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- 1 T minus 3 seconds
- 2 Later
- 3 Even Later
- 4 Stitzmorph
- 5 Mission
- 6 Back to the Bank
- 7 Time to Bulk Up!
- 8 On the Road Again
- 9 In Cog Nito In which the cogs are nitted
- 10 By the Sea By the Sea By the Beautiful Sea
- 11 Lunch
- 12 Back to the Sea Side
- 13 Thataway!
- 14 Onward!
- 15 Sideways!
- 16 In Which we Arrive Somewhere
- 17 Someone's Art Project
- 18 At the Center of Everything
- 19 In Which Part 1 is Terminated with Extreme Prejudice
- 20 Part II: In Which Continuity is Lost (or at least Misplaced)
- 21 Geronimo!
- 22 Touchdown!
- 23 Another Section!
- 24 The Hunt Begins
- 25 Geronimo Redux!
- 26 Plan B
- 27 The Final Battle
- 28 Corporate Takeover
- 29 Welcome to Rug Row
- 30 What's Going On??
- 31 Oops
T minus 3 seconds
Agent 0.01 checked its watch. It was almost time. It placed its finger on the detonator.
3 ... 2 ... 1 ....
There was a crash and a woman sat down on its lap. She was beautiful. She had glowing green hair growing in stubbly patches, and a pattern of pink and blue tattoos running diagonally across her face. Her left eyeball had been tattooed a uniform blood red.
“Hullo?” it said. “Why are you suddenly seated on my lap?”
“Gravity,” she replied. And then, “Are you a robot?”
“What makes you suspect I am a robot?”
“All those extra eyes. They look weird. And besides that the narrator keeps calling you 'it'. Who are you, anyway?”
“What day is today?”
“Tuesday,” she said, after glancing up at the large day-date sign hanging in the air over them.
“Then I am Joe. If it were Wednesday I would be Sally-Ann. But you may call me 0.01 if it pleases you to do so.”
“Pleased to meet you, Joe-Sally-Ann-0.01. I'm agent 2. But you can call me 'Her'.”
0.01 was admiring Her's driving. They were going at least 45 miles per hour, right down the middle of the street, which was remarkable under the circumstances -- which were that the car was going backwards.
“Why are we traveling rapidly down the middle of the street backwards?” asked 0.01.
“Stitzmorph said the Johnsons have arrived. They need us down town right away!”
“But ...” 0.01 wasn't sure what to say. Her had sounded like she was answering the question, but somehow it didn't feel like it had learned anything.
“There may be trouble,” said Her. “Do you have your gun? Is it loaded?”
“Yes, but I am not sure that it is loaded. I will check.” 0.01 drew a long barreled Walther PP-SS 12 mm automatic out of its armpit holster and pulled the trigger. There was an enormous Bang! which nearly ruptured their eardrums in the enclosed space of the car, and the windshield shattered into a spider webbed mass of cracks.
“Yes,” it said. “It is loaded.”
“Watch it!” Her shouted. “I can't see a thing through this mess – how can we tell if we're being followed?”
“Would you like me to shoot out their tires?” 0.01 asked, in what it hoped was a
The featureless “street” on which they had been driving had at last given way to a field filled with trolley cars. The office was located in a pink and green double-wide near the middle of the cluster. 0.01 felt its head bounce against the roof of the car as Her drove (backwards) over the trolley tracks without slowing down.
The air was suddenly full of silk, as dozens of Johnsons parachuted into the scene with cinematic precision and dramatic flair.
0.01 tried to shoot out their parachutes as they approached. It succeeded in shooting out nearly all the car windows. The Johnsons appeared unaffected, however. It glanced at Her and noticed a trickle of blood from her right ear.
“Are you still in good health?” it asked, in concern.
“What? I can't hear a thing. I think you've broken my eardrums with that stupid cannon of yours. What are you doing, anyway – trying to shoot holes in their parachutes?”
“That seemed like an advisable course of action,” it replied.
“Idiot!” Her shouted, reading its lips. “They're on our side!”
He was wearing a black suit, black tie, and white shirt, with a black dinner jacket over top. He looked like an undertaker. On his lap was a fluffy white cat, which he was petting in an absent minded sort of way.
The desk behind which he was sitting looked expensive.
All around the walls, the Johnsons were standing at attention.
0.01 felt itself starting to panic. Finally it couldn't stand it any longer. “Her!” it shouted. “He is a villain! We must put a stop to him!” It was pointing its gun at the man behind the desk. “See how he is petting that cat – the one that does that is always the villainous master mind! It is so, in every movie!”
“Calm down,” said the cat, in a bored tone. “Put the gun away. He's not a villain. His name is Stank and he cleans the office. And he scratches me behind my ears. He's good at it.”
0.01 stared at the cat in confusion.
“Have you met Stitzmorph?” asked Her, who seemed to have forgotten about her ruptured
Her's driving seemed sensible at this point. Since the only window which 0.01's wild shooting hadn't shattered was the rear windshield, it would have been unreasonable to drive the car any way except backwards.
Since they'd botched the bank job, Stitzmorph had sent them out to pick up agent 1/2 and bring her back. They had also been told to buy some catfood on the way back, and, Stitzmorph had added, they should try to get “something that tastes decent this time”.
