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Mundementia One Interludes: Christmas at Capitol Centre
Capitol Centre Mall. December 24th. Nine P.M.
"Ho, Ho, Ho! Maaay-ree Christmas! Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Jingle. Jingle. Jingle.
A festive day in almost every regard. Despite the fact that _every_ day is a Christmas Shopping Day at Capitol Centre Mall, there is a certain _magic_ in the air tonight. _Holiday_ Magic? Perhaps. Perhaps, somewhere deep down, beneath the layers and layers of tinsel and glitter and swarms of annoying Holiday Salespeople, there is a faint, feebly-burning spark of the True Holiday. Somewhere below the glitz and glamour and the sparkly lights there is a message of love and hope and...
And somehow, this single word "perhaps" fills the air with a sort of peace and love and joy that is normally never associated with this crass and sallow place, suffusing the theme parks and the food courts and the shops and boutiques and the tiny splinter city-states with something approaching "good cheer."
The feeling of peace even reaches so far as "Visit Santa" Booth #42, where I presently am.
And for a moment, I bask in the aura of the season, ring my jingle-bells in a couple of lazy rolls, and begin to actually _relax._
I really should know better by now.
* * *
The Thing approaches my position.
"And... um... er... _what_ do we have here, MISSUS CLAUS?"
"Class Seventeen Lovecraftian Inexplicable Horror, Mister Claus. I'm sorry. I can't describe it. It's too horrible."
"Figures." I say, looking on uneasily as the Thing that Should Not Be slouches sidelongly towards my position. "Any data you _can_ give me?"
"Well," says Missus Claus, consulting her clipboard, "this particular affront to God and Nature is the larval form of a super-aethereal being that commonly exists in the hearts of stars, taking sustenance for its hellish existence from raw, primal terror. Your basic 'It feeds on your fear' sort of thing."
"Larval form?" I ask, my eyes still fixed firmly on the utterly indescribable brain-destroying beast of souls that seethes and burbles up the festive holiday ramp.
"Yep." Says Missus Claus. "Larval form."
"Sort of a 'why else would it be coming to see Santa' type of thing going on here?"
"_Charles._" She says. "This is for _kids._ Not _Grown-Up's._"
"I guess we can be thankful for small favors, then..."
"Especially since the Adult form would seize our fragile mortal forms and use them as playthings for its hideous minions after sucking our souls out through our nostrils."
"Ah." I watch the Beast's inexorable advance.
"Nothing to worry about here, though. This one is just a SCHNOOKIECYOOOOTE Li'l BABY one! Isn't um's! Isn't um's!"
She Glares at me. "_Missus Claus._, please... SANTA."
"Sorry. _Missus Claus._"
She goes back to cutesywitty stuff with the baby hellfiend.
"Missus Claus... um... maybe we shouldn't really be... um... allowing this thing... to..."
I stop short as the hellfiend's indescribable face-for-lack-of-a-better-word suddenly twists into the most heart-rending expression of pathos that I have ever seen on an outer god.
A slow, gurgling wail begins in its throat.
"All right! All right! You can see Santa! Ho Ho Fricking Ho!"
The horrid creature immediately brightens and promptly burbles up to sit on my lap.
"All right... um... you. Have you been a good little... um..."
"...yurlick..." supplies Missus Claus in a casual whisper.
"...Yurlick this year?"
It gurgles and spits in what I assume is an affirmative manner.
"Ho, ho, ho." I say, feeling its fetid ichors begin to eat through the lap of the polyester Santa costume. "And... um... what would you like for Christmas?"
It gets this hopeful expression on its face. And then, moving faster than a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, it whips out a stinger-tipped tentacle and slams it directly into my brain, driving it in through the Foramen Magnus at the base of my spinal cord.
Suddenly, our brains are in connectivity.
And I _see_ what it wants for Christmas.
I am... unable to remember the Vision. It is as though my brain cells themselves have cringed away from this Sending in sheer, unadulterated terror. Perhaps in some sense of self-preservation; for they, trustworthy little things that they are, have correctly noted that if this image were actually _stored_ somewhere in the deep recesses of my long-term memory, I would finish the remainder of my short, pitiful life in a small white room carefully devoid of pointy objects.
