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The Mundementia One Primer
by J.(Channing)Wells


The onrushing evening was a ghastly purple color by the time it reached the windows of the stately penthouse room of the Jefferson Hotel, deep in the stylish Downtown Quarter of Hoderund. If one could escape the city and gaze at the onrushing evening unpollutedly, one would see it to have a rather fetching and peaceful violet hue, but somewhere between the evening sun and this particular window things went fudgy and suddenly it all seemed perfectly awful.

Perhaps it was the taint of uneasy crimson which constantly seeped through the shuttered windows of Charles Dexter Ward Hall, home of the College of Ill-Advised Thaumaturgy -- that seemed a likely candidate. Or perhaps the sickliness of the light was due to the violent slashes of laser pastel that hurtled through this evening's sky, provided courtesy of the Art Department, whose current motto was, "Art: We Just Don't Know When to Quit." Perhaps the Insanity Bars were to blame. The Hot Coffee Woman seemed to recall flocks of neon-pink handbills stapled to telephone poles and slow-moving underclassmen advertising unrefined napalm for a buck twenty-five a pint -- was that tonight? It would certainly account for some of the sky's dim and smudgy redness. Always popular with the student body, the Insanity Bars were a fixture of the nightlife of Hoderund, Kansas, despite nightly drink specials that had, on occasion, obliterated entire suburban neighborhoods.

Perhaps it was the Campus Crusade for Shiny Objects, an organization currently occupied with the task of burning twelve metric tons of magnesium in the Inhabited Quarry on the far edge of town so they could gawk at it and make cooing noises. Perhaps it was the gasoline-soaked Phoenix Ferrets a couple of wiseacres from Daum Hall were launching from the antique trebuchet on their dormitory roof.

No, the Hot Coffee Woman eventually decided, it was probably the gigantic radioactive moth-creature zipping across the sky, plasma-tailed aerospace fighters in hot pursuit. Yes. That was definitely the problem. The giant radioactive moth and its attendant space fighters. She sighed, slightly, wishing that giant radioactive moth weren't there right now. Watching the sunset was one of the few things on the planet that truly relaxed her, and relaxation was in a bit short supply in the room tonight.

With ancient and long-practiced grace, the Hot Coffee Woman turned to the little wheely cart immediately to her left, removed a small styrofoam cup from a nested stack and filled it from the great and water-spotted stainless-steel percolator that the cart supported. Vapor wafted up from the mouth of the cup, framing her strong, middle-aged features in undulating halos of grey.

She then turned back to the table. "Gentlemen," she said. "Good evening to you all. And to you as well, Little Suzie," she then added, nodding down to the distressingly cute and bepigtailed child seated three places away. Little Suzie giggled slightly and smiled, showing pearl-like teeth, and it was all the Hot Coffee Woman could do to strangle the anguished cry that clambered frantically up from her lungs. It was some comfort to see the faces of the others in the room twist and screw themselves up in a similar effort. The Hot Coffee Woman had been positively livid to hear that a representative from the Children of Disturbing Cuteness had been selected to sit at this convening of the Syndicate Table. CDCs were an untrustworthy race of near-human black priestesses, capable of spiral-cutting the minds of men by the mere act of giggling and speaking in a winsome, precocious manner. Adding insult to injury, Little Suzie had elected to come to the meeting infested with a full complement of cooties and icky-girl-germs. By virtue of her gender, the Hot Coffee Woman was herself immune to their vile contagion, but she could see the patent unease on the faces of her male co-conspirators. They could not see the cooties, but oh my, did they know they were there.

Had it been up to the Hot Coffee Woman, the little monstrosity would never have been invited to this assemblage at all. But it hadn't been up to her.

The meeting had been called by the Overchicken. And the Overchicken was not someone whose whims you toyed with. No one knew why they called him the Overchicken. Some people said it was because of the giant chicken costume that he wore. It was all very mysterious.

Currently, the Overchicken was running fashionably late, having been delayed on his flight in from Frickin' Huge Rock, Colorado. This was, to the Hot Coffee Woman's mind, all for the best.

"Gentlemen," she repeated, then, because she had done a paragraph or two of internal narration, and she wished to re-frame the scene. "We do not know when the Overchicken will arrive, but I suggest we spend the intervening time with a brief summary of the Glass affair to make certain that we are all on the same page with this one. I think it should go without saying that we waste the Overchicken's time at our own peril."

"What the feck, I'm game," said a little green-bronze dragon perched on the high back of the chair immediately to her right. This was Vesper Ji. Like Little Suzie, he had no qualms about using his proper name at this assemblage, which suggested that somewhere behind the jaunty, half-comical grin that split his blunt little muzzle was a brain that fairly roared with self-importance. The Hot Coffee Woman had seen enough of him to suspect that at least a portion of that self-importance was justified. "Whatddya all need ta know?"

"Start from bare bones, if you please, Vesper," said the Hot Coffee Woman, standing with her back to the ghastly purple twilight. "I don't want anyone claiming base ignorance when the chips are down." The Hot Coffee Woman always stood at these meetings, in part because it gave her a more imposing, sinister aura and in part because, well, being part of an omnipotent secret conspiratorial qabal could get stressful sometimes, and inevitably, someone would eventually break out the whoopie-cushion. This was always good for a laugh, and it helped to break the ice a bit and allowed people to refocus and get back to the business of iron-fisted domination of the Earth with renewed vigor.

You might ask why she didn't just look at the chair before sitting down in it. A good question, well-asked, and it would work... WERE THE WHOOPIE-CUSHION NOT _INVISIBLE_.

"Hokay," said Vesper, throwing his little foreclaws wide and summoning a standard three-point Mystic Hologram. "From the beginning, then, salient bits first, more if we have time."

The image of a human form began to coalesce out of the twirling rainbows of the Hologram, spinning and twisting itself into the shape of--

"Wait a moment," interrupted a Nebbishy Young Man, seated directly across from Vesper, and at the sound of his voice, the pattern froze, mid-resolve.

"eeYess?" said Vesper, the faintest hint of good-natured irritation clouding his voice. All else was silence.

