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Mundementia One: The Book of Going Forth
It was a dark night, though in defiance of proper literary meteorological physics, it was not particularly stormy (yet). Here in the grand Chateau de How Come Eh, located on the fabulous Bermudan isle bearing approximately the same name, the fact that it wasn't particularly stormy (yet) didn't much surprise the breathtaking apparition in neutral-mauve jumpsuit that was Doctor Ilsa "Boom-Boom" Chagrin, acting Chief of Staff of the entire Chateau de How Come Eh, and, functionally, in holding this position, the de facto second-in-command of the daily operations of the island.
"Wow." Remarked a small dragon in the air nearby, looking worriedly at the previous sentence. "Diagram _that_ sucker."
"Sorry?" Said Ilsa, looking up.
"Just generally remarking." Said the little dragon. "'S a good thing that His Highness the Herr Sahib Generalissimo sent me along, though. Something's up."
"Up?" Remarked Ilsa. The General could be a boorish pig with all the interpersonal know-how of labeling glue at times, but the man did know how to surround himself with competent people, his one actual saving grace. And the fact that the little dragon had spent two or three years at the beck and call of the man meant that Ilsa spared him a bit more trust than she otherwise might have.
"Ja. Up." The dragon executed a pensive acrobatic flip on a nearby wrought-iron light fixture as they passed, Ilsa's boots clicking efficiently on the cold white marble floors. "The narration is getting drawn out. Overlong sentences. Weird descriptive language. Crap like that. Up, basically."
Ilsa was never quite certain how to interpret the everyday language of the little dragon. Vesper had come here a few years back when--
"Y'know, Ilsa, I was wondering. D'you remember why I came here in the first place?" Asked the dragon, out of the blue.
"Well," said Ilsa, making points at the air as she walked, "you first came here because the General saw an advertisement for IntraLocutor Systems--"
"Which is..." Said the dragon, gesturing encouragingly.
"Which is... the agency that you come from, Vesper."
"And what do we do, again?"
"IntraLocutor Systems is the worldwide leader in providing Personal Dialogue Assistants to Asia, And Now, Parts West. You see," she said, with a lovely, just _lovely_ expository tone, "The General read about your company in the July '94 issue of 'Metalinguist' and just could not do without you."
"Ooh, 'Personal Dialogue Assistants'. That sounds complicated."
"Not really, Vesper. The role of a Personal Dialogue Assistant is actually remarkably easy to understand. A PDA, such as yourself..."
"Uh huh?" Said Vesper, soaking up every word.
"Well, he hangs about and makes certain that Principals never lack for a conversational partner. Firstly, this allows us to break up scenes that would normally be overwhelmingly heavy with internal narration by turning them into more manageable conversational scenes."
"And what else?"
"Well, the other thing that he does is to act hopelessly naive and innocent so that an experienced main character can explain everything in simplest terms to him, and thus, the audience (who has every excuse to be ingenuous of the intricacies of the situation) can involve themselves naturally within... the..."
Ilsa frowned sharply at the little dragon.
"You are doing it again."
"Yep!" Announced the dragon. "Let's watch a film clip from the new feature film _AIR FORCE ONE 2_ to further illustrate this concept."
* * *
CODGERY OLD GENERAL: Thank you for coming, Doctor Wingate. I always knew that if a psychopathic madman ever again decided to take over Air Force One with the President's beautiful daughter aboard, you'd be the person to call.
BEAUTIFUL FEMALE SCIENTIST (WINGATE): I appreciate your confidence, General Bullhead. I just hope I'm equal to the task.
PERSONAL DIALOGUE ASSISTANT (in the form of a geeky young reporter): Wow, Air Force One! What is it?
WINGATE: Air Force One is the government's code name for the private airplane used to carry the President, his staff, and, alas, his family, from place to place around this great nation of ours, Skip.
SKIP: Wow. He must rack up a lot of mileage!
BULLHEAD: That he does, son. Only problem is, there's a psychopathic madman on board.
SKIP: C'mon, now, General Bullhead, be fair. I mean, he _did_ veto that new budget act, but--
WINGATE: Not the President, Skip. A _Real_ psychopathic madman.
BULLHEAD: He goes by the name 'Ivan Deutcher'. He's a foreigner.
WINGATE: His father was German, but his Mother was Russian. Plus, he's Lithuanian by birth. And today is the fifth anniversary of his wife's death.
BULLHEAD: Damn us for idiots! We should have known after he tried this same thing on the fourth and third anniversaries of his wife's death! If only the pansy-ass liberal Congress hadn't cut our defense budget!
SKIP: German? Russian? Does that mean his parents came from other countries?
WINGATE: Exactly, Skip.
BULLHEAD: And now, he wants fifty million dollars from the United Nations, or he'll crash the plane, with the President's daughter aboard, into the largest city in the world!
SKIP: NEW YORK?
SKIP: How's he gonna do that?
WINGATE: Somehow, Herr Deutcher has gotten a hold of the button that makes the wings fall off. God only knows how he got it.
*Camera flashes to BULLHEAD, who looks shifty-eyed, then flashes back to SKIP*
SKIP: Wings? What do _they_ do?
* * *
"And so on, and so forth."
"HOW THE HELL IS IT THAT DO YOU _DO_ THAT?" Exclaimed Ilsa.
"Magic." Said Vesper Ji, honestly, a perky little smile wandering aimlessly across his blunt muzzle. Vesper was a bit of an odd little dragon. It was hard to say exactly what color he was, or indeed, to give a precise--
"Hey, Dr. Chagrin?"
"If I asked you to tell me what I looked like, how exactly would you describe me?"
Ilsa mused for a moment, her pace nevertheless not slackening.
"Well," she said, at last, "I guess I'd say your basic coloring is green, mixed with a little bit of ruddy brown here and there. In proper light, there is a bit of iridescence about your scales, though, reflecting your Chinese ancestry, although a touch of Western Draconis lends you a more compact, less serpentine form much unlike your full-blooded Chinese cousins. You have a very heavy little muzzle and on first impressions, your shape recalls more a small ornamental cigarette lighter than any variety of fierce wyrm. You're doing it again."
"Hey, sorry," said Vesper, in a voice that seemed to have been tailor-made for his role as the General's Personal Dialogue Assistant, a carefully-honed mix of endearing squeaky-cuteness and blank, childlike innocence, with just enough chaos cut in the mix so as to facilitate his comic relief function. "Just thought it was important for the viewing public to have a better description of me."
Ilsa blinked at him. Then she looked about. "Some one is watching us?"
"Noone you need be concerned about just yet, Good Doctor. Let's continue on."