They were to meet agent 1/2 at the local PetSmart. She was in disguise, so they were just supposed to go to the store and wait until she showed up.
Soon enough, the voice of the GPS told them they had arrived at their destination. 0.01 looked out the window. There was a sign for a shopping mall, and a driveway, but there wasn't any parking lot. Instead, where the mall should have been there was nothing but a wide, still lake of dark, oily looking water. A faint gray miasma was rising from it.
“Gonna need boots for this,” Her observed, as she stopped the car.
There was a sound of barking. A confused looking golden retriever was standing by the side of the road. “Shoo!” called 0.01. “Go home, doggie!”
Her opened the back door of the car. The dog jumped in, and barked again, then whined.
“Have you met agent 1/2?” Her asked 0.01. “She says this is Slurm's work.”
Her started the car. “I guess we won't need boots, after all. Let's go get some cat
Back to the Bank
They needed money for the catfood.
Since 0.01 had failed to dynamite the bank and since banks generally have money in them, they went back there.
The bench 0.01 had been sitting on in the first scene was still there, and the day-date sign was still hanging over it. But the rest of the White Room had changed. Where the bank had been there was a crater. The sides were smooth and glassy, exactly the way they'd be if someone had used an attracto-repulser-ionization ray to yank the whole bank out of the ground and fly it up to a waiting space freighter.
“Slurm's work, again!” Her gasped.
“Arf arf arf woof!” exclaimed agent 1/2.
“Perhaps we can steal some catfood for Stitzmorph,” said agent 0.01, in a flat monotone. “I am armed, and armaments can be of value when committing a robbery.”
“We're spies, idiot!” yelled Her. “We're supposed to be doing spy stuff, not robbing convenience stores!”
“Woof woof arf bark yelp!” argued agent 1/2.
“Yes – exactly! To the airport!” cried Her, and jammed the car into reverse for the long run out Sunnyside Boulevard, to their fateful confrontation with the agents of Slurm.
- Remember that? The detonator and everything?
- Of course there was a bench – what did you think 0.01 was sitting on? A rocking chair?
- A White Room is a room that isn't described because the author is a lazy slob. You can find out more about it on TV Tropes. I'd include a link but I can never remember what the rules are for offsite links, so I won't.
Time to Bulk Up!
“I have a worrying observation to confer,” said 0.01.
“What?? Why are you talking like a bad imitation of a robot?”
“I am a bad imitation of a robot. Or at least, that's what I'm supposed to be. Sometimes the narrator remembers, and then I talk that way. I thought you knew that.”
“So what's this observation?” asked Her.
“Dogs are not allowed to run loose in an airport.”
Agent 1/2 barked angrily at this, and then added, “Arf arf yelp woof.”
“OK, OK, I'll stop at the office so you can change.”
On the Road Again
“I am pleased that we arrested our progression for a time at our headquarters building.”
“Huh? Stop that. Talk normal! You are 'pleased'? Like, oh please, rilly.”
“Yes. If we encounter Slurm, my weapon would have been entirely inadequate.”
“Your 'weapon'? You mean that elephant gun you carry? Inadequate??”
“It was hardly an elephant gun,” objected agent 0.01. “See, this is an elephant gun. You see the difference, I hope?” It reached into its jacket and pulled out ... and out ... and out... a Smith and Wesson double-barreled 17 mm machine pistol. The barrel was at least a couple of feet long.
“What is that thing??” yelled Her, almost swerving off the road as she stared at the gun.
The tractor trailer which had been tailgating them blew its air horn as their car bounced off the guard rail. Agent 0.01 pointed its gun at the truck. “Should I -- ” it started to ask.
“Do not fire that mortar inside this car!” Her yelled. “I've barely recovered from the last
time you broke my eardrums!”
In Cog Nito In which the cogs are nitted
They left the car in the parking garage and climbed the four flights of stairs to the departure area.
As they entered the crowded concourse, there was a yell, and a guard started trotting in their direction, waving his arms. “You can't bring that in here!!” he was shouting, and pointing at the gorilla.
“Oook unga oo ook!” yelled agent 1/2.
“Yeah, I thought they'd be cool with a gorilla, too. And you're even dressed and everything,” Her agreed, glancing at agent 1/2's natty chainmail bikini.
And then, “Ow!” she added, as agent 1/2 swung around to face the guard, and whacked Her with the AK-74 which was slung from a strap over her shoulder. “Hey, what are you carrying that for? You can't take that through security!”
More guards appeared, pulling out guns and pointing them at Her and 0.01.
“They're not real guards!” gasped 0.01. “They're agents of Slurm!” It pulled out its pistol as it made a running dive over a ticket counter. There was a crash as the long barrel of the gun caught on the ticket agent's swivel chair and both agents (the ticket agent and agent 0.01), along with the chair and the gun and agent 0.01's carry-on luggage, went over in a heap. There was more shouting from the guards, and suddenly taser needles were flying everywhere.