"Erm," said the Nebbishy Young Man. "I was just wondering how... er... secure this all is," he continued. "What with the open curtain and a--"

"The window is constructed of one-way Singularity Glass," replied the Hot Coffee Woman, briskly. "Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is leaving this room through that window. Light included. Sound included. Absolutely everything else you can possibly think of, included."

"So, let's say there is a fire or something--"

"Don't go out the window," finished the Hot Coffee Woman, sipping at her drink. "Just don't. Your loved ones would not be happy with us."

"That's all well and good," said a Nondescript Man seated nearby. He was, in fact, so nondescript, that he had taken to wearing one of those stick-on "Hello, My Name Is" nametags on his left breast pocket, upon which he had penned the words "Nondescript Man" in big red letters. "But what about the rest of the building? What about saboteurs equipped with cranial bombs?" One thing the Nondescript Man was totally obsessed with was the concept of people planting explosives inside either their own or other peoples' heads. The Hot Coffee Woman once motioned that the Nondescript Man's official name be changed to "That Frickin' Cranial Bomb Wanker", but it had been tabled after petulant opposition. She had been in a bit of a bad mood that day, and didn't mind so much now. "Nondescript Man" fit him better, anyway.

"The Jefferson Hotel is completely impregnable," wheezed a Well-Fed Man at the far end of the table, in between bites of sausage. "Its labrynthine hallways are prowled by gene-enhanced cyborg concierges, and its superstructure is capable of resisting a direct nuclear strike. Motion-sensitive limpet-style plasma mines have been deployed at every sensitive junction, and, as I'm certain you noticed on the way in, fifteen-foot fences of electrified razor wire separate these grounds from the street without."

"Arf," added a Happy Dog, currently hanging out near the the Well-Fed Man's chair, poised and ready to intercept any renegade sausage scraps. "Arf, arf, arf."

"Plus," added the Hot Coffee Woman, "we've taken the liberty of hiring some people to stand outside holding petitions so that people will feel uncomfortable with the thought of passing by them and will choose to cross to the other side of the street."

"PEOPLE HOLDING PETITIONS?!?" bellowed a Glasses-Wearing Twerp, seated elsewhere at the same table. "Bob's sake, woman, are you mental? People could get put on _mailing lists_ out there!"

"It's a risk we felt it necessary to take," said the Hot Coffee Woman, fixing the Glasses-Wearing Twerp with a sharp glare. "I think I speak for the group when I say that, whatever our... moral compunctions are about having people stand outside with petitions, we all appreciate the extra security it affords."

There were mutters from around the table, but no more voices of active dissent.

"Are we clear on this?"

Again, no one spoke. The Hot Coffee Woman nodded to Vesper, who resumed his arcane pass and set the Hologram into motion once more.

"Right," said Vesper, as the figure of a rather boring-looking young man emerged from the curls of light suspended above the table's center. He was of medium height and medium build, had medium blue eyes and carelessly-mussed medium-brown hair. He was outrageously medium. The figure was dressed in tennis shoes, a collegiate sweatshirt, jeans, and a light windbreaker.

"Here's da man himself," said Vesper, indicating the free-floating image. "Charles Madison Glass. La Guardya de la Duche Verdue. Fifty percent angel, fifty percent mortal, a recently-infected lycanthrope of uncertain phenotype. And if that weren't weird enough, he's a Mundane--at least he _was_. Take it away, Coffee Gal!" Vesper bowed his head and gestured dramatically at the Hot Coffee Woman.

"Short and sweet. Thank you, Vesper." The Hot Coffee Woman turned back to the assembly. "As Vesper noted, our Subject Zero is, genetically, an angel of the Most High God. He's also an English major, and until two days ago, he was as solid a Mundane as you could ever hope to meet."

"'Scuse me!" said Little Suzie, raising one hand in an insufferably cute fashion. The Hot Coffee Woman gritted her teeth and turned towards the little heckspawn.

"Yes, Suzie?" she said, choking back bile.

"What's a... Mundane?"

Oh, you little monster, thought the Hot Coffee Woman, you know full well what we're talking about. But feigned innocence was all part of her wicked little game, and even as she spoke, the Hot Coffee Woman knew herself to be powerless against the Black Invocation of Cute.

"Well, Little Suzie," she began, the words tumbling helplessly from her mouth like lemmings or bankrouted stockbrokers. "Try and imagine a world without flying saucers. A world without giant talking animals, without sapient household appliances. A world where there are no vampires; no pan-dimensional multiversal tourists; no rabid, carnivorous giraffes. A world so stark, so alien, so tedious, so mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly _banal_ that you or I would scarce recognize it to gaze upon it! Can you imagine what that would be like?"

Little Suzie thought hard. "It'd be so boring!" she exclaimed, at last, in the cute sort of way that made the Hot Coffee Woman's skin want to crawl off and take a nice long bath all by itself. "I can hardly do it!"

"Very good!" said the Hot Coffee Woman, through clenched teeth, mentally appending the words "you", "little" and "weasel". Clearly, she thought, it was time for intermediate measures, and she just happened to have one in the pocket of her blazer.

"Would you like a sucker?" added the Hot Coffee Woman, sweetly.

Little Suzie narrowed her eyes to angry winsome-blue slits. Black Cuteness was a potent but fragile discipline, and even a small transgression of its rigid strictures was likely to bring the occult architecture of Little Suzie's Cuteness crashing down around her frilly little lace-clad shoulders.

"Golly," she said, her voice blackening with wrath, "would I ever!"

The Hot Coffee Woman fished around for a moment, eventually withdrawing a suspicious-looking cobalt-hued lollipop from within the depths of her blazer. It was wrapped in cellophane and had one of those double-bent sticks intended to prevent conventional children from poking their eyes out with it, which would have been more considerate of it had it not contained enough animal tranquilizer to stun an elephant seal. It was, purportedly, Island Punch flavored. Let it never be said that the Hot Coffee Woman did not come prepared to these meetings.