Ilsa spared him a warning glance and then continued on her path. Yes, something was indeed "up", as the little dragon had said. Possibilities were swirling about like cream into coffee, and alas, Ilsa liked hers black. The One Can was here, at _last_, but she was forbidden to take it from the hands of the vapid Angel now residing in the dungeons of the palace by specific order of the General. Why? What did he have planned? It was foolish to even speculate. Here was a man who trafficked day in and day out with the mysterious _qabals_ that had laid claim to the other islands of the Bermudan chain, attending dinners and fetes and soirees that probably made his _own_ dinners, fetes and soirees here at the Chateau seem pedestrian by comparison. And that was truly saying something, despite the habitually nonplused affect of the guests (forced to attend by the Divine Imperative of The General). Large parties held by the Chief of the Island tended to have one simple, predictable outcome. Oh, they were lavish. Wonderfully so. Orchestras and ice-sculptures up the, well, "Wazoo", which was the best possible word for the moment despite Ilsa's hatred of the term. But no matter what, at the end of things, the General would break out the old literary traditions and go around turning people into other things. God knows why he ever started doing it in the first place. Perhaps he just couldn't stand too much solidity within his little realm. Perhaps he was a nightmare product of the Diversity Generation, bound and determined to take well-meaning notions about "all the colors of the rainbow" and apply them with a cement mixer. Perhaps... hell, Ilsa didn't know. All that she could do was attempt to keep up. It got difficult, though, never being precisely sure what gender and/or species your employees would end up coming in to work as each morning. Sort of like "casual day" gone mad.
Ilsa paused. That had certainly been a lot of internal dialoguing, and the little dragon hadn't spoken up once. Frowning curiously, she turned, and was about to ask him what the matter was, only to find him not there at all. Running her eyes back along the fantastically long corridor, her eyes caught him clinging fiercely at a little ventilation duct near the ceiling a few dozen yards back. She approached.
"Ssh." Said Vesper, peering intently into the blackness beyond the ornamental metal grille. Ilsa paused, quieted her breathing, and sure enough could soon hear the faint trickle of two voices dripping down from the ventilation duct. Another curious property of the Chateau: the General had constructed each and every ventilation duct in the entire palace with small microphone/amplifier arrays so that if one listened closely enough to a ventilation shaft, one could hear just about anything that was going on anywhere else in the palace. This, he insisted, was a security measure, and had put them up at about the same time as he had raised the ceilings on all the ducts to a comfortable crawling height and placed all those convenient maps up at every major nexus. The ventilation ducts of the chateau were also clean, and well-lit, and many of the servants used them as a matter of course on a daily basis to avoid the congestion of the major halls. So many of them could be found crawling around in the ventilation ducts, in fact, that it had of late gotten a little stuffy in there, thus requiring a new system of ducts to ventilate the ventilation ducts, for the safety and comfort of all concerned. These were still on the drawing board, but Ilsa knew that any titchy little protests on her part would have a nice, secure place in the decision-making plans of the General, and that secure place was the little trash-can icon located in the lower right corner of his brain.
Still, there were times that the whole microphone thing came in handy, and this seemed to have the potential of being one of those times. Raising herself onto her elegant tippy-toes, Ilsa strained her ears at the noises coming from the vent...
"Christ, I'm glad we found those phones, Luke."
"I mean, who would have thought that the Bermudan Conspiracy would have taken all the phones right here to a little store-room in the Chateau de How Come Eh where we could just stumble across them?"
"At least now, Doctor Somnolent knows that I'm having a little bit of trouble adapting to Mundementia One, and he was nice enough to grant me a two-day extension on my History assignment."
"I was a little worried when he got out the halberd, but, I mean, he calmed down eventually, right?"
"At least, I think he calmed down. I couldn't really understand what he was saying. Some garbage in Middle English. I guess that must be his Specialty Dialect."
"Right, Huzzah. All the bastard could say was 'Huzzah.'" The voice seemed to ponder something. "Luke, how the hell do I even know he gave me an extension at all?"
A curious tone in the voice. "Frink."
Ilsa looked up at Vesper. "What--"
"Ssh." Said Vesper, again. Then he shook his head. "This is really sad. All the Lemur can say is 'Frink', leaving the other to take up all the slack. It's really cumbersome. This fella could use somebody from IntraLocutor."
"Lemur?" Said Ilsa, her German accent inexplicably returning. "Choo don't mean ze same lemur who accompanied Glass here?"
"How many lemurs _are_ there on the island, huh?"
Ilsa thought. "Yesterday's census said Seventy-Eight. Probably less today. Ze General had somesing goingk on in his--"
"All right, all right. Forget I asked. Point being, yes. It seems likely that this is the same one."
In the background, the voices from the shaft continued.
"So how long is it going to take you to make those modifications to the Voice Synthesis Module?"
"And after that, we can continue with my Brilliant Plan for Escape?"
"What do we do _until_ then?"
Something is probably noteworthy here. Amongst all the special modifications that the General had ordered for his citadel, the one that might be said to be the most problematic was his installation of a huge, dynamic Lack Of Better Judgment Field Generator in the basement. The core idea was pretty simple, and a sound one, for a man of his specific interest base. If one was going to go around mutating one's citizenry into a great variety of new and different forms, and one kind of wanted a little more variety to one's fetish than could be had by just pointing at people and saying, "Zap, you're a penguin," one had to do some nifty stuff with cursed relics and weird chemicals and nanobots and the like. Only problem was, once your citizens had fell for the same thing two or three times, they tended to get wise to you, and you had to start thinking really creatively. Thinking really creatively had never been one of the General's strong points, and so, in order to insure that persons within his citadel would _KEEP ON_ picking up the weird wolf-head charms discarded in the dust, _KEEP ON_ sucking down the strange liquids of unknown origin, _KEEP ON_ visiting beauty salons with ludicrously suggestive names like "Mane Street Hair Stylists, Inc.", he had a Lack Of Better Judgment Field Generator installed within his Keep, with an effective area of approximately the entire island. This insured that the General always had a ready supply of victims at his disposal, but it _also_ meant that, in this certain specific case, Dr. Ilsa "Boom-Boom" Chagrin _DID NOT REALIZE_ the ramifications of the ridiculously plot-bearing utterance of late delivered by Charles Madison Glass elsewhere in the keep. This was probably a good thing for our heroes.