And at that moment, the air was filled with a thick humming sound. It sounded to 0.01 a lot like the sound an attracto-repulser-ionization ray projector makes when someone tries to warm it up in a hurry in order to steal a three-engine turbojet from in front of the Braniff concourse. “You shall not succeed!” it said, in a flat tone, and fired.
The plate glass window overlooking the runways shattered, filling the concourse with broken glass.
“Ungoo ook guk!” yelled Agent 1/2 and fired a 30 second burst back at 0.01. Plaster showered down on everyone as the wall behind the ticket agents was pulverized by the shots.
“Idiots! Stop it – you're shooting at each other!” yelled Her, but by that time someone had tripped the air raid alarms and nobody could hear a word she said.
And then there was the unmistakable sound of an attracto-repulser-ionization ray being used in an attempt to steal a runway, but with the azimuth control set just a bit off-center, so it misses the target, and hits a nearby building instead.
Daylight flooded the area as the entire front wall of the terminal disappeared, along with several commuter jets and
most of a runway.
By the Sea By the Sea By the Beautiful Sea
Agent 0.01 was standing with Her and Agent ½ at the edge of what was left of the terminal.
There was broken glass everywhere, a few hissing electrical cables, and a sheer drop to what would have been the tarmac, but was now a small lake.
Or, rather, it was a lake. It's not clear how “small” it really was, since the other shore wasn't visible, due to the brownish miasma which was rising from it, which obscured everything beyond about 100 feet out.
As they stared into the gloom, a dark mass seemed to rise from the middle of the water, and a number of what appeared to be dark, writhing tentacles poked up from the gloopy, sticky-looking water and started slithering toward the terminal.
Her glanced at her watch.
“Uh, oh, time for my break – see ya!” she called, and headed back into the terminal at a run.
“What? I don't think I understand?” said agent 0.01, following her.
“Oooka ooka blurp???” called agent ½ as she ran after the two of them.
The three of them were sitting at a too-small round table which was coated with a thin but uneven layer of something sticky. Agent ½ was eating a cup of banana yogurt. Agent 0.01 was watching Her eat an extra large order of French fries with imitation ketchup on the side.
“Woulf you life thum?” she asked, stickily, around a mouthful of greasy potato remains.
“As an android I'm not supposed to eat. I have been told that it would gum up my gears or something.”
“That's just mean! Here, have one.” Her passed it a limp strip of overcooked potato.
Agent 0.01 held it up and inspected it. It gave the impression of never having seen one before.
“You eat it. Like, put it in your mouth, and like, chew it, and, you know, swallow it. Like this.” Her demonstrated.
“Um. A human has told me to eat, so I suppose I must.”
“That's the spirit! Hey, you look like you're getting the knack!” Her said, as 0.01 swallowed the greasy mass of potato mixed with imitation ketchup.
At that moment 0.01 saw a terrible, brilliant flash of light, apparently from the windows, which was followed by a deep “whoomp!” sort of sound. It felt as though the floor bounced under its feet, the walls cracked, the air was suddenly full of plaster dust, and several light fixtures dropped to the floor nearby.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed 0.01. “Does eating always make one feel like that? It was most unusual!”
“Ooka moomph!” yelled agent ½, staring at 0.01 in shock.
“You're both idiots. It wasn't the French fry that did that – someone just set off a bomb outside.” Her glanced at her watch and sighed. “Oh, well, break's over. Time to get back to work.”
At that moment another light fixture fell from the ceiling directly onto their table, there was a sort of crackling noise, and all the rest of the lights went out.
It was completely dark.
“Hey, what happened to the windows?” Her asked, in an outraged tone. “Power loss can't make it go black like this, not during the day – where'd the windows go?”
“Minor continuity glitch. Just pretend you don't notice,” agent 0.01 observed.
“Oooka mooph noogle smurf!” yelled Agent 1/2 in an annoyed tone.
“Don't worry, just follow me,” agent 0.01 replied. It got up and led the way back toward the terminal. They all held hands, and would no doubt have looked quite jolly had there been any light to see them by.
“So how come you can see? It's as dark as the inside of a donkey in here. Don't your eyes see by visible light?”
“My eyes, as you call them, don't see by anything. They're just decorative. In fact, I don't see. I just use radar. And a little sonar so I don't go bumping into you fleshy types that don't show up on radar.”
“But ... the flash ... how did you even notice ... oh forget it.” Her seemed
frustrated with something but it wasn't clear what.
Back to the Sea Side
As they approached the edge of where the terminal ended, they noticed some things that appeared odd.
First, the greasy lake of dirty water seemed to have frozen solid in mid-wave, as though it had been fused into glass.
Second, there was what looked like a sort of huge doughnut of a cloud above them. It was rising into the sky, like a huge flying saucer taking off.
Third, there was a loud ticking noise.
“OMG it's a bomb – but where?” cried Her.
“Ooonga oonga oonga da!” said agent 1/2, pointing at 0.01.
“Are you going to explode?” Her asked, apprehensively.
“No. Do not worry. That is just my built in Geiger counter. There is nothing to be alarmed at here – just a level of radiation which is about ... one moment ... twelve point three seven two orders of magnitude above background. It's just an indication that someone detonated a small nuclear device in the area some time in the recent past.”