"Gee, thanks!" said Little Suzie, hatefully, as she set about the task of unwrapping the Unsafety Pop. The Hot Coffee Woman took a moment to steady and re-compose herself as Little Suzie began, helplessly, to suck. From across the table, the Nebbishy Young Man afforded her a look of guarded thanks and admiration; earlier this evening, Little Suzie had forced him to play "Horsie" with her for the better part of an hour, and that's the sort of thing you just don't recover from.

"Shall I continue?" she asked, at last.

"Oh, yes!" cried Little Suzie, her eyes going waxy as her arcane powers struggled to bring her central nervous system back under control. "I wanna... ergh... hear more about Mundane people!"

"Well, all right," continued the Hot Coffee Woman, leaning over and resting her hands on her thighs. "Sometimes when a person is born, they have a problem with their brain that doesn't allow them to see what the world is really like. We call these people 'Mundanes'. Most of them spend their entire lives worrying about gasoline prices, academic marks, and something called the 'Prime Rate'. And all that time, they don't give a moment's thought to the really important things. The sensible things. Like mutagenic viruses. Alien invasions. The rise of the Great Old Ones."

"Bombs," interjected the Nondescript Man, "being planted in their skulls!"

"Thank you," said the Hot Coffee Woman, standing back upright and going over to the percolator for a refill. "That too. You see, Little Suzie, most Mundane people are so crazy that they don't even believe that these things exist."

"Yrrrghl," replied little Suzie, struggling against the heavy tranquilizers. The Hot Coffee Woman looked on, approvingly. The barbiturates were really slowing her down. Her idea had worked surprisingly well; like giving candy, she thought, to a baby.

"There are others -- less severe cases -- who are somehow aware of their own delusional states," she continued. "They know what the truth is, and that it's out there; they can almost feel it... yet it ever eludes them. These poor souls live their lives in various shades of mania and desperation, pining for a reality they will never see."

"Yrrrghl," repeated little Suzie.

"And then, there are those people who, for whatever reason, are able to break free of this insanity. There they are, puttering around in their stupid little lives, reading gardening books and assembling stock portfolios when bam, pow, reality comes crashing in and suddenly they realize that they've spent the past eighteen years giving financial presentations to a patch of geraniums, and what's more, that they are in fact a seventeen-ton fire-breathing lizard. This comes as a bit of a shock to most of them, and it brings about a state of panic and maladaptive coping known as 'Mundementia One', which is a term we use to --"

The Hot Coffee Woman risked another glance at Little Suzie, who continued to suck intently at her lollipop even as her head lolled and her eyelids flickered and drooped. "Look," she said, "does anyone object if we get back to the main thrust, now that she's properly comatose?"

The Happy Dog licked himself quietly, yet industriously. No other objections were raised. "Right," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "Vesper?"

"Way ahead of ya, Java," said Vesper, the words rattling off his tongue like ball bearings. "Everybody well and truly sick of lookin' at laughing-boy here? No? Well, too bad! 'Cause we got more to show you! Cominatcha Five! Four! Three-two-one! Bam!" Vesper gestured dramatically and the first image exploded into patterns of colored light which, in turn, coalesced into the image of three standing figures, only one of them human. The human, occupying the central position, was a frizzy-blonde little thing with tiny round glasses and an intensely starched white lab coat. On her left was a largish raptor-themed saurian shape that looked for all the world to have been stitched together from dinosaur scraps. The image had caught it in the act of plaiting a daisy chain with its wicked, flesh-rending claws. The third figure was the smallest, a three-foot tall fuzzy grey monkey-like thing with a long, stripey tail and a fifty-caliber Steiner-Gant semiportable minigun that actually seemed a bit larger than its owner's entire body.

"Traveling companions," said Vesper, matter-of-factly. "Phoebe 'Feeb' Dimmesdale, LUD3A, Sophomore. Feeb here belongs to the College of Mad Sciences. We've got one of her Freshperson honors projects on file, let me jes' call it up, here..."

Vesper gestured idly with one free claw, scribing a triangular rune in the air, and after a faint lead-in hiss, a voice came crackling over the mystic airwaves.

"Okay, Miss Dimmesdale," said the voice. "Whenever you're ready."

"Oh, geez," said a second voice, a bit tremulous and giddy. There was the sound of a deep breath being drawn, and then it deflated into a nervous giggle.

"It's okay," said the first voice. "Take your time."

"No, I got it, I got it. I'm ready now." Another deep breath, and then, with a mighty bellowing cackle that rattled the walls and overloaded the thaumic frequencies of Vesper's link, the voice cried out...


The terrible noise faded. There was a brief pause.

"I screwed up," said the voice, at last, sheepishly. "Can I just--"

"No, no," said the first voice. "A lot of people do that. It's fine. We don't take off for that."

"Phew!" said the girl's voice, in theatrical relief. "So when do we get the results back?"

Vesper made another rune, this one square-shaped, and the transmission ended. "So that's Feeb," said Vesper.

"She does look the part," said the Nebbishy Young Man, giving the hologram a critical eye. "But what can she _do_, exactly?"

"With a laugh like that," wheezed the Well-Fed Man, "does it matter?"

"Of course it matters," said the Hot Coffee Woman, crisply. "One hopes that she's actually learning some amount of evil mad science amidst all the hairstyles and the frippery."

"Relax, Java," whispered Vesper.

"It's not as though someone's not paying good money to put her there," continued the Hot Coffee Woman, heedless. "The least they could do with these kids is make certain they have their evil fundamentals down before dashing off on the charismatic aspects of it all." She shook her head, then, and addressed the Syndicate proper. "I'm sorry," she said, "this is just a sore spot with me."

"No worries," said the Nebbishy Young Man, brightly.

"Your concern," wheeze-admitted the Well-Fed Man, "is a well-founded one."

"Arf!" said the Happy Dog.

"Yrrrghl," said Little Suzie.

The Hot Coffee Woman took a long sip from her cup. "Evil just isn't what it used to be," she concluded.

"Can we get back to business, here?" said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp. "Last time I checked, the Overchicken was still planning on dropping by, and I've got Pilates class at nine."

The Hot Coffee Woman took another long sip. "The act of agreeing with you," she said, at last, "makes me physically ill. But you have a point. We've set out our _dramatis personae_. Vesper, can you bring us up to speed on how our friends have been spending the past couple days?"