If Vesper Ji, a creature of magic and thus resistant to the Field, came to any conclusions about this, he did not express them. He simply shook his head. "Listen to those poor bastards. Did you hear that clunker of a line he just dropped? All because the audience can't understand the Lemur's specialty dialect." Ji looked back at Ilsa. "Ilsa, I'm awfully sorry. I know that you're a god-awful habitual internal narrator; I mean, just look at those paragraphs above. And I know that the General is paying my bills this month. But there are some things that a Personal Dialogue Assistant just can't let slide. I'm outta here. See you at the party."
And with that, Vesper Ji shot off down the hall in the direction they had just came from, avoiding taking a shortcut through the grating to escape some of the crowding in the ventilation ducts.
Ilsa Chagrin just stood there for a while. Now that the little dragon was gone, she was reasonably certain that she should continue walking in a brisk and businesslike fashion in the direction she had been walking, but upon a moment's thought, she began to realize that she didn't really know why she had been walking down this hall in the first place, or why she had been in such a hurry to get there at any rate.
Yet another frown in a collectible series of five crossed Ilsa's face. This one was entitled, "Pensive Villainess."
More voices from the shaft.
"What the hell do you _MEAN_, we're into the year 2000 already? It's 1997, for crying out loud!"
"Oh, so I'm supposed to believe that while the calendar year still rests at 1997, there's an entirely separate standard known as 'Pop Culture' time that advances faster than we do?"
"Gimme one example."
A pause. "Frink."
"No shit, a new Star Wars movie?"
"I gotta go see that."
"What about the, ah..." an embarrassed pause, and then, "the, ah, Macarena?"
"Wheeooo." Said the other voice, sadly.
"Goddamn it! It took me _weeks_ to learn that!"
"Oh well. You about done with that voice synthesizer?"
A rustling noise. "Frink!" The Lemur said, cheerfully.
"Okay. Hook it up to one of these phones."
More shuffling noises.
There was a buzz at Ilsa's pager. Frowning again (4) she removed it from her belt and pushed on the little voice communicatrix button.
"Frink!" And, in the background, "(goddamnit!)"
"What?" Said Ilsa.
There was a screech of static, and then, the voice of her very own geeky aide cut in.
"Sorry about that, Doc."
"What is it this time, Walter?" Said Ilsa, a note of annoyance entering into her voice. Good, it was only Walter. For a second there, she had been worried that something might be amiss. "And don't tell me it's more forms to sign."
"No, it's way wiggier than that, Doc. Something's gone seriously west down here in the telephone storage room."
"What is it?"
"You're gonna have to come down here and take a look at it yourself, Doc. I don't think I can explain it over a pagerphone."
The oncoming storm rattled and whistled against the walls of the Keep. Ji's wingbeats had long retreated into the distance. And somewhere, way, way deep down in the bowels of the Chateau, transmitted almost subaudibly by the tiny microphones mounted in the ventilation shaft, an extremely powerful Lack Of Better Judgment Field Generator made the noise that Lack Of Better Judgment Field Generators make when operating at massive open throttle.
That noise was, "Humm."
A look of resolve crossed Ilsa's face. She raised the pagerphone to her mouth and clicked on the Send button. "I'll be right there." She said.
Ilsa frowned into the pagerphone, completing her collection. "What did you say?"
"Brink!" Walter said, at last. "As in, we're on the brink of some massive catastrophe here. You had better hurry!"
_humm humm humm humm..._
A moment of decision, and then, "Okay. I'll be right there, Walter."
Ilsa turned sharply on her delicate heel and trotted briskly off down the long hallway.
Somewhere, in the deep without, the storm began to break.
* * *
Somewhere in the deep _within_ of the Chateau de How Come Eh, two figures huddled in a dungeon cell under the faint, yellow aegis of a Plot Device, warding off the oncoming storm. Occasionally, the older of the two would tweak it a bit and mutter encouraging words to the younger of the two, a smallish female with teased blonde hair and a white lab coat. If the elderly figure had expected his words to evoke any degree of ease in the girl's demeanor, he would have been disappointed.
And, as the camera of the mind's eye focuses on these two figures, let the microphone of the mind's ear fade i--
"CHRIST!" Shrieked Phoebe, rubbing at her ears and looking wildly about the room. "What the stuffing _was_ that?"
"Feedback." Said L'Abbe, mildly, fiddling with the Plot Device. "Presumably from a hypothetical audiovisual recording system. They're always mightily titchy to calibrate."
L'Abbe looked up from his work, then. "I fear, my dear young lady, that at the rate these metaphysical signs and indicators are progressing, we may be approaching the end of this Story Arc more quickly than even your friend had anticipated. We may have to begin taking matters into our own hands."
Phoebe blinked. "Wat'choo talking 'bout," she said, with perfect diction.
"I mean, Miss Dimmesdale, that we might have to progress without him. Goodness knows I had hoped to have him back here by the time events came to a head. But we may have little choice."
"What exactly are we supposed to _do_?" she said. "Charles took the One Can with him on account of it having the stronger Reality Shadow!"
"Tosh, child. The One Can merely provided a Really Good Excuse to get you to the next place you _truly_ need to go. Your destiny reaches farther than this little island, young Science Major."
She frowned at him. "But Charles had the only workable plan for getting off of this stinking rockpile! I don't know whose ass he pulled it out of, but it theoretically should work! If we don't have him, how the hell are we supposed to do anything at all?"
There was a pause. Phoebe's eyes suddenly went *pling.*
"I don't suppose there's a possibility that we can assemble a mass-hypnosis device and turn all the denizens of this island into quivering sheep who would obey our every whim, is there?"
L'Abbe chuckled, a rather dry sound. Probably more than "rather" dry, come think. The interior of an industrial clay-baking furnace is "rather" dry. L'Abbe's chuckle was several magnitudes of dryness higher. He made the beginnings of a companionable gesture towards the girl, probably an attempt to put an arm around her shoulder. He'll actually finish it a couple paragraphs down. "My dear, _that_ is the thinking of a _Real_ Scientist."
"So where do we start?" She asked, eyes flickering.
"We don't, alas." Said L'Abbe. "I'm afraid that it'd be utterly impossible."
"Oh." Said Phoebe. There was a pause. "Why exactly did you get me all worked up about it, then?"
L'Abbe finished putting his arm around her shoulder. "Merely to say, my dear, that if you are to succeed in the many ventures that are to come, you must _continue_ to think of the grandest schemes available to your noodle. The world may scorn you and mock you, yes. They will cast you out of their petty societies, call you a fraud, an insult to the name of all that they call 'progress'! But you will show them, won't you, little one! YOU WILL _CRUSH_ their petty lives to DUST beneath the HEEL of YOUR _SCIENCE!_"
"YES! ALMIGHTY CHRIST, YES!!!" Cried Phoebe, caught up in the vision. Multicolored thunder rolled outside, and all was wild and glorious.