And then, my brain shuts down momentarily.
When I resume consciousness after a matter of seconds, the Utterly Unexplainable Thing has removed its stinger from my brain, leaving only a faint scar which I can even now feel healing over. Certain other wounds are not so easily balmed, however.
The Thing continues staring at me with that blandly hopeful expression.
"...eeeeerrrrgghhghHo, Ho, Ho! Yes! Yes!" I heroically grasp the ragged edges of my sanity like a brave mariner wrestling with the helm in a hurricane. The Ho's promptly dissolve into a quiet maniacal cackle, which I also manage to get a lid on before it becomes too noticeable. "Ho!" I continue. "Yes! I'm certain Santa will try his _Very Best_ to get you what you ask for, little one!" How would you like a nice... Candy Cane!" I fish one out of the sack at my side. It blurgles happily, and as a result, oozes a flood of vile, black ichor all over my pants and boots.
I wince as it extends a pseudopod to the candy cane.
With a thwacking sound, it grasps the hapless bit of candy from my hand and Consumes it in a way that I do not wish to see anything Consumed, ever again. I can almost hear screams of agony, very faintly, somewhere deep way back in my ears. And _that_ was a piece of stick candy...
"(Missus Claus... um...) Ho, Ho, Ho! (Get this FRICKING THING off of me!) Ho, Ho, Ho!"
Thankfully, Missus Claus complies, and sends the thing burbling off to the exit ramp.
No one else waits at the entrance to Santa's Visiting Area.
I shudder. Missus Claus wanders over, checking things off on her clipboard.
"Feeb." I say, pulling off the fake Santa beard for a moment while it's safe to do so, "That was very nearly the most awful thing that has ever happened to me."
"Recall, Charles," Says Feeb, "that we wouldn't be _doing_ this at all were it not for you. I think it was actually rather _nice_ of the Capitol Centre Management to let us all off with simply serving one week in one of their 'Visit Santa' booths after what _you_ did to this place last October--"
There is a bleep noise from Feeb's holdall. She trails off and then begins rummaging through it.
I sigh. You gotta expect this from Feeb sometimes. "You heard anything from Luke lately?" I ask, to pass the time until Feeb manages to hack her way back to the original conversation.
"Sent back some photos." She says, still rummaging through her holdall. "They're in here, too, somewhere. Sorry, Charlie... I just have to check something."
"No prob." I say.
Feeb fishes around for a while. "Photos." She says, tossing them over. "Have a look."
I look at the pictures. Luke has relatives in Paris, for some unknown reason, and when the University term got out this semester, he told us that he was going to be going back there for the holidays. Actually, he didn't tell us that _exactly._ To be a bit more precise, he _actually_ told us, "Frink, frink frink frink Wheeooo, Wheeooo, Frink, Frink." But we knew what he meant.
First picture is of Luke hanging off of what appears to be the Eiffel Tower, wearing a beret and holding a small particle projection rifle comfortably in one hand.
Second picture is of Luke hanging off of one of the flying buttresses of La Cathedrale de Notre Dame. He's got a Matter Conversion Spitfire-Nineteen Carbine, here.
Third picture is of him theatrically kissing a demure-looking female deltalemur in front of L'Arc de Triomphe at the Place de L'Etoile. The camera has also caught him right in the process of firing a flare gun skyward, presumably for the romantic effect.
Fourth picture is of Luke hanging off the exterior of the Louvre, avec TorchFury 2089 portable flame unit.
Fifth picture is of Luke rather cinematically marveling at the size of a baguette at a small corner boulangerie. The camera picks up the violet glare from his DeRocher 5-Chromatic Phaser quite nicely.
"Wow." I say. "Looks like he's having the time of his life."
"Yes." Says Feeb. "But it's a hollow sort of fun, full of pity and self-loathing. Got a letter from him." She whips out a sheaf of papers. "Read it if you like."
I take them, and scan a few lines.