“Oh, well, then, that would explain the frozen sea, right?”
“No, I do not think so. Water cannot fuse into glass. It can only boil away into steam. What we see here makes no sense at all.”
“Ooomph goompha snoork mrmble nagnorf ook ook ook garble burf ooka ooka dnrmph garph nakcle nurf nargle ook,” declared Agent 1/2 solemnly.
“What? I didn't follow that?” said 0.01.
“Agent 1/2 said that a short sharp burst could cause the water to redissociate into dislocated spin contrary triples with inverted pair bonding of fundamental particle types followed by hypermediation of the reaction levels, which could result in extreme reduction in hyperviscosity,” Her explained.
“Oh ... I hadn't thought of that,” said 0.01.
At that moment, green tendrils appeared all around the edges of the opening in the wall, followed immediately by large green leaves growing out of the tendrils.
“Oh no – run!” shouted Her. “It's plot kudzu!”
They ran down the hall deeper into the terminal. A security checkpoint loomed ahead of them. There were several scared looking guards at it, all pointing guns.
“Oooga bloop!” shouted Agent 1/2 and dove into a bathroom.
“Did she really have to use the bathroom now?” asked 0.01. “You fleshy types have such inconvenient needs.”
After several minutes had gone by with no sign of Agent 1/2 (aside from a faint scratching sound from the bathroom door) Her decided to check on her. Her opened the door, but rather than her, Her was confronted by a skunk, which trotted out into the hall.
“I guess the narrator was tired of writing dialog for a gorilla,” Her observed.
“But you should have picked a disguise that would let you deal with bathroom doors.”
Once through Security, they rushed down another hall in the direction they were going.
From somewhere up ahead, there was a sound of breaking glass. Glittery shards rained down from a skylight far down the hall, followed by green tendrils.
They skidded to a stop in front of the writhing mass of greenery. The kudzu filled the hall, from one wall to the other, and was growing larger as they watched.
“What shall we do??” Her exclaimed. “We can't go forward, we can't turn back, we can't go sideways – we're trapped!”
“I may be able to destroy it with my heat vision,” 0.01 said, hopefully.
“Heat vision?? Can you do that??”
“I don't know.” There was a long pause, during which nothing happened save that the kudzu grew another six inches. “Apparently, I cannot do that.”
0.01 drew its elephant gun, and fired a long burst into the mass of vines.
“Hey hey hey give a girl a little warning why doncha? They only just healed from the last time you broke them!” Her said, her hands clapped over her ears. There was blood leaking between her fingers. “And besides, a few bullets won't do anything to a kudzu vine.”
Almost on cue, the mass of vines started to collapse inward. With a whistling noise, it sagged to the floor, turned a purplish black color and began leaking a strange greenish ichor as it shrank.
“And that solves that,” observed 0.01 smugly.
And the mass went on shrinking, and shrinking, clear down into the floor, which, as the vines disappeared, turned out to have a wide fissure running clear across it directly in front of them. It was at least 20 feet to the other side, and deep enough so the bottom wasn't visible.
“Or not...” observed Her.
Since going on was not an option, and going back wasn't any better, and there was a blank wall to the left, they turned right.
A short hall ended at a door. It had an evil Slurm logo on it, with an obscure image and an arrow.
“I hate icons,” Her observed and pushed open the door and stepped in.
0.01 and Agent 1/2 hurried to catch up with her.
As the door swung closed after them, they realized they were in a small bare room with just one door ... and then the door finished closing, and there was a sparkly flash, and the room vanished.
They were at the end of a long hall, with nothing but a blank wall behind them where the door had been.
“I hate teleport traps,” Her observed. “And I hate icons.”
In Which we Arrive Somewhere
They'd already wasted far too much time, so they rushed headlong to the other end of the hall.
There was a door, with yet another obscure but clearly evil icon on it.
“I hate icons,” Her commented. “All those years I wasted learning to read – what's so terrible about the idea of just putting a few words on a sign?” She barged through the door.
0.01 heard a yell followed by a splash. Agent 1/2 ran up 0.01's leg and hid in its backpack. (Had we mentioned 0.01 had a backpack? Well, we mentioned it now.)
0.01 peered cautiously through the door. The hall seemed to continue on the other side, more or less, but apparently without benefit of a floor.
Looking down, 0.01 spotted Her about 10 feet below. She was dripping wet, which was not all that peculiar since she was standing in water up to her waist.
“I see,” said 0.01. “That number 10 on the sign, with the arrow pointing down, must mean --”
“Shut up,” commented Her. “And come help me out of here.”
0.01 looked around. Her was actually standing in what appeared to be an enormous, round room, almost filled with what looked like an enormous, round plateau which was kind of flat and crunchy looking and almost surely had a walkable surface. Around the edges there was a moat, for no discernible reason.Perhaps they're raising mosquitoes here, thought 0.01.They are evil, after all.
“Her!” called 0.01. “There's a beach a few yards farther that way – perhaps you can
just walk out of the water.”
Someone's Art Project
The three of them were crunching over the plateau which (almost) filled the room. Its surface was made of pulverized bits of stuff. Asphalt, parts of signs, tires, pieces of airplanes, bits of automobiles in assorted shiny colors – it was like a trash dump that someone had very carefully flattened.