"The two-bit tour it is. We'll have a chance to review the complete transcripts when the Overchicken gets here."

"Wait," said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp, whose job it was to object to things, apparently. "'Transcripts'?"

The Hot Coffee Woman took a moment to gather her thoughts and to organize her phrasing; much to her relief, the Nebbishy Young Man butted into the pause, saving her the act of saying the next bit.

"Ever since Monday morning we've been in connection with Shartooie TiaraNet out in Frickin' Huge Rock. In fact, that's where the Overchicken has been all this time, if I'm not mistaken...?" The Nebbishy Young Man looked at the Hot Coffee Woman for confirmation. She nodded curtly in response. Best not to seem too connected to the plan, at this point...

"They are currently in the process," he continued, "of preparing a dramatically complete account of Mr. Glass's week. To the best of their ability."

"Holy fuck," said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp. All else, save for a few nervous shuffles, was silence. "Do you have any idea what that level of TiaraNet processing time is going to cost us?" he continued. "How on earth are we planning to bankroll this?"

"We're selling advertising space in the middle of the narrative," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "We've got some scheduled shortly, if I'm not mistaken. Vesper?"

"Ayep. Comin' up pretty soon."

"ADVERTISING SPACE?!?" said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp, taking it straight to apoplexy.

"Yes," said the Hot Coffee Woman, calmly. "So there you have it. The good folks at BreemCo are hefting most of this weight, we've got a couple other vendors in line, and the rest we're taking out of the party budget. We are trying very, very hard to keep abreast of the developing situation."

"But... a dramatically complete accounting?" asked the Nondescript Man.

"If we didn't think it absolutely necessary, we wouldn't be doing it," said the Hot Coffee Woman, sharply. "Now can we please wrench this meeting violently back on topic?"

"Violent wrenching in progress, Java," said Vesper. "Basically, what we know is this. Sunday evening, midway through a performance of Berlioz's 'Symphonie Fantastique' at Harper Hall auditorium, Charles Madison Glass was bitten on the hand by a garden-variety were-poodle, an act which initiated a rapid, catastrophic breakdown of his Shroud of Mundanity. He is himself infected now, but based on the chaotic nature of the therianthropic bug, we can't get a good read on what exactly his were-phenotype is."

"Do we have any hints from his behavior?" suggested the Well-Fed Man, wheezing. Again. Tell you what--just presume that he's wheezing whenever he says anything. It'll just be quicker that way.

"Whatever it is seems to like Macaroni and Cheese," said Vesper, unapologetically. "That's it."

"Not terribly helpful," said the Well-Fed Man. "I personally know many animals who take much enjoyment out of Macaroni and Cheese."

"Arf!" said the Happy Dog, enthusiastically.

"Yrrrghl," said Little Suzie.

"I stock my bird feeder with it, in fact," said the Well-Fed Man. "He wouldn't by chance be a wood thrush, or a squirrel, or something? They always seem highly motivated by macaroni products."

"That's just it," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "We don't know." She sighed. "At this point, however, that is the least of our worries. Vesper, continue."

"Roger. Shortly after his Shroud went bye-bye, Glass entered Mundementia One. Basically, his first act was to run all willy-nilly back to Omega House on fraternity row, where he inadvertently loosed Ashraak, a minor deity of profanity and untidiness whom he had roomed with Freshperson year. He promptly died."

"They usually do," said the Well-Fed Man. "Sad, really."

"Typically, that would be the end of the story," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "But for whatever reason--childish loyalty, ill-conceived compassion, what-have-you--he was raised from the dead by Phoebe Dimmesdale. With the minions of Ashraak in hot pursuit, Glass, Dimmesdale and their two minions set out on an epic quest to procure a hot, gooey cinnamon roll to appease this man. Vesper?"

Vesper gestured, and the image of a stocky, heavy-set fellow of African descent dressed in a tattered hat and longcoat resolved itself out of the holographic twist.

"DeJesus," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "An absurdly powerful godlike figure who Phoebe theorizes is some kind of 'watcher' from a higher plane of being. In exchange for the cinnamon roll, DeJesus put our heroes on the scent of the Three Highly-Important Swords, with the strong implication that they were the key to beating the loosed Ashraak back to the frat house from whence he came."

"The Three Highly-Important Swords, indeed!" said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp, and you just knew that next he was going to say something snide and sarcastic like, "What rubbish! The Highly-Important Swords have been gone for ages! How can they possibly hope to use them to trump Ashraak?" He promptly did so, except for he didn't use the word "trump".

"These are prophecy-bearing heroes," said the Nebbishy Young Man. "You'd be surprised."

"Two other factions need to be accounted for," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "First, Doctor Benjamin, or 'Reggie', Harte. Vesper?" Vesper gestured, and the image of an affable, lanky man in academic robes carrying an onyx-headed cane appeared at the center of the table. "Dr. Harte represents everyone's worst fears in this case," continued the Hot Coffee Woman. "Posing as a psychiatrist from the Mundane world Glass left behind, this tenured University mage played into everything our angelic friend wanted to believe--that the real world he was seeing for the first time was nothing more than some schizophrenic delusion. We cannot be wholly sure of his motives, but we believe that Harte saw great opportunity in Glass's confused state."

"Explain," said the Well-Fed Man.

"As a celestial being," said the Hot Coffee Woman, "Charles has the ability to reshape the reality that surrounds him to his whim. The main reason he's not doing it right now is that, on account of his Mundanity, _he doesn't believe he can_. But convince him strongly enough that something IS, and, well, you might just end up with it being that way."

"Way-way-wait a second," said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp. "Harte was trying to convince Charles Glass that his old, Mundane view of the world was correct. So that means..."

"Had he succeeded, Harte would have been able to create and enforce Mundanity wherever he wanted it. All he'd have needed to do was to point his pet angel at it."

"Man," said the Nebbishy Young Man, sitting back in his chair, shaking his head. "Man," he repeated.

"You see why we all have a vested interest in keeping a very close eye on Mr. Glass," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "And why we're pulling out all the stops to make certain he doesn't elude our gaze for long."