Frink frink Frink! Wheeooo, frink, Frink! Frink Frinkfrinkfrinkfrink Frink, wheeooeeooeeooeeooFRINK! Frink frink _Frink_... Frink! Frink, frink Wheeooo...
I nod slightly to no one in particular. "Great!" I say, carefully.
"Look here." Says Feeb, indicating a part of the writing on page three. "He's picked up a little of the language."
Frink frink frink: 'Frinque, Frinque, Frinque.' Frink frink? *smiley face* Frink: 'Wheeeou'! frink 'Wheee_eux_'!
I put the letter down. "How 'bout if I read this later?"
"Fine by me." Says Feeb. Finally, she seems to find what she's been rummaging for all this time, and promptly begins taking notes on her clipboard, consulting whatever it is occasionally. This for a moment.
"Um." I say. "Feeb... um... what _are_ you looking at?"
She calmly holds up the Principal Indicator.
It's glowing. In the traditional expository blink.
"Just what I thought." Says Feeb. "Hioshi's back."
"Hioshi?" I say. "He hasn't been interested in us since... October! Since that whole thing with the--"
"SSSH!" Hisses Feeb, quite harshly. I shut up, having learned not to question her when she gets like this. "Don't say a _word_ about what happened in October."
I frown at her. "Why?"
"_Because_." Says Feeb. "It seems as though the UA's have gone non-linear on us."
"Non-Linear?" I say.
"Right." Says Feeb. "According to my calculations, they're receiving transpondence of these events _before_ learning the entire happenings of the week of October 13-20, 1997."
My frown deepens. "So... the UA's are seeing _this_ now... but they don't know the rest of the primary story yet?"
"Why?" I say, grasping at straws.
"We're being brought into proximity with their timeline." Says Feeb. "They'll get back to the primary events soon. But for the moment, Hioshi and all the rest of the UA's are probably interested in seeing a Holiday Story."
"Oh." I say. "How does this concern _us_, as such?"
"_Because_." Says Feeb. "If you reveal the events of the past to them _now_, they won't be all that interested in reading about them as they _come._ And you remember how _IMPORTANT_ that was, at the time..." She waggles her eyebrows importantly at me.
"Right." I say. "Look, Feeb, we're treading on dangerous ground here, it seems. Why don't I just go do boring things until Hioshi loses interest and goes away? I don't want to risk messing up causality again."
She thinks. "Okay. Sounds good. What do you propose?"
"I'm going to go wash this fetid ichor off at one of the mercenary-operated restrooms outside."
"Good plan." Says Feeb. "I'll be waiting for you when you get back."
The Principal Indicator is still on.
Phoebe glances at it, briefly.
"Hioshi." Whispers Phoebe. "Charles isn't _here_ anymore."
The Principal Indicator still glows.
Phoebe frowns at the little device.
"Interesting." Says Phoebe, whipping out her clipboard, eyes still fixed on the Indicator. She clicks her pen open and begins taking careful notes. "Are we deciding not to be tied to Charles's P.O.V. anymore, 'yoshi?"
The Principal Indicator glows, still.
"Apparently." Says Phoebe.
There is a fizz and a pop, and, simultaneously, the light on the Indicator shifts from its placid 'exposition' state to its rather more disturbing scarlet-crimson 'plot' setting.
Phoebe sighs. "Come on, now, Hioshi. Do you really expect me to believe that--"
"Heh-wooooah..." Comes a voice from the entrance ramp. One might assign the meaning "Hello" to this utterance, if one were in a rather creative mood, linguistically speaking.
Phoebe whips around.
Standing at the entrance ramp is a Child of Disturbing Cuteness in little red pigtails and a cute li'l holiday dress.
The Indicator fizzles quietly to itself.
"Oh, no..." Breathes Phoebe.
"Heh-wooah." Says the little be-pigtailed girl. "Is San'a Heuh?"
"NO!" Shouts Phoebe, leaping frantically in front of the "Santa will be back at 'blank'" sign. "No! He isn't! He... uh... took a vacation to Tahiti! And he's never coming back! Shove off! Go! Shoo!"