Then, she turned to look at the old man. "Wait a smeg."
"Yes?" Said L'Abbe, smiling a faint smile that might truly be a faint smile or simply a resting-point on the way to a larger grin.
"Where the hell does a person like you get off on trying to counsel _me_ on Evil Geniusry? You're a gargahooling man of the cloth!"
"Three words, dear lady. Rasputin."
"Ooh." Said Phoebe, narrowing her eyes. "So you're an _evil_ priest, are you?"
"Oh, nononono. I'm fully reformed, living a life of purity and holiness now. But I've... been around the block one or two times. In fact, I think I might just have a film or two on the subject." L'Abbe hefted a reel up towards the film projector and set it in motion with a clatter. "Here's a lovely little scheme. My first Evil Deed with a real major sponsor. Shame it ended so poorly, but, we come to expect these things in our line of business."
"Oh my, yes." Said L'Abbe. "Haven't you ever heard of getting corporate backing for your Fiendish Plans?"
Phoebe put a finger to her chin. "I... always thought that _really_ successful madmen were just independently wealthy scientists gone bad."
"Aha. You'd _think_ so. But look _very_ closely at the next doomsday device that you see. You'll see."
"Advertising space?" She blinked. "Really?"
"Undoubtedly." He gestured at the now-cued film. "This little beauty was given substantial funding from the Foods Division of Pacific Offshore Drilling, Inc., makers of fine near-foods such as 'I Can't Believe That They Expect Me To Believe This Crap is Butter.'" He smiled, wistfully. "Just watch."
The first image on the film to rattle into place was of a man bearing a striking resemblance to Monsieur L'Abbe. In fact, he appeared exactly precisely identical to the monk now standing nearby Miss Phoebe, save for two important aspects: First, he wore a neatly-tailored black suit in lieu of his ecclesiastical garb, and second, someone had given him a rather natty-looking toupee that didn't look particularly good on him. The figure in the projection was seated at a large radio console, such as you might see in a fancy broadcasting booth, and the whole scene was overcast in dull brown tones.
"See." Said L'Abbe. "It's in sepia. That's how you can tell that this was a long, long time ago."
"Bollocks." Said Phoebe. "That's just you in a bad toupee."
L'Abbe waved a hand in a frail, yet surprisingly dismissive fashion. "That's immaterial. As I was saying, this all took place a very long time ago."
"I'm still not buying it."
"Let me turn the sound on," he said.
The tinny little speakers on the side of the film projector crackled into life just in time to blare out an obscenely loud radio station identification ping that bounced madly about the little dungeon cell as though in serious need of pharmaceutical therapy. Somewhere, some other political prisoner of the General hammered on something and yelled for them to keep it down, what with the microphone feedback and the radio pings and all, but Phoebe ignored him because for the past several hours he had been playing "Orinoco Flow" _over_ and _over_ again up in his cell, and it was quite getting on her nerves.
The radio station ping faded, and the sepia-toned image of L'Abbe cleared his throat.
"When you're listening to GREAT 'rock and roll'," he began, "you _must_ be listening to Ninety-Seven Seven, KGGM!"
The figure paused for a breath.
"BECAUSE I'VE CEASED TRANSMISSIONS FROM ALL OTHER RADIO STATIONS _EVERYWHERE_! BWEHAHAHAHA! NOW, piteous ones, _THERE *IS* NOWHERE ELSE TO TURN YOUR DIAL!_ BAHAHAHAHAHA!"
Phoebe blinked. "Wow!" She said, turning to look at the elderly figure beside her. "You _were_ good!"
He bowed, slightly. "Thank you, dear girl. Now, can you see the logo on my Frequency-Annullatron?"
"What, the big black box?"
"No," said L'Abbe, "That's the Mindwiperator. Clever device, but not nearly so expensive as the Annullatron was in those," he gestured, languidly, "far off, forgotten times. Look to the left, past the Transducerator Array, right above the Obliviax Coils."
"That?" Said Phoebe, pointing.
"No," said L'Abbe, regarding the scene with extreme calmness, "that's a quart of left-over clam dip. CONCENTRATE!"
"Okay, _sheeesh_" Said Phoebe. "Must be... that."
"Close. That's the Annullatron Phase Variegator."
"A four-eighty-eight Brekulatrik."
"How about that?"
"That, my dear, is again the clam dip." L'Abbe cradled his head in his hands. "Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea after all."
"HEY!" Screamed Phoebe, suddenly, prompting another outburst from the damn Enya nut in the nearby cell. "I'm ONLY a GODDAMNED _SOPHOMORE_, okay? Cut me some _FREAKIN' SLACK,_ already!"
"The world ahead will cut you no slack, young one."
"Then the world can _SOD OFF!_ When I RULE the WORLD, FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE MY GENIUS will be an OFFENSE _PUNISHABLE BY *DEATH!*_ DEATH!!!, you HEAR ME?"
"I believe that was a threat, little girl." Said L'Abbe, calmly rounding on Phoebe.
"YOU BET your WRINKLED GERIATRIC _ASS_ that was a threat. HOW _DARE_ YOU MOCK MY TITANIC INTELLECT!?!"
"Listen, impudent child, I was concocting fiendish plans when you were not yet even one of your father's wet dreams!" Said L'Abbe.
A brief pause.
"That didn't come out at all right," he said.
"HA!" Said Phoebe, dangerously, looming over the old monk with the aid of a small box that she had kicked into place for this very purpose. "You are pitiful and weak, old one. Once, long ago, you may have rested in glory, but you stand before me a piteous shell of your former being, a shell easily crushed and swept aside into any of three major national brands of In-Sink garbage disposal systems. Your time here is _finished_. FINISHED!!! AND NOW, A _NEW_ AGE CAN BEGIN!!!"
She took a deep breath.
"BOW! KNEEL BEFORE MY GREATNESS! SUBMIT! GROVEL! STOOP! WRITHE AND CRAWL! FOR I AM PHOEBE X-HAVIERA DIMMESDALE, and in _ME_, YOU WILL KNOW THE FUTURE EMPRESS OF _CREATION_!!!"
"Very, very nice." Said L'Abbe, nodding.
"Thank you!" Said Phoebe, with a faint blush to her cheeks. She performed a quick curtsey with her lab coat and stepped down off of her box, which quite coincidentally at some point in the past had been used to transport a quantity of dried fruit.
"You're quite welcome. Let us return our attentions to the film. The Frequency-Annullatron is, of course, hidden in the container of leftover clam dip."
"I _knew_ that clam dip looked suspicious!"