"You speak of Harte in the past tense," noted the Well-Fed Man.

"He's dead," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "Killed by Glass's pet goldfish. The reason we bring him up here is that a mage of his talent usually doesn't stay dead for long."

"You mentioned another faction," said Another Voice at the Table.

"Way-High Technologies." A disconcerted mutter ran through the assemblage, over which the Hot Coffee Woman added, "Specifically, its CEO, Mr. William 'Way-High Willie' Stein himself."

"Sheep on a stick," swore the Glasses-Wearing Twerp. "What has this guy been doing, putting out personal ads saying, 'Attention Really Dangerous and Powerful People! Would _YOU_ like to be my enemy?'"?

"Not as such," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "But somehow, on top of all his other troubles, Glass has managed to get a hold of the One (Deposit) Can, the most dangerous and evil empty beverage container in all of creation."

"Two sheep, two separate sticks," amended the Glasses-Wearing Twerp. "Scratch that. Two sheep, same friggin' stick. Friggin' cotton swab. How on _earth_ did he do that?"

"We don't know," said Vesper. "All y'all have got is what I know, and all's I know is that some time this morning, Glass showed up in Mislocated Bermuda with this thing."

"Vesper has been doing work for the Syndicate in Mislocated Bermuda," explained the Hot Coffee Woman. "He's keeping tabs on the dictator of How Come Eh for us, monitoring the Generalissimo's metatextual causality-wrangling for us."

"Yeah," said Vesper, "and it was all going pretty swell, too. Suddenly Glass shows up and everything goes to heck."

"So he's still there?" asked the Nebbishy Young Man. "In Mislocated Bermuda?"

"Ayep," said Vesper. "And as soon as I cue up the commercials, I have to head on back there myself before people start wondering where I've gotten to."

"This is nuts," said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp.

The Nebbishy Young Man shook his head. "He's right," he said. "This is too big for us. We poke our fingers too far into this mess we're going to get burned, but good."

"If only we had installed minature bombs in all of their skulls," said the Nondescript Man, sadly.

"Yrrrghl," said Suzie.

"What if we were to fold now?" said the Nebbishy Young Man. "Pull out, perform the usual sterilization, forget we ever saw any of this? No one would link back to us. We could restart Project Ubermensch, or that Alpha Proxima thing! Why do we need to--

The Hot Coffee Woman silenced the Nebbishy Young Man with a sharp look. Generally, she got along well with the nerdy little guy, but seditious speech was seditious speech. "Gentlemen... and lady," said the Hot Coffee Woman nodding to Suzie.

"Yrrrghl," replied Suzie, graciously.

"The reason that we cannot simply abandon this affair and return to Project Ubermensch is that, left unchecked and uncontrolled, Charles Madison Glass may cause there not to _be_ a Project Ubermensch. Additionally, he may cause there not to be a Hoderund, Kansas for us to base our Project Ubermensch in; and, he may cause there not to be a me"--she held the flat of her hand to her chest, then pointed at random around the room--"or a you, or a you to staff said project. And other operatives may not be available to replace you, because in this hypothetical--but, and I must stress this point, _wholly possible_--scenario, there may not be any of _those_ left, either! Am I coming close to making a point in your brains? We are playing a game whose 'pot' currently consists of the fate of the civilized world, and Charles Madison Glass is a wild card waiting to be played. He is a loose cannon of the highest imaginable caliber. If any of you--"

There was a knock at the door.

"The Overchicken," said the Nebbishy Young Man, in tones of hushed deference.

"The Overchicken never knocks," said the Hot Coffee Woman, tensely. "Quickly--who else knows about our gathering? Was anyone tr--"

"That, ah, may be the pizza I ordered," wheezed the Well-Fed Man.

The Hot Coffee Woman pivoted slowly to face the Well-Fed Man, her eyelids fluttering.

"I'm sorry," said the Hot Coffee Woman, "I must be deep in the throes of some psychotic delusion. I could have sworn that you just said something about having ordered a pizza."

"It was to be a long meeting," said the Well-Fed Man, from a position of smug, inassailable superiority. "I took... certain measures... into my own hands."

"You could have brought a bag of pretzels or something!" hissed the Hot Coffee Woman.

"Hey!" said an adolescent female voice on the other side of the door. "Anybody from, um..." There came the sound of a receipt being consulted. "'The Secret,' um, 'Illuminated Conspiracy Syndicate' order a half-pepperoni half-pineapples-n'-ham in there?"

"NO!" shouted the Hot Coffee Woman, letting fly with the first thing that came to mind. "We're bakers!"

"'Bakers'?" mouthed the Nebbishy Young Man.

"Ix-Nay!" mouthed the Hot Coffee Woman, making a slashing motion at her throat. "Yes!" she said, loudly. "We are part of a baking convention! Boy, you should see the many kinds of bread we produce! It is truly astonishing!"

"See, that's weird," said the pizza delivery girl, "because here on the room schedule it says 'Secret Illuminated Conspiracy Syndicate, three pee em to eight thirty pee em', or somejunk like that, y'know?"

"All right," said the Hot Coffee Woman, in a fierce whisper, "which one of you registered this room using the Syndicate name?"

"Um, that was me," said the Nondescript Man. "I tried to tell the guy at the desk that we'd be needing the room for a fishmonger's regional planning meeting, but then it didn't match the credit card, so I had to tell him the truth. And I guess they put the meeting room schedule outside the door or something."

"We have... a credit card."

"Yup," said the Nondescript Man, brightly. "A company one. We got this great deal on one in the mail and we all thought it'd be more convenient than all that messing around with the Swiss bank accounts and such."

"We have... a credit card... with the name 'Secret Illuminated Conspiracy Syndicate' on it."

"Yup," said the Nondescript Man, a wraith of doubt entering his eyes.

"Do any of you," she said, looking around the room, "see any sort of, oh, I don't know, PROBLEMS attached to this idea?"