“You know what I think this is?” asked Her, and waited for someone to ask what.
After an annoyingly long pause during which nobody said anything, she went on, “OK, so don't ask me. I'll tell you anyway. I think it's a mandala. Like one of those sand mandalas they make on beaches and stuff.”
“You think this is a trash mandala?” asked 0.01. “That might explain the sign on the door – you remember, it --”
“Shut up. I hate icons.”
“What is that, do you suppose?” 0.01 asked, pointing toward the center of the mandala. It pulled a pair of binoculars out of its backpack, along with agent 1/2, and peered through them. (The binoculars, that is.)
“Does that work?” Her asked. “I thought your eyes were just decorative.”
“You are correct. They are. It does not. Here.” 0.01 handed the binoculars to Her.
“There's a small table in the middle of the mandala, with a lamp on it,” Her announced. “And on the other side, there's a ... um ... a ... I guess it's a steam shovel.”
“Steam shovel? A large piece of equipment for digging which is powered by a steam engine?” 0.01 sounded as skeptical as a robot can sound.
“Well, OK, not exactly steam but you know what I mean, right? And somebody in a white
suit floating in the air.”
At the Center of Everything
They had arrived at the table in the center of the mandala. It was a small bedside table, with a large lampshade placed on it.
Stitzmorph oozed out from under it, stretched, and said, “I wondered when you'd get here.”
Her picked up the lampshade. It wasn't attached to a lamp; it was just sitting on the table by itself. Underneath it, there was a photograph and a book. The photo was of a rather handsome benign-looking black man, apparently middle aged. He was lying in a coffin.
Her looked puzzled. “I recognize him. That's ... isn't that ... um ... Nelson somebody. But he lived into his 90's; why's he in a coffin?
0.01 picked up the book. It was a dictionary.
“It is a dictionary,” it announced pointlessly to no one in particular, since Her had already noticed what it was, Stitzmorph presumably knew it already, and agent 1/2 wasn't listening; she was digging in the mandala looking for grubs. She'd missed lunch.
“OMG I hate puns!” yelled Her. “I hate bad puns even worse!” she added. And then, “It's a lampshaded spelling mistake!”
“Nelson ... Mandela?” asked 0.01.
With an ominous buzzing sound, the person who had been hanging in the air at the other side of the mandala arrived. It was Stank. He was dressed in a white clean-room suit, and was wearing a harness suspended from a drone.
“I see you've arrived,” Stank observed, continuing the practice of stating the obvious.
“You'll never get way with it, Stank. You haven't finished, and now it's too late,” said Stitzmorph in a bored tone. He seemed to say everything in a bored tone.
Stank laughed an evil laugh, and had just begun his Evil Villain Speech in which he was
going to announce that he had, in fact, just completed the project, the Death Star was
operational, the Hole In Space had been cut, the Timelines had been Entirely
Cross-stitched, and everybody had better bow down and worship him or else, when he stopped, pointed at Agent 1/2, and yelled, “Nooooo!”
In Which Part 1 is Terminated with Extreme Prejudice
0.01 was puzzled. “But what is it?” it asked.
Stitzmorph explained, in a bored tone, “It's a Mandela effect generator. Stank hopes to rewrite the timeline in a way that's more to his liking.”
“I don't just hope to – I plan to – and I shall do it – but stop that!” Stank was fumbling with a long barreled laser pistol and yelling at Agent 1/2, who was quietly digging a hole in the mandala. It was about two feet across and a foot deep, but she hadn't found any grubs yet. “You're breaking it – you'll detune it – we just finished tuning it three minutes ago and you're going to ruin everything!”
0.01 was outraged. “Rewriting the timeline would be wrong!” it shouted, in a this-is-obvious-so-I-don't-need-to-explain-why sort of tone. “And I shall not let you do it – this must not pass!” It pulled out its elephant gun, pointed it at the ground, and emptied an entire clip of 420 shells into the mandala, throwing bits of sheet metal and fragments of roadways and random bits of trash dozens of feet in the air.
As Stank wailed “Stop stop stop you don't know what you're doing!”, 0.01 swept the stream of banana-sized bullets back and forth over the surface of the mandala, and ended up with a shot directly into the center of it.
“Now you've done it!” said Stank, as everyone realized that, indeed, Stank had been exactly right: 0.01 hadn't had a clue what it was doing. For shooting the middle of the now-randomized mandala had triggered it.
They all heard the unmistakable sound a universe makes when it jumps the tracks and lands on another set of rails. (In fact, it's quite a bit like the godawful sound a Green Line train makes on the sharp turn from Tremont to Boylston street. Not quitethat bad, perhaps, but bad, nonetheless.)
As the sparkly bits of imploded universe particles gradually cleared from the air, 0.01 noticed that some things seemed subtly different.
The mandala had vanished, and been replaced with a chunk of the Great American Desert. A sign on a barbed wire fence a short distance from them announced “Broom Lake Testing Area – Keep Out!” A few dozen feet beyond it, there was what appeared to be the remains of a crashed UFO.