"Your instincts were good. My corporate sponsers were most displeased that I had submerged their logo-bearing product in a tub of condiment, but it didn't matter much to me." He shrugged. "What can I say. I was eviler then." L'Abbe sighed, and turned back to the flickering sepia-tone film being projected on the wall before him. "Not that I would have amounted to much. I had grandiose dreams, but sadly, my fiendish plans were brought crashing down."
"Idn't that always the case, though." Said Phoebe, nodding sympathetically.
"Yes, child. If you watch the film, I believe that we are approaching the moment of my undoing. Here," he said, pointing, "See this group crashing in through the door? This is the Respectable Seven. They were quite the Heroes in those," he gestured again, "distant and long-lost days."
"I'm still not buying it."
"Regardless. Do you see this little tyke here over in the corner?" L'Abbe pointed at a diminutive form, half-overshadowed by a rather larger and more imposing costumed figure who was busy with a long and extemporaneous speech about the futility of evil deeds. "Just guess who this little one is!"
"Just tell me!" Phoebe smiled innocently, leaning down to get a closer look at the projection.
"You'll never guess!" L'Abbe's eyes twinkled.
"Ibid." Said Phoebe. "Who is it?"
"That, child, is Captain Wholesome!"
Phoebe turned to him, disbelievingly. "_The_ Captain Wholesome? Monitor of Decency and Right?"
"The same. He was only 'Wholesome Boy' back then, of course, but..."
"Wow!" Phoebe exclaimed, bending in for a new look. "You had your ass whupped by a young Captain Wholesome? I mean, he's big league stuff! World class!"
"He was younger then, of course, just starting out in the business," said L'Abbe, mildly.
"But still! I mean, Professor Diabolique at the University who teaches my 'Intro to Damning Soliloquies' class can never get over the time he was trounced by the Masked Wallaby, and here you are with a credit like _that_? Jeez, Sir, with all due respect, why did you _ever_ give that up for the whole monastic thing?"
He shrugged. "It was essential to the plot."
"Oh." She shook her head, lost in wonder, reaching out as though to touch those incredibly old, long, distant and far-off times projected here on her cell wall.
"You haven't done too poorly yourself, dear child. Remember your Freshperson 'Advanced Intro to SCIENCE!' project?"
"Yeah." She smiled, wistfully. "My metarealitical causality wrangler device. When activated, it would engineer probability in a limited space so as to make certain that anyone I pointed it at would perish in an interesting and statistically-unlikely fashion." She turned back to L'Abbe, tears brightening her eyes. "Do you know the latest statistics regarding accidental electrocution by one's own cellular phone?"
"Depends on the situation, I'd say."
"Let's say for the sake of argument that the person in question is a small-claims lawyer wearing a great deal of hairspray whose damnable phone plays the first few bars of the 'William Tell Overture' every time she receives an incoming call."
"_And she didn't turn it off when she came into the theater._"
"Oh," Phoebe shrugged. "We're just hypothetically setting this in a theater, nothing important, really. Nothing unusual about it. Just an average theater, roundabouts three P.M."
Phoebe's smile became tense as her eyes drifted.
"At a matinee showing of 'Shine'."
One cheek-muscle twitched.
"Three rows back."
She turned back to L'Abbe, her smile bright again. "Do you know how improbable that would be?"
"I'm afraid I don't."
"I do," she said, bittersweet tears again welling up in her eyes. "I know _exactly_ how improbable that would be. _Exactly._"
"That's quite a device."
"It was!" Said Phoebe. "But it was destroyed _in toto_! By the 'Junior Good-Keteers!' PRE-PUBESCENT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL-AGED BASTARDS!!!"
"Most of your classmates haven't even _had_ a fiendish scheme destroyed yet, young one. You're a very advanced young megalomaniac genius!"
"I guess I am, amn't I?" Phoebe smiled for a moment, then rounded on him. "Hey, how do you know all this shit, anyway? You been watching me?"
"Oh yes, child. Oh, yes." L'Abbe switched off the film projector just as the assembled mass of Heroes, finally done listening to their leader's monologue, swarmed en-masse into the little recording booth to do battle with the android servants of the gentle Abbot. "My people and I have had our eyes on you for a good long time now."
"Your people? You've had film agents and/or lawyers watching me?" Phoebe did a quick shake-out. "God, now I understand why I've felt so unclean these past few years."
"No, dear little one. That's not it at all."
"Cut out the diminutives. Please?"
"Very well, Miss Phoebe. The answer to your question is 'no'. When I say 'my people', what I mean is..."
L'Abbe fished around in his abboty-cassock-y looking thing, finally removing a small pendant on a chain that had been rattling against his ribs. It sparkled, brassily, in the inconstant light. "This."
"Those are weird people." Said Phoebe. "They're kind of small, and they live on a thing hanging around your neck."
"It's a symbol! A SYMBOL!"
"So they live on a _symbol_ hanging around your neck."
"Bah!" Said L'Abbe, actually using the word "Bah." "What you see before you is the sacred token of the League of the Reel."
Phoebe inspected it. It was certainly a shiny little pendant, in the shape of a film reel, cast in glittering and polished brass. Representing the spools and spools of celluloid film that would be wrapped around the reel was a flat cylinder of some pale, milky stone, tucked neatly between the brassy wheels. People in Phoebe's profession tended to use the word "Beautiful" in a guffawing, cackling tone of voice when looking upon their own sleek doomsday devices or rogue asteroids hurtling towards Manhattan or something, but in this case, Phoebe had to admit that the little pendant was indeed quite beautiful, with a very small 'b'.
"Our society has a long and heritageous heritage of observing and watching over mankind, dear sweet tiny little young child."
"Sorry." He cleared his throat. "We of the Reel hold sacred the traditions of the past and are constantly working, literally, 'behind the scenes' of modern-day life in order to insure that these traditions of mankind can be preserved for our children and our children's children."
"So, basically, the Republican party."
"No." Said L'Abbe. "We are not Republicans. The traditions that we espouse were spawned far back in the ancient and golden days of Man."
"Still sounds Republican." Phoebe noted.
"Child, the narrative that I am about to give is critical to the upcoming plot, and it would serve you well not to interrupt me at every turn with witty little attempts at banter. No more, please, whilst I speak. Yes?"
Phoebe nodded, grudgingly, quirking her lips.
"Very good. So, as I was saying. Many of the most sacred traditions of Mankind are encoded and re-evoked not by the actions of your ruling parties, your government, even your shadow-conspiracty puppet-masters. The traditions of Man are found, exactly where they have been found for centuries upon centuries. In our _stories._"
"Therefore, the movie-reel symbol."
"A fitting tribute to the modern-age of Story."