"Hello?" said the pizza delivery girl. "Anybody in there wanna--"

"Put the pizza outside the door and walk away, young woman!" bellowed the Hot Coffee Woman. "Speak nothing of what you have here seen, and I promise you, you will be well rewarded! But! Should even one word, nay, the merest SYLLABLE of this pass your lips, you shall know agony such as no mortal hath ever tasted!"

"You gotta, um, sign the slip," said the pizza girl, uncomfortably. "If you want to, um, reward me, or somejunk, there's a thing where you can write the tip in underneath, I guess."

"The... slip?" said the Hot Coffee Woman.

"We paid with the credit card," wheezed the Well-Fed Man.

"Oh, this is GREAT!" said the Hot Coffee Woman, hastily stuffing several Indigo Clearance dossiers--whose contents, if exposed, would rock the entire Western World--into her briefcase, next to the autographed photo of Tom Jones. "There," she said, "someone go sign for the rotten pizza."

The door opened to reveal a girl dressed in traditional Pizza Forge livery, holding a Steyr-AUG bullpup submachine gun in one hand and a sensible, iron-grey box with the picture of a white-hatted man stenciled on its lid in the other. The white-hatted man was kissing the tips of his fingers and a word balloon indicated that he was saying the words, "Its-ah Good-ah!". A cyborg concierge lurked in the shadows immediately behind her.

"So, like, um, seventeen fifty," said the pizza girl.

"There was to be twisty bread," said the Well-Fed Man, in his blandest threatening tone, not rising from his chair. "Did your operatives in the kitchen run into some... difficulty?"

"Crap," said the pizza girl, yawning. "I forgot it in the car. Lemme go get it."

"No," said the Well-Fed Man, imperiously, "you will not. Your failures have jeopardized the completeness of my meal. You are being removed from this assignment. Another operative will be taking your place."

The pizza girl yawned again. "Okay," she said, chucking the pizza box onto the table. "If you really want somebody else to go down to my car to get your twisty bread, that's cool. Can I sit down?"

"No," said the Hot Coffee Woman. "Look, just go on and get the bread. Ignore him. He always talks like that."

"Yeah," said the pizza girl. "You secret illuminated folks kinda do that, I noticed."

"We're bakers!" insisted the Hot Coffee Woman, desperately.

"Ho-kay," said the pizza girl, pursing her lips. "Whatever you say, secret illuminated lady."

"Just get the damn twisty bread!" she said.

"NO ONE," came a loud and insufferably cute voice from the other side of the table, "WILL BE GETTING ANY TWISTY BREAD!"

"Crap," said the Hot Coffee Woman, turning slowly around. "It's Little Suzie."

"YOU ALL THOUGHT YOU COULD GET ME TO NAP FOR THE WHOLE MEETING!" continued Little Suzie, leaping up from her chair. "WELL! YOU THOUGHT WRONG! MY POWERS HAVE RESTORED ME TO MY FULL STRENGTH! AND NOW... *I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE!*" The Happy Dog growled at her from beneath the Well-Fed Man's chair.

"Look," said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp, getting up from his chair. "Does anybody else have any experience with beating up little girls? Because if not, I might as well--"

"Oh," said Little Suzie, winsomely, her back to the picture window, "I don't think you'll be able to beat _me_ up! After all, I'm just a cute and helpless little GIRL!!!" She smiled, hugely, inhumanly, showing dimples.

"You'd be surprised, little chickadee," said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp, cracking his knuckles as he rounded the table. "I've beaten up helpless little girls cuter than you."

"May... bee!" said Little Suzie, her voice edging over into the into the awful dipthonized syllables of Cute. "But you may find it hawd to beat me up when you'w BEATING YOUW HEAD AGAINST THE TABLE!"

"What the--" said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp.

"Pweeze, mistuw scawy man!" said Little Suzie, dark and hell-black energies spiraling about her, "BEAT YOUW HEAD AGAINST THE TABLE! NOW!"

"She... is... pretty cute..." said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp. "After all, what could it h-- NO! FOUL WITCH!" he dove at Little Suzie, his hands lunging for her throat.

"PWEEEEEZE!" said Little Suzie, and like some sort of grotesque marionette, the Glasses-Wearing Twerp halted his forward momentum and began striking his head repeatedly against the imitation woodgrain conference table.

"Oh, haha!" said the Glasses-Wearing Twerp, disjointedly, between bashes, "What games these children think up!" Smash. "Aren't they cute?" Smash. "A ha! A haha!" Smash.

The Hot Coffee Woman vaulted across the table to where the pizza girl loafed in a casual slouch. It takes quite a bit to faze a pizza delivery person in Hoderund.

"Shoot her!" said the Hot Coffee Woman, gesturing at the submachine gun.

"Can't shoot customers," said the pizza girl, yawning. "Boss got real angry last time."

"For Pete's sake!" said the Hot Coffee Woman. "Here. Give it here."

"M'not s'posed to let unauthorized people use Pizza Forge suppression equipment," she said. "Had to sign a contract an' everything."

"Gaah!" said the Hot Coffee Woman, and began to try to wrestle the Steyr-AUG out of the pizza girl's grasp, who turned out to be both stronger and more dedicated to the task of holding on to the gun than she at first appeared.

"Look, conspiracy lady," said the pizza girl, "if you want me to go get your twisty bread, you're gonna HAVE to stop trying to wrestle the gun outta my hands."

"STAND BACK!" shouted the Nondescript Man, leaping to his feet and putting his hands on the Nebbishy Young Man's shoulders. "I have a bomb planted in this man's skull, and I'm NOT AFRAID TO USE IT!"

"You _what_?!?" said the Nebbishy Young Man. "When did you do that?!?"

"This January," said the Nondescript Man. "You got beaned while we were playing racquetball. Remember?"

"You installed a cranial bomb in my head WHILE I WAS RECOVERING FROM A CONCUSSION?!?"

"What can I say," said the Nondescript man. "I hated to waste the opportunity. SO DON'T TRY ANYHING FUNNY, LITTLE SUZIE, OR MY FRIEND HERE _GETS IT!_"


With a sharp crash, the Singularity Glass of the picture window behind Little Suzie shattered into a thousand space-rending shards. Little Suzie had just enough time to make an adorable little "O" of surprise with her mouth before she was dragged bodily out the open window into the falling night by one ginormous feathery-haired limb.

