporks?"
"No." Says L'Abbe, shaking his head. "Something far, far worse. An Iconoclast."
"What's that?" I say, a clot of something forming in my stomach, very possibly the hot dogs I had earlier this morning.
"It's trouble, is what it is." Comes a familiar voice from the door. I turn around.
"Feeb!" I declare.
"Hello, Charles." She says, with her trademark casually- scientific smugness. "Who's your friend?"
"Monsieur L'Abbe de Trephane." I say nodding quickly to him. "Monsieur L'Abbe, Phoebe Dimmesdale."
"Honored." Says L'Abbe, sizing up Feeb.
"My condolences." Says Feeb, sizing up L'Abbe.
"Where're Luke and Buddy?" I ask.
Feeb waves a hand. "They're digging a tunnel between our cells. Poor dears are going to feel right foolish when they realize that the door wasn't locked. Of course, it is keeping them occupied for the moment."
"Forget it. We've got more important matters." I say, rapidly. "Iconoclast. Trouble. Details."
"An Iconoclast is basically, in and of itself, a boiled-down and highly concentrated intergalactic war." Says Feeb. "All the violence in a fraction of the space. And I thought having one of the Sporks tailing you was bad." She sighs.
"There's more." Intones L'Abbe, who in the meantime has taken the Plot Device over to the newly-rebooted computer and is doing some serious-ass interfacing. "It's self-directed, of course. Which means that it has an Artificial Intelligence somewhere in its nut. And my MT Prognosticator 7 software is indicating that it's an NQP."
Feeb wanders over to the computer. "You've got Prognosticator 7 installed?"
"NQP?" I ask, with a faint, sick feeling of familiarity.
"Certainly." Says L'Abbe to Feeb. "Upgraded it four months ago. The simulated sheep entrails in the Haruspication package have a much nicer interface this time through. Of course, increasing the resolution on my monitor has helped."
"Wow!" Says Feeb. "Did they add any new Knucklebone configs?"
"Seventeen new ones, including 'The Weeping Tree-Frog' and 'Chap with Long Nose.'"
"NQP?" I repeat.
"How about tea leaves? Does it finally handle tea leaves?"
"Yes, but not well. I still rely on the East India 'Virtual Tea-Time' package. Much more reliable."
"NQP?" I yell out in all capitals, although since it's an acronym, it doesn't end up looking any louder.
"Still can't handle Gyromancy, however." Continues L'Abbe.
"Gyromancy?" Inquires Feeb.
"Divination via running around in circles until one becomes too dizzy to stand up, collapsing onto the floor, and observing the position that one's body ends up in."
"Ooh, Luke would _love_ that one!"
"I could demonstrate."
"_NQP_?" I say, finally resorting to underscore.
Feeb and L'Abbe look up.
I stare, pointedly at them.
"Ah." Says L'Abbe. "'Not Quite Perfect'."
"I've heard that before." I say, the back of my neck breaking out in tiny cold prickles. "Feeb, I've heard that before."
"Er, yes." Says Feeb, suddenly intent upon worrying a scrap of paper she's found by the computing table.
"If we connect my Plot Device up to Prognosticator, we might be able to find further information!" Exclaims L'Abbe, excitedly, 'rushing' back to his work.
"Er, Monsieur," says Feeb. "That might not be such a good idea."
L'Abbe, however, is already at it. I turn to Feeb. "What?" I ask.
"Charles, I think, maybe, you had better... erm..."
"I've found a way to gain an Audio Feed!" Announces L'Abbe. "Switching On!"
Unfortunately, it is too late.
Distorted by the vagaries of time, space, the tricksy nature of clairaudience, and a poor sound card on L'Abbe's computer, a broad, cold voice nonetheless leaks clearly and recognizably into the room like a flood of nitrogen.
"My Goodneth!" Comes the voice. "I Thwear, I've been walking through thith water all _afternoon!_ It'th going to be _hell_ for my thkin. Jutht _hell_."
"...oh god..." I murmur. "...ohmyohmygod..."
L'Abbe blinks in confusion. Feeb grimaces madly.
"Well, Charles... erm..." She clears her throat. "Try looking on the bright side?"
I turn to her, my eyes twin black pits of horror.
Feeb gestures vaguely, as if to fill up the air more effectively. "I mean, true, while you sit here, trapped on a single small island in the South Atlantic with no chance of escape, a creature representative of all your most ghastly boyhood nightmares has been summoned forth, made incarnate, placed into the shell of a combat-worthy robotic construct with enough firepower to annihilate a small city, and set with the sole task of your complete and total destruction, but, well." Feeb screws her mouth up.
"...but?" I inquire, my voice rasping like steel.
Feeb simply pokes around in the straw a bit with her toe. Suddenly, she brightens, and stoops over. "Oh, look, Charles! A penny!"
"Mine." Says L'Abbe, taking it away. "Been looking for this."
Feeb glances at L'Abbe. "Oh well!" She continues, cheerfully. "You know what they say. 'If life gives you lemons...'"
"...go utterly and completely mad." I finish, hoarsely.
"Er, no." Says Feeb. "That's not what they say."