"Rather than, say, a book, or a quill and scroll, or some-such."
"Child," said L'Abbe, shaking his head, "No-one actually _reads_ stories anymore..."
"Oh." Said Phoebe, an undefinable look of concern crossing her face.
"Besides, the quill-and-scroll thing had been taken already. These 'three prophetic sword' stories are the absolute _titch_ for licensing and trademarks. You wouldn't believe how difficult it was to arrange all this business, from a copyright stance alone."
"Oh." Said Phoebe, again.
"Regardless, we find the film metaphor to be more than adequate. What better way to illustrate the didactic contradiction of the human condition, a single, solid, unchanging _thing_, that, when looked at minutely through the tiny lens of human perception, seems to consist of thousands and thousands of individual scenes, each totally distinct and yet all leading up to the creation of a total and integrated whole."
"Much like pages and a book." Said Phoebe, critically.
"Well yes." Said L'Abbe, beginning to look defensive. "But, see, it's _also_ a clever metaphor because you can project all these scenes, magnifying them to a tremendous scale, so that all that _anyone_ in the 'normal viewing public' sees are these single, dramatic frames, while the unseen projectionists, _us_, work constantly behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly so that the audience need never concern themselves and can go on enjoying the theatrical experience."
"Projectionists are weird people."
"ALL RIGHT! YES! We _are!_ The metaphor holds!" Said L'Abbe, throwing his hands up in frustration, or rather, _starting_ to throw his hands up in frustration.
"Cool." Said Phoebe. "Continue."
"Thank you! The whole point of this discourse is the following! When cruel gods and power-mad dictators and Martian death-ships and psychotic heckspawn rear their ugly heads, there has to be _someone_ working to insure that in the end, the World is Saved and the Boy gets the Girl and Everyone is Happy, exeunt omnes, The End! _These_ are the traditions of Man, played out over and over again in the microcosmi of hundreds upon thousands of stories across time and space."
L'Abbe took a deep breath and continued. "The problem is, hyper-potent, maleficently-aligned entities are working constantly to undermine this sacred fabric. Dedicated teams of Reality-Preservationists are working around the clock to make _certain_ that these, our cherished ideas about Good and Evil, will be available for generations and generations to come, but they face a difficult task."
"This is a pretty worked-out speech." Noted Phoebe.
"Well, it _is_ rather similar to one I delivered at the Fifty-Sixth Annual Reality Preservation Society Story Festival and Telethon."
"I see." Said Phoebe. "So where do _I_ come in?"
L'Abbe clutched at the front of her lab coat, looking pleadingly into her eyes. "This kind of work takes _time_, Miss Dimmesdale. Time, Heroes, and most importantly, Plot-Bearing Artifacts. Our Order is doing all that it can, but it can't continue without _your help._"
"You want me to give generously?" Said Phoebe, a mite skeptically.
"You are already on the path, dear child." L'Abbe removed his hands from Phoebe's intensely starched lab garment, whose rumples immediately smoothed themselves with sharp cracking sounds. "Our most acute and desperate project at the moment is undoing the Threat to Reality represented by Ashraak, Demigod of Litter and Profanity, Sophomore, La Universitas Da Deus Dela Amber, Kansas, U, S, A."
"Him again! Does this mean that we're actually getting back to the main plotline here?"
"Undoubtedly. All that you have witnessed thus far-- your council with Mister DeJesus, the recovery of the One Deposit Can, your visit to the Emasculated Warthog Speakeasy last night, your abduction by the Forces of Campus Security (secretly enthralled to the Sinister Bermudan Conspiracy)--all have been elements of one single, cohesive plot."
Darkness swirled about the cell. Prismatic lightning spat and crackled against the ocean without. The Plot Device glowed in bright amber-gold. And L'Abbe spoke.
"Miss Dimmesdale." He said, his voice seeming to deepen, strangely, in an acoustical trick that could not be accounted simply to happenstance. "It is the sacred and prophetic duty of your companion, The Angel of Duche Verdue, he who is known only as Charles Madison Glass, to recover the Three Highly-Important Swords."
The echoes faded.
"We were forced to adopt a pragmatic name. There were only a few flowery ones left, and they all sounded fairly gay."
"It is only through these Three Highly-Important Swords that the foul god Ashraak will be driven back to the Fraternity House from whence he was spawned. Then, and only then, will Reality once again be safe. And it is _your_ sacred trust, dear, sweet, tiny, young, immatu--"
"--Get on with it--"
"--to guide La Guardya de la Duche Verdue along these paths, using your knowledge to sustain him in all ways."
"Know ye that the road ahead of you is fraught with peril. Dangerous Things lurk around every twist in the plot, entities to whom your soul may well be forfeit given even the slightest mis-step."
"As I said, fine. Cool."
"Please, hear me out! Though your steps will be dangerous, know that the very fabric of reality and the existence of humanity as we know it is _dependent_ upon the defeat of the horrid Ashraak! If you do not agree, who will take up this burden? Who else can face the horrible deity of untidiness and smut?"
"Probably no-one. But it's kind of a moot point, since, y'know, I already agreed to it."
"YOUR NAMES were WRITTEN in the PROPHECIES!!! ALL THE FORCES OF MIGHTY NATIONS MAY BE BROUGHT TO BEAR AGAINST THIS HELL-SPAWNED EMPEROR OF DARKNESS, and ALL WILL BE FOR NAUGHT, save for YOU, YOU PREDESTINED CHAMPIONS OF ORDER!!!"
"Neat. Can you give us a few pointers on starting out?"
"PLEASE!!!" L'Abbe "lunged" forward and grasped the lapels of her lab coat again. "DO NOT SPURN THE PROPHECIES! LONG AGO were they WRITTEN, BUT GREAT is their PREDICTIVE POWER!"
"Uh huh." Said Phoebe, eyeing him warily.
"AND THEY HAVE CLEARLY STATED that the WORLD will FALL if the THREE SWORDS are NOT RECOVERED!!!"
"In the NAME of GOD! I _BEG_ OF YOU!!! TAKE UP THIS BURDEN!"
The Abbot gazed feverishly up into her eyes.
The old man collapsed into beatific tears. "Oh, praise be to the Almighty!"
"So... could you tell us where we start with this?"
"Of course." He took a deep breath, puffing out his chest until he resembled little more than one of those craft balloons that you've already wrapped the papier-mache-soaked string around. "Three swords there are, the White, the Blue, and the Red."
"Boring names. Copyright thingy again?"