"It's the radioactive moth-creature!" shouted the Hot Coffee Woman, and at the tail end of her shout there came a gurgling scream; while it was in fact both sickening and blood-curdling, it was also quite undeniably Cute.

Meanwhile, the shattered fragments of Singularity Glass came to the quantum equivalent of a realization that they were (a) no longer part of a cohesive whole, and (b) no longer bound by the Heisenberg restraints that kept them, whilst part of said cohesive whole, from really getting down to business. So, in the quantum equivalent of showing off, they began by sucking in the ambient light, plunging the room into muddy darkness. This having been accomplished, they started on more meaty and relativistically stable targets, such as the coffee percolator, two or three conference chairs, the pizza and a portion of the exterior wall. Aiding in the deconstruction of the exterior wall was the radioactive moth-creature, who was currently settling into a nice, comfortable "destroy-the-sturdy-outer-husk-so-as-to-consume-the-fleshlings-within" sort of groove, and it was relishing the experience.

Cat-quick, the pizza girl left the Hot Coffee Woman's side on a diving roll, and in the quantum darkness, there came the sound of sharp gunfire, joined by the musical tones of a Guided Explosive Projectile system coming on-line; this, presumably from the cyborg concierge in the hall. The room shook from the nearby impact of photon torpedoes (presumably launched from the trailing aerospace fighters, whose pilots were never one to give up a fight merely on the possibility of massive colateral damage or innocent lives lost.) Searing white light erupted all about, the thousand-odd miniature singularities gobbled it greedily, a good portion of the conference table crumbled to powder and all was chaos and din. And amidst it all stood the Hot Coffee Woman, who was, all told, pretty used to this sort of thing going on.

And then all was darkness again. The singularities began swallowing themselves into nothingness, the moth-creature moved away to terrorize another part of the city, and the scattered members of the Secret Illuminated Conspiracy Syndicate began picking themselves up from the rubble and dusting off their well-tailored suits. The pizza girl slung her submachine gun across her back and stood up from her crouch, no doubt calculating in her head how much of a tip this was going to earn her. And Vesper Ji, who had been hiding this whole time in an audiovisual cabinet, hopped back to one of the remaining chairs and said, "Cool."

There was a moment of silence, and then the door to the hall swung open.

Silhouetted in the rectangle of light was the man in the enormous chicken costume, all ebony black from beak to toe. He held under one wing a voluminous manuscript, but he held it loosely, for he had just flown in from Colorado, and my, were his arms tired.

"Bawk," said the Overchicken, and tossed the manuscript onto what remained of the table.

And the wind from the gaping hole in the outer wall ruffled through the corner-bound pages, as the wind is wont to do, leafing the manuscript open to the following inscription:

* * * * * * *

Mundementia One, Book Two: The Book of Going Forth

* * * * * * *

::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux -INTERRUPT

?Shartooie Dataflux Sysadmin writes:
//Message (Mun1: The Book of Going Forth (*/*) REM:
Conclusion of Second Book) Mandatory Paid Advertisement//

The conclusion of _Mundementia One, Book Two: The Book of Going Forth_ is brought to you by:

_Lipizorg_. Ask _your_ doctor about Lipizorg.


_Reactio Soup_! It's Not Condensed, You Twit!


_New Fast-Acting Extra-Strength Breem!_ Now in Super- Concentrated Tabs!

::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux Commercialspace -INITIATE






(Vid: A busy streetside scene outside a medical clinic. Adult daughter in polished red SUV. Grey-haired FATHER ambles out of clinic, using cane.)

(FATHER gets into the car. A beat.)


FATHER: (resolute) I asked my doctor about Lipizorg.

(Vid: White screen with the word "Lipizorg" printed across the page in progressive, classy letters.)

VOICEOVER: Ask _your_ doctor about Lipizorg.


(Vid: Back to the streetside scene)

DAUGHTER: So what did he say?

FATHER: (with increasing intensity) He said that Lipizorg is A GIANT ROBOT MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE!

DAUGHTER: (screams)


DAUGHTER: (panicking) But what about Doctor Falan?


(Vid: At FATHER's urging, DAUGHTER rams the SUV into gear and tears out into the busy street just as the front facade of the medical clinic breaks and crumbles as a huge, gun-metal blue foot crashes through it.)

(Vid: Interior of SUV.)

DAUGHTER: (sobbing) Poor Doctor Falan!

FATHER: He gave his life for us, Steffie! I won't have you make his death have been in vain!


FATHER: (pointing) LOOK OUT!

(DAUGHTER swerves hard to avoid an entire falling skyscraper, then turns to speed along down a back alley, just wide enough for the SUV to traverse.)

(SFX: People screaming, police sirens, and above all, the terrible, awful roaring of Lipizorg.)

DAUGHTER: (hyperventilating, eyes locked on the road) Okay. Okay. _What else_ did your doctor tell you about Lipizorg?

FATHER: He told me that Lipizorg is repelled by strong electromagnetic fields! They cause him... pain!

DAUGHTER: (snap-point) The hydroelectric plant!

FATHER: Yes. That should hold him off. Give us time... to _think!_

DAUGHTER: This alley should come out at Seventeenth--

(DAUGHTER gasps as she sees the end of the alley; a wrecked semi blocks the egress, tossed on its side like a child's plaything. The SUV speeds inexorably closer.)

FATHER: It can't end this way!

DAUGHGER: (stern) Hold on, Dad.

(Vid: Outside shot of the alley. In an impossible leap, the SUV comes roaring up over the overturned truck, lands in a shower of sparks, and skids into a turn.)

FATHER: (mopping brow) That was some fancy driving, Steffie. Thanks... for saving our hides.

DAUGHTER: And thank _you_... for asking your doctor about Lipizorg.

(They exchange a knowing smile. The SUV speeds down the wreckage-strewn street towards the safety of the hydro plant and the sunset, as the giant robot monster screeches in triumph nearby.)

VOICEOVER: Ask _your_ Doctor about Lipizorg. Before it's too late!