Stitzmorph was nowhere to be seen. However, there was a bored-looking white tiger standing where he had been.
Agent 1/2 had been replaced with a very puzzled-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex. She was carrying an AK-74.
And there was a nasty smell in the air. “What is that stink?” it asked.
“Stank,” Her replied.
“No, I mean stink, 'stank' wouldn't be grammatical.”
“None the less, it's Stank. He's apparently turned into a zombie.”
“Braaaaaaaiiiinns....” said the now much more aptly-named Stank. He was still
harnessed to the drone, hanging about a dozen feet over the rest of the party.
Part II: In Which Continuity is Lost (or at least Misplaced)
“I prefer not to complain but I can't see anything” complained 0.01. The lampshade from the previous scene was sitting directly in front of it, blocking its view of whatever it was that it couldn't see.
“If you'd unstrap you could just get up and move it yourself'” Her replied.
“But the seatbelt sign --”
“Which you turned on yourself” Her interrupted.
0.01 turned off the seatbelt sign, and moved the lampshade, revealing a vast panorama of stars visible through the front windshield. Between the windshield and 0.01's seat was a control panel with almost as many switches and knobs as the Eclipse development environment.
“The International Space Station seems to have a very large number of things one can turn on or off” observed 0.01. It flipped some of them at random. “None of these controls seem to affect that terrible stink. One might have expected there would be an exhaust fan.” It flipped another few switches. The lights went out for several seconds, but other than that nothing happened.
“It's Stank,” Her pointed out.
“What stank?” asked 0.01.
“Stank stank. And still stinks.”
“Braaaaaaaaaaiiiins” added Stank, who was slowly but inexorably walking, and occasionally groaning in an ominous fashion. The performance would have been more intimidating if he hadn't also been “lost in a corner”, walking in place, directly into the wall. His intelligence seemed to have suffered a bit when he became a zombie.
“He does seem to be in need of brains. Or at least a brain.” observed Her.
Joe suddenly gave a yell.
“Whoa slow down!” said Her. “Who's this 'Joe' character?”
“What 'Joe'? Do I know a 'Joe'?” asked 0.01.
“The narrator just said 'Joe suddenly gave a yell' and we don't have any 'Joe' with us.”
“I'm sitting right here, you idiot!” yelled Joe. “I'm the steam shovel operator – or I was, until you lot broke the universe.”
“But what's that?” he added, pointing out the windshield.
“That” was an enormous black box with grooves in it. It looked like almost exactly like a BBN TC2000 supercomputer from the days when 128 processors was “a whole lot”. As it rotated slowly in front of the glass, the BBN logo was visible briefly. And then, as the back came around to face them, the evil Slurm logo, emblazoned evilly across the entire width of the machine, glared in at them.
“It is Slurm!” shouted 0.01. “Lock on phasers!”
“There aren't any phasers,” Her pointed out.
“Then arm photon torpedoes!”
“None of those, either – no weapons at all. This is the International Space Station, not the Starship Enterprise.”
“Why do I have to do everything?” yelled 0.01, as it pulled out its elephant pistol and fired on the evil machine.
“Hey no don't do that!” called Her, as the glass shattered and the air whooshed out into space.
An alarm somewhere woke up, and a generic bored female voice came over the intercom. “Ah-hooo-gah! Ah-hooo-gah! Possible loss of cabin pressure detected. Consider donning protective clothing. Structural integrity may be negatively impacted. All nonessential personnel should debark at next port of call. Follow the orders of the flight crew, and please extinguish all smoking materials.”
As if on cue, smoke started pouring from the instrument console in front of 0.01.
“What does 'ah-hoo-gah' mean, anyway?” asked 0.01. “Why did she say that at the start of the announcement?”
“Never mind that – we've got to get to another part of the station, where there's still air,” Her replied, “And the door's stuck!” She was tugging at the latch on the only door leading off the bridge. She was also wearing a space suit, which was probably a good thing as there was almost no air left in the room.
“Stand aside!” said 0.01 in a voice that was as close to commanding as it could manage (which wasn't very).
“No don't!” shouted Her, as 0.01 fired a dozen rounds into the door lock. With a “whump” of the sort made by an airlock door as it flies open due to a broken lock, the door flew off its hinges, across the room, and out through the hole where the windshield had been. Her groaned.
“Let's get out of here!” she said.
“Time to abandon ship,” agreed 0.01, noticing that the main control panel was now shooting showers of sparks in all directions.
“Braaaaaaaaiiiins!” added Stank.
Joe gurgled. He seemed to be too busy turning blue to say anything more than that.
They pounded down the hall, Her leading the way. “There's got to be an emergency exit somewhere!” she panted. 0.01 was running to keep up. It would have been panting as well if it hadn't been a robot. Joe was coming along behind. He had apparently finished turning blue, and had lapsed into unconsciousness. 0.01 was towing him by a rope attached to his belt. It wasn't much work. Since there's no gravity on the ISS, Joe just floated gently down the middle of the corridor.
“Aha!” Her shouted triumphantly, as they approached a red “EMERGENCY EXIT” sign over a massive door set into the wall. Next to the door was a lever, with a large sign, “WARNING ONLY ACTUATE LEVER AFTER ASSURING THAT VESSEL IS STOPPED ON A LEVEL SURFACE”. Her immediately pulled the lever.