"Correct. Although, in defiance of the legality of the thing, I have been referring to the swords by their Heraldic color equivalents, to give it a bit more of an exotic flair. Contracts aside, the hero _should not_ be referring to his predestined prophetic artifacts so casually."
"So you're trying to prevent Charles from saying, 'Oh, fuck, let's just go after the white one now.'"
"Correct. Proper terminology would dictate that he say, 'Oh, fuck, let us recover the Blade Argent forthwith.'"
Phoebe snickered. "He's going to anyway."
"Nevertheless, it is pointful to try. As I was saying, three blades there are, the first, the Blade Argent, mighty pale sword of the ancient and long-dead MacGuffin clan of Scotland, once wielded by the legendary Rowan Huge-Expanses-O'-Wasteland."
"Hey, I _do_ know that! The catalog we found in DeJesus's strongbox had the MacGuffin Blade paperclipped! So this _does_ make some degree of coherent sense!"
"Doesn't it?" She finished, lamely.
"Yes child, you just have to keep paying attention. The second of the three, the Blade Azure, is of Spanish craftmanship, wrought by the so-called Mad Iberian of Medina. Its construction is of the finest blue Toledo steel, forged in fires of White Sulphur, cooled in the waters of the mighty Scioto River. Great is its destructive power, but its might is tempered by the fact that it may only be invoked by one pure in heart and spirit, a fact which has thwarted many a madman's dire ambition."
"And the third?"
"The Blade Gules, Gem-Sword of the Lost Foguang Temple of Wutai Shan. Also known as the 'Lucky Happy Skill Hair of Maiden Fiesta Blade!!!'. Carved by Mystical Chinese Men from the very heart of the largest blood-red garnet ever unearthed." L'Abbe's voice darkened ominously. "It is said that a dire curse haunts this, the most sinister of the three blades."
"And... what would that be."
"It is said in ancient tales that anyone pierced through the heart by this foul and accursed blade will meet a... mysterious and untimely demise." He waggled his eyebrows in an important fashion. "Within a month."
"Uh huh." Said Phoebe. "This... mysterious and untimely demise doesn't happen to typically involve massive exsanguination via external trauma, does it?"
"Strangely, yes." Said L'Abbe, his voice quirking mysteriously. "It does."
"Cool!" She said, smiling brightly. "Well, that's great, we've got basic specs on our prophetic artifacts. Where are we headed from here?"
"From here, you must first seek the Second, back in your homeland, at a place where sycamores once stood. Seek ye the Blade Azure, and thereafter the Datacores of Shartooie, which will guide your next steps."
Phoebe carefully jotted this down on her omnipresent clipboard, on a sheet entitled 'Prophetic Quest Notes.' "Okay, great, got it. You've been a big help."
"I am... happy to have played my part. There is one last thing." L'Abbe once again fished out his League of the Reel token once again. "This symbol, the sacred icon of our mighty but beleaguered Order, my people. All of our plans and hopes and valiant efforts have lead up to this one solitary moment, the moment that you, our operatives, receive and accept the quest that Destiny has long ago ear-marked you for." The old man held forth the gleaming medallion to the young Scientist. "Though our abilities to assist you from this point forward must needs be limited, I want you to take this, to remember the hope for the Future that you bear with you, and our prayers with it. Know when you hold this token that even in darkness, ye are never truly alone, for ye shall be borne up by the Power of the Story and of many hundreds of thousands of victorious Heroes who have gone before." He smiled, beatifically. "Take it. Please."
A moment, in time.
"Sod off." Said Phoebe.
"Oh please." Remarked L'Abbe, groveling a bit. "Can't you just take it? Not that hard. Just... reeeeeeeach up, and take the symbol..."
"Bugger that! Look, old guy, you've _obviously_ got more information that you could give us. According to you, we've got a big-ass quest in front of us, and we haven't seen _squat_ except for the inside of a dungeon cell. How do I even know what to ask you right now? I _don't_, that's the freakin' answer."
"But... what does _that_ matter?" Said the old man, in an overly innocent and casual tone. "It's just a symbol."
"HAH!" Phoebe extended one index finger in a rigid, accusatory point. "You _say_ that. But convention dictates that as soon as you give me your damn pendant, your 'sacred token' of your 'mystical order', *SKKKKKKK*!" Phoebe drew the finger across her throat. "Instant Dead Abbot, just add water. Just like Charles said. Well. Not in so many words. But."
"Ridiculous," proclaimed the Abbot, looking shifty-eyed. "Whatever would I die from here?"
"Stereotypical Old Mentor's Disease. You told us yourself that you were going to kick off. Well, I'm not a-lettin' ya. You just _try_ and croak before I take your goddamned special token of favor! I _dare_ you!"
L'Abbe sputtered. "This is unfair! Unreasonable! I've _played_ my part already! I can't just hang around giving you answers throughout the entire saga! Where would your character arcs go? What about your coming-of-age moments? Look, Child, _Old Mentors Must Die._ You're bucking a thousand years of storytelling convention here!"
"Who the hell cares! _I_ don't need coming-of-age moments. I'm more interested in saving the world as quickly and effortlessly as possible so I can get back to the process of trying to conquer it myself! And _you_, you old fart, are our ticket through this damn story. I thought you Projectionists _wanted_ the world saved, huh?"
"We desire first and foremost the preservation of Order and Convention, you fuzzy-headed ingrate! They're not the same things!"
"All right, all right, fine. You win." L'Abbe pulled the medallion back into his robe, and then purposefully walked over to a corner. Three minutes later, he turned around, holding a plate of dried fruit.
"Fruit?" He asked.
"Certainly." Said Phoebe, coolly. She delicately selected an apricot from the top of the suspiciously large pile of fruit and began chewing on it.
"Oh, don't be shy." Remarked L'Abbe, burbling. "Take the whole plate, there's plenty!"
"DAMN!" Swore L'Abbe and walked back over to the corner. Phoebe chewed pensively on the apricot, watching him. Eventually he turned back around.
"CATCH!!!!" he shouted. A gleaming object arced through the air in the room, eventually hitting Phoebe's shoulder and bouncing off, falling miserably to the ground. Phoebe stood silent, her arms folded, regarding him stoically.
"Ha-ha!" crowed the old man.
"Doesn't count, it just hit me. I didn't _take_ it."
"Balls!" L'Abbe scurried over and retrieved the token. He regarded it for a moment and then walked casually over to Phoebe's black holdall bag. Some shuffling ensued, not clearly visible. L'Abbe then turned back around, a big--albeit toothless--smile on his face.
"Oh Dear!" He said. "I've just remembered that in order for the prophecy to work, you need to do something, er, horribly scientific with some of the equipment you are doubtlessly carrying in this rather large bag."