"Oh, whazza pwobwem? Us Missus Cwaws _Scawed_ of somefing?"
Phoebe grits her teeth. "You _know_ you and your kind are not welcome here, you Child of Disturbing Cuteness, you! Clear off! Or I'll call the Management on you!"
The C.D.C. simply grins in a cute fashion and gestures with one cute little hand.
Phoebe follows her gesture to a tall, gaunt-faced man in a blue suit standing nearby. His eyes are blank and gray.
He wears a nametag that says, "Management."
The C.D.C. stares intently at Phoebe. "I Don't _FINK_ dat dat's gunna be a Pwobwem fouw me, Missus Cwaws." She grins in an undeniably cute but, somehow simultaneously, incredibly evil fashion.
"Isn't She Cute." Intones the Manager in a dull monotone.
"See?" Says the C.D.C. "_He_ doesn't mind dat I'm Heauw."
Phoebe's eyes narrow. "You _bitch._"
"Oh, come now, Missus Cwaws. You shouwdn't _say_ fings wike dat." The C.D.C.'s evil-cute blue eyes bore into Phoebe's. "In fact..." snarls the C.D.C., cutely, "I'm gunna have to ask yew not to do dat anymouw..."
Phoebe braces, eyes squinting and head slightly averted...
SMACK! The force of the Disturbingly Cute Request strikes Phoebe's willpower like a hammer might plateglass. This is no ordinary C.D.C. Bloody Hell... To harness such Disturbingly Cute Power... The ragged shreds of Phoebe's mind not currently being sandblasted by the awful power of "Pweeeze" marvel at the skill of this specimen. She must be a magus, a high priestess of her foul people...
In the ragged firestorm that is Phoebe's brain, words insinuate themselves.
"Now." Speaks the C.D.C., calmly and finally as a tomb, "Are yew gowing to wet me see San'a Cwaws?"
In Phoebe's tortured mind, an image forms.
It is an image of Charles, poor benighted, still-trying-to-cope-with-the-Universe Charles...
Faced with this... this... THING...
Phoebe realizes that Charles would, in all probability, not have even a _fraction_ of the mental strength and stability that she herself has... Phoebe's is a mind which has processed visions of parallel dimensions of horror and twisted alien civilizations occupying far-distant star systems via her Research; and through it all, she has gained a sort of spiritual "grit" for these sorts of beings and creatures.
"ARE YEW GOWING TO WET ME SEE SAN'A CWAWS!?!" Shrieks the horridly cute voice of the C.D.C.
Charles would, almost certainly, perish...
"NO!" Screams Phoebe, in a single, solid gasp of willpower that exhausts her soul and all its reserves all in one cathartic utterance. "NOOOOO!!!"
The C.D.C. stops.
"Isn't She Cute." Intones the Manager in the silence.
The C.D.C. looks curiously at Phoebe, who in the space of three minutes has become a broken relic of her former self. Her glasses are out of place, her formerly smart-looking Missus Claus costume hangs loose about her shoulders, and even her teased-up hair has fallen limp.
Phoebe breathes, in a great ragged gulp.
"Wew, den." Says the C.D.C., matter-of-fact-ly. "I guess I'm just gonna haf to settew fouw _Missus_ Cwaws, den..."
"...nooooooooooooo..." says Phoebe...
"PWEEEEEEEEEEEZE!" Shrieks the C.D.C. with her hell-cute Voice.
Phoebe's haggard resistance finally gives out, and she collapses to the floor of the "Visit Santa" booth like a pile of loose sticks.
"...all right, little girl..." says Phoebe, weakly. She rises to one shaky knee and sits herself in the big comfy "Visit Santa" chair. With a will that is not her own, Phoebe's palsied hand pats her lap invitingly.
"Yay!" Says the C.D.C., who promptly scampers up the ramp and plops down on Phoebe's lap.
"...what... is... your... name..." a deep breath, "...child..."
"Becky!" Says the C.D.C. happily. "...ooookay... um... Becky..."
A deep shudder of revulsion...
"Why don't you tell... Missus Claus... what you'd like... for... Christmas..."