With a sound of exploding lag bolts, the door shot off into space, and the rest of the air shot out after it.
“Oh wow that's a long way down,” observed Her, peering out into the void.
From the corridor behind them came the sound of an explosion. The deck shook under their feet. The corridor in the other direction was suddenly lit by the glow of an evil robot, which trundled toward them while emitting an evil beeping noise. Across its chestplate was a brilliant image of the Slurm logo.
“It is Slurm! We have been boarded!” shouted 0.01. “We must leave now!” it added, while blasting the robot to tiny glowing fragments with its elephant pistol.
“What? Did you say something?” asked Her. “All I could hear was that horrible siege gun of yours. What were you shooting at? Don't answer, I can't hear anything after that noise.”
And then, more usefully, she added, “Hey, look at this!” and yanked open a panel next to the exit. It was labeled “PARACHUTES – For use by authorized personnel ONLY”. She tossed two of them to 0.01, and started putting on a third.
“Are we authorized to use these? This might not be strictly legal,” observed 0.01.
“Aren't you the one that was going to knock over a convenience store just to get some catfood?” asked Her, incredulously. “Don't worry about it – we're officers – or anyway I'm an officer – in the ... um.... anyway I am, and on my authority, I authorize you to put on that parachute! Now!”
0.01 obediently struggled into the straps and harness of the chute, and was part way through putting a parachute on Joe when it stopped. “What about Stank? We must go back!”
“Nah -- he'll be fine. He's a zombie. They're harder to kill than cockroaches.”
“And now, let's go!” said Her, as the wall a few yards down the corridor collapsed in a shower of sparks. A ball of fire rolled out of the hole and rushed toward them. Several more evil robots appeared at the other end of the corridor.
“Wait!” called 0.01. “We must wait until the flames and the robots actually arrive! It would be wrong to leave before then – anything could happen!”
“You watch too many movies,” observed Her, and jumped out into nothing.
Shaking its head at the sloppiness of abandoning ship so soon, 0.01 tossed Joe out the door and
jumped after him. To its immense relief, it was the last possible instant, after all. As it cleared the door, the wall behind it burst and a massive ball of flame came rushing
after it, so close that its heels would have been singed if they hadn't been fireproof. Looking back, 0.01 saw the entire station vanish in an orange ball of billowing smoke and fire. How odd, it thought. I thought smoke didn't billow in a vacuum.
- Of course there's no gravity – why would you have thought otherwise?
As they folded their parachutes, 0.01 looked around at the skyline of Metropolis. It could see all of it from the top of the Baxter Building, one of the tallest buildings in the city. The fields outside the city stretched off to the horizon, which looked surprisingly close.
“The horizon looks surprisingly close,” it commented.
“Probably because it is surprisingly close. We're in a different universe now,” Her replied.
“Ooooh do I have a headache,” added Joe. He looked better than he had, but that wasn't saying much.
The roof they had landed on was about 20 feet square, and flat, save for a Stank-shaped hole exactly in the center.
“Shall we go down?” asked 0.01.
“Go down? Seriously?” replied Her, peering over the edge of the roof at the street far, far, far, far below. “You can if you want to, but I think I'll just stay right here until the next plot hole wanders by.”
“Ooooooh my head,” added Joe.
“I will meet you later, then,” said 0.01, as it opened a trapdoor in the roof and started down the stairs.
“Oh hey waitaminnit where'd that come from?” Her asked, as she crossed the roof to follow 0.01.
“Ooooh my ... whoops!” added Joe, as he stepped into the Stank-shaped hole and vanished.
“The stench of death lay upon the city, sticky and rancid, like a rank locker room towel.”
Stitzmorph looked up from the paper in front of him.
“What does this mean?” he asked. “What city? Who died? Is this a reference to Stank?”
“No,” explained 0.01.
“Then why is it in your report on the status of the investigation?”
“I really liked that sentence,” 0.01 said, sadly. “I saw it in a book at the airport and just wanted a chance to use it. Should I take it out of the report? I could reprint the report ... I suppose I could reprint it ... I could reprint it if the department buys more paper,” it said, looking at the rather thick stack of pages on Stitzmorph's desk.
“No, don't bother,” Stitzmorph replied, in a bored tone. “I probably can't read it anyway. Do you know what the visual acuity of a white tiger is?”
Nobody said anything.
“We need some answers. You need to find some answers.”
After an extended pause, it began to appear Stitzmorph had said all he was going to say.
“Answers to what? Do we get to pick the questions?” 0.01 asked.
“Do you need me to spell everything out for you?” asked Stitzmorph, in a bored tone.
“No, don't answer that – it's not one of the questions that needs answering. I've heard from Zero already 17 times --” and at that moment the blue telephone on Stitzmorph's desk rang.
And went on ringing, while Stitzmorph attempted to pick it up. Tiger paws are not well adapted to answering a telephone. He finally batted it onto the floor, which at least got the receiver off the hook, and put his head down next to it. An excited voice came from it, but the others couldn't catch the words.