"Looks like you'll have to come over and get this rather large bag, full of all sorts of things that you'll need."
"Here!" said L'Abbe. I'll even bring it over to you! You don't even have to--"
"Look, it won't _work_, okay! You'll just have to face it. There is no way you're going to trick me into taking your little symbolic token."
Phoebe shook her head, lip stern.
"Oh well," sighed L'Abbe, withdrawing the medallion from the black bag and suspending it back around his neck. "You're probably very right, young child. Though it pains me to so violate the conventions of my station, it would probably aid in the eventual attainment of our goal. I have told you all that ye need know for the immediate future, but--"
L'Abbe broke off. He wobbled in his stance.
"Oh dear," he said. He clutched at his chest.
"What?" Said Phoebe, coming over to where the old man stood. "What is it?"
"The cinematic conventions seem to be too strong..."
"They can't do that!" Wailed Phoebe. "They can't kill you off before I take your medallion!"
"I'm afraid that you can't reason with them, child." L'Abbe trembled a bit more than usual and his right leg nearly buckled, the old man's suddenly-present cane bearing his full weight. "I fear... I'm feeling a bit... faint."
Phoebe mothered him. "Isn't there anything I can do?"
"I'm sorry." He said, breathlessly, his face pale. "If you might... just... help me bear myself back over to my straw-pile... I might... rest..."
The girl nodded, sadly, and extended her arm. Shaking with palsy, L'Abbe leaned heavily upon it.
Then, cackling gleefully, he vaulted upwards. Startled, she made a grab for him with her other hand, supporting the old Abbot for a moment in her arms. Monsieur L'Abbe let off a wild screech of joy.
"HA! FOOLED YOU!"
"What!" Shouted Phoebe in dismay. "I didn't do anything!"
"Oh, but you did! _I was wearing the amulet_, you silly girl! Using standard rules of Quest Inventory, when you pick up an object bearing or containing another object, you logically claim the second object as well! You took the amulet! Ha HAHAHAHAHA!"
"I did no such thing!" Cried Phoebe.
"You took the amulet! You took the amulet! Neener neener neener neener!" L'Abbe capered about the little cell, whooping. "YOU TOOK THE AMULET! YOU TOOK THE--gack."
L'Abbe clutched his chest again, this time in earnest, and fell gently into the pile of straw.
Phoebe stood, stunned, gazing at the fallen Abbot.
After a moment, the expression of shock on her face dissolved into one of despair. Tears pooled in her bright blue eyes.
He was gone.
Phoebe sucked in a deep breath, threw her head back, and--
* * *
Elsewhere, in a sterile and well-brushed steel hallway, Dr. Ilsa "Boom-Boom" Chagrin stood, regarding a door, faint air currents from the nearby ventilation ducts failing to ripple her skin-tight Conspiracy jumpsuit even a decismidge. The room beyond contained the collected telephones of Hoderund Kansas, gathered up by the Conspiracy earlier this very morning for, really, no clear purpose. To Ilsa, a true middle-place-holder in the Bermudan Conspiracy, it was not hers to reason why the Conspiracy did what it did. She just had to put her faith in the fact that her bosses knew better about such matters than she did.
Which rarely was the case, come think.
In fact, sometimes, she sometimes even questioned why--
A voice. Through the ventilation ducts. A woman's voice, raised in an apostasic shriek of despair.
The noise snapped Ilsa back into focus. Mustn't let internal narration distract her from her purpose here. Walter had summoned her here to this remote part of the Chateau...
_humm humm humm humm..._
Another voice. Two.
"Did you hear something, Luke?" Said a young man's voice.
"Frink." Said the one identified as 'Luke'.
"Sounded like Feeb."
"Frink." Agreed the other. "Wheeooo," he added.
"I wouldn't call it an 'apostasic shriek of despair', myself. She's always..." The faint noise of an uncertain air-gesture, remarkable in its audibility. "...screaming about something-or-other. So, when do you think our quarry's going to show up?"
Walter had summoned her here to this remote part of the Chateau... and now...
_humm humm humm humm..._
...And now the two captives were talking about 'their quarry'! That must mean...
_humm humm humm humm..._
THAT THEY WERE SETTING A TRAP FOR WALTER. Here in the phone room! Those _BASTARDS_!
Ilsa kicked in the door and tumbled inside, crouched low in an incredibly sexy action-hero type sort of thing, except for her being a villain and all. She would teach _them_ to try to ambush one of her aides! She would--
The door slammed behind her. From the darkness, the young man's voice.
"Ah. Good day, Doctor Chagrin. So we meet again."
"Glass!" She spat.
"In person!" He said, heroically. Ilsa's eyes struggled to adjust to the dim light. The stink of lukewarm saurian flesh was heavy in the air. Elsewhere, nearby, a satisfied monkey-like chitter. Glass's comrades-in-arms. Close. All too close. No time to even reach for the pagerphone. Ilsa cleared her throat.
"I suppose you sink zhat... just because... I'm... standing here in the dark... unarmed... wis a large, carnivorous dinosaur trained to obey your every command lurking nearby... zhat you somehow have zhe advantage in zhis situation."
"Given what you've just said, I rather fancy I _do_, Good Doctor. Unless there's something you're not telling me."
"You can't hurt me!" She said, backing away. "You can't hurt any of us. Zhe General's executive staff is protected from injury and death by zhe express orders of the General!" Slowly, step by step, back towards the door. There came the sound of shapes moving in darkness. "No killing off principal characters without permission!" she continued, bravely. "You can't fight his word! He is zhe Story-Universe-Moderator of zhis entire island!"
"We have no wish to kill you. Nor to hurt you."
The door was only a few steps away. No sudden moves. Keep him talking, just a few more steps back to freedom...
"What do you want from me?" Her voice echoed out and was reflected back at distressing angles.
"A signed order from Doctor Ilsa Chagrin herself would be enough to allow us passage off of this stinking rock. The mighty General's Executive Right Hand..."
"Never! You are prisoners of zhe General Himself! I vould never sign such an order!" She must be almost to the door. Damn dramatic entrances! How far had she leapt into the room, anyway? Steady... steady....
"Oh, but you _will_. Depending on how you look at it."
"You cannot zhreaten me!" Ilsa's hand reached out for the knob.
"I do not need your fear, Doctor Chagrin."
Ilsa's hand failed to encounter the reassuring cold metal of the door. It was small compensation that it proved to be so resoundingly successful at encountering the lukewarm skin of Buddy the Undead Velociraptor.
"Rawr." Said Buddy, calmly.
"All I need... are your clothes."
And with a sudden _thwump_, everything went black.