(the VOICEOVER continues in a lower tone)

VOICEOVER: Lipizorg is not for everyone. Persons who value life, limb and general bodily soundness should not encounter Lipizorg. Persons encountering Lipizorg frequently report being burned to a cinder by his horrible laser eyes or being crushed beneath his titanic feet. These side-effects are common. Persons should consult their physicians before, and after, encountering Lipizorg. Lipizorg is a registered trademark of Giant Robot Monsters from Space, Incorporated, a division of Phillip Morris.

***END Commercialspace1***






(Vid: A rustic Ski Lodge somewhere in the American Northeast. A young man sits at a handsome wood-block table, eating a bowl of whitish-looking cream soup. White lights from the large windows, showing snowy hills.)

(A perky-looking young woman with a big toothy smile steps in from outside. She wears a thin skiing jacket and carries ski poles.)

HUSBAND: (looking up) Good morning, hon! How were the slopes out there?

PERKY WIFE: (hanging up coat) Great!

HUSBAND: Y'know, this is everything I dreamed our honeymoon would be. The fresh snow, the cold air...

(PERKY WIFE looks at the table and sees the soup. A tiny muscle twitches beneath one eye, but her grin does not slip an inch.)

PERKY WIFE: (brittle, but grinning) Yeah! It's perfect! Except for that _stench!_

HUSBAND: (stammers for a moment) Er... honey?

PERKY WIFE: (still grinning) WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!?

HUSBAND: Clam... chowder?

(PERKY WIFE whacks him solidly over the head with one of the ski poles.)

PERKY WIFE: (as though saying the words 'you had sex with a _WHAT_?!?') CONDENSED SOUP?!?

(HUSBAND is too frightened to respond.)

PERKY WIFE: I mean, sure, condensed soup was okay when you were a tit-sucking rugrat, but come _on_! You're an adult now, and my husband, and you need a better soup than _THAT_.

HUSBAND: (small voice) Susan...?

(PERKY WIFE reaches into HUSBAND's bowl of soup with one mittened hand and draws out a piece of clam.)

PERKY WIFE: SEE?!? You call _This_ a piece of clam?

(Still grinning fiercely, she tosses the offending piece at him, then knocks the entire contents of the table to the floor with one of her poles.)

HUSBAND: (babbling now) Okay, okay, tell me what I should eat!

(PERKY WIFE draws a can out of the waistband of her ski pants)


(Vid: The camera shows us the label: "Reactio Soup")

(Vid: PERKY WIFE slams the can down on the table and opens it with a vicious downward ski-pole stab, then dumps the contents all over the table. She then rams HUSBAND's face into the mass of creamy goodness.)

PERKY WIFE: None of _your_ pansy-ass chowder here, boy!

HUSBAND: Mrrphpmr!


(PERKY WIFE finally lets HUSBAND up, who gasps for breath.)

HUSBAND: (frantic) Okay! Okay! I'll never eat condensed soup again!

PERKY WIFE: Good! Now let's talk about your sister! Wow, what a _DOG_ she is!

(Vid: Camera backs up, sound cuts out. VOICEOVER.)

VOICEOVER: Reactio. For when you're ready for a _Grown-up_ soup, you big Wuss.

***END Commercialspace2***






(Vid: Downstairs in a traditional upper-middle class house in the suburbs. SON is there, dressed in an academic gown and mortarboard. An air of bustle. SISTER rushes upstairs in the background. DAD accosts the new graduate.)

DAD: Your mother and I are so proud of you, son.

SON: (blushing) Thanks, dad.

DAD: Hey, how about a game of one-on-one with your old man?

SON: Dad, I'll miss the ceremony!

DAD: (winking) I'll find the basketball pump.

VOICEOVER: (to soft background music) There are some days when your life changes forever.

(Vid: MOM enters as DAD leaves. She is holding a glass of red wine and a plate of spaghetti with meatballs.)

MOM: Your father's right, Carl. Not everyone can earn a Bachelor of Arts in Quantum Physics.

SON: Aw, Mom.

VOICEOVER: (to soft background music) Days you'll want to remember for the rest of your life.

(Suddenly the background music turns dark and stuttering. MOM puts her hand to her temple in apparently excruciating pain. The plate of spaghetti falls all over SON's graduation gown, while, in slow motion, the glass of red wine tumbles to the white carpeting.)

SON: Mom?

MOM: (distraught) Oh... it's just this migraine! (she recovers some composure) Oh, no, Carl, just look at your gown!

SON: Mom, forget the gown, look at your carpeting!

VOICEOVER: You wanted _everything_ to go exactly right.

MOM: (still touching her temple, looking at CARL's gown.) Oh, this'll never come out in time!

DAD: (apparently from garage) Hey! I can't find the basketball pump!

VOICEOVER: But there are some things you just can't plan for.

SON: (watching the carpet) That'll soak through to the padding if we don't clean it up soon.

DAD: (from garage) Lemme just climb up on this ladder-- OUCH! DAMN!

MOM: (calling out) Jonathan? What is it?

VOICEOVER: That's why there's new Fast-Acting Extra-Strength Breem, now in Super-Concentrated Tabs.

DAD: (from garage) I'm... I'm having chest pains...

SON: Dad?

VOICEOVER: If it happened to you...

(Vid: SISTER rushes down from upstairs, wailing.)

SISTER: I'M... (sobs) PREGNANT!!!

VOICEOVER: Would _you_ know what to do?

(Vid: Camera fade to blank white backdrop, showcasing a plain white can with the word "BREEM" printed on it in no-nonsense black letters.)

VOICEOVER: Breem. Now in Super-Concentrated Tabs.

(Vid: A hand reaches into the scene and deposits a smallish rectangular box, similarly adorned, right next to the can.)

VOICEOVER: Take comfort in our strength. Assuming you know what it is.

***END Commercialspace3***



?Shartooie Dataflux Sysadmin writes:
//Message (Mun1: The Book of Going Forth (*/*) REM:
Conclusion of Second Book)) Mandatory Paid Advertisement//

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

::?Shartooie TiaraNet Dataflux -RESUME

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