A moment later, Stitzmorph continued his monologue.
“I've heard from Zero already eighteen times today demanding an answer to the question the Prime Minister keeps asking, which is,what happened to the International Space Station? You were there – at least, your report says you were there – so you should know.”
There was an embarrassed silence during which Her glared at 0.01, and 0.01 didn't say anything.
Finally 0.01 pointed out, “But according to my programming we have a President, not a Prime Minister. So whatever the Prime Minister wants should not be a major concern. Or even a minor one.”
Stitzmorph rumbled in annoyance (thus proving that it was not true that his only emotion was boredom). “That brings us to the next problem,” he said in a voice of the sort one uses when being bitten by large, annoying insects.
“We are in the wrong universe. The world is the wrong size. And Stank has the wrong smell.”
At that moment a large insect of some sort emerged from Stitzmorph's fur and hopped across the desk. Stitzmorph smashed a massive marble paperweight down on it. When he picked up the weight and looked under it, the bug hopped away, apparently unfazed.
“And the white tiger fleas in this universe are an abomination,” he said, and a tone of outrage shook his voice as he glared after the retreating hopper.
“But ...” observed 0.01, “There are some highly positive attributes to our current universe of residence as well.” It pulled a device out from under its jacket and pointed it in the direction of the hopper. “The selection of weapons available in the armory is considerably more varied and effective than those available in our starting continuum.”
The device looked a little like a cross between a sawed off triple-barreled shotgun and a pregnant vacuum cleaner. Stenciled on the side, in fluorescent green letters, was the logo “BFG 9000”.
“NOOO!” screamed Her. “Do not---” but in fact 0.01 had already pressed the firing stud.
0.01 stared at at a tiny dial on the back of the thing and rapped it with its knuckle a couple of times. “No charge. How unfortunate.” it observed.
“But the fleas must wait,” said Stitzmorph, coldly. “Your first mission is still the most important, which is to find the brains behind Slurm!”
The Hunt Begins
They had gathered on the roof of the Baxter Building.
It was the tallest building in the city, so it provided a good view.
Furthermore, they were already inside it, so heading up to the roof was an easy way start the search.
Her was scanning the horizon through a large pair of binoculars. They were made of pink plastic, with little pictures of Batman glued to them. She wasn't finding much.
“I think these are about three power,” Her said, in a frustrated tone. “And they're blurry. Is this what they gave you at the supply room? Somebody should fire the quartermaster.”
“Do we have a quartermaster?” asked 0.01, then added, “I did not know about our quartermaster. That came from the military supply store on the first floor of this building. The one called G.I. Joe and His Little Friends.”
Her snorted and handed the binoculars back to 0.01.
“What's plan B?” she asked.
Before 0.01 could answer, agent 1/2, who was now dressed as a wookiee, moaned loudly in Wookiee and pointed across the street.
“What?” asked 0.01.
“I don't know, I don't speak Wookiee,” answered Her, shaking her head. “Maybe Stitzmorph could help...”
Agent 1/2 moaned louder, jumped up and down, and waved her arms, pointing with both hands.
At that point agent 1/2 grabbed Her, picked her up, turned her to face across the street, and moaned directly into her ear.
“Owwww don't shout in my ear cutitout!” yelled Her, and then added “Oh, hey, look at that!” and pointed in the same
direction. Directly across the street, about 150 yards away, was another building, even
taller than the Baxter Building. Emblazoned across the front of it was a fifty foot high
Slurm logo. There were floodlights strategically placed to light it up at night, in case
everyone forgot it was there when the sun went down.
“We should enter through a window on the top floor,” observed 0.01. “It is more spy-like, and it will take them entirely by surprise.”
“How? Helicopter? Look, there's a door right down there on the first floor, maybe we could try that?”
“It will be easy,” explained 0.01, while pulling something that looked a little like a gasoline powered umbrella from its coat. “You were right, we have a quartermaster. I found him. He gave me this useful device. Take my hand, we will be upon them before they can know of it.”
“Hey leggo my hand!” yelled Her.
“Wooaawawwooohoooo!” added agent 1/2.
“Vrrrwwwzzzz!” harmonized the umbrella, and they found themselves airborne, on their way to their rendezvous with ....Slurm!
All went well for the first 100 yards or so.
“Those windows look very closed,” observed Her.
“Aaaaaawwweooo,” agreed agent 1/2.
“Perhaps we should try to land on the roof,” mused 0.01, and turned up the boost on the umbrella.
“Kaff kaff kaff ptooooo...” said the umbrella, and quit.
“Eeeeek! Idiot!” said Her.
“I suppose we will try the door on the first floor, after all,” agreed 0.01, as they plummeted downward.
“Arraaraarraaraaa!!” added agent 1/2.
And then, with a monstrous “Squelch!”, they hit the ... well, not exactly the ground.
“This is so gross. Why did it have to be garbage?” asked Her, as they struggled out of the huge dumpster into which they'd fallen.
“It is the fault of George Lucas” explained 0.01.
“I don't think so,” said Her, looking at the side of the dumpster. “It says it belongs to Vile and Son Waste Disposal – nothing at all about Lucas.”
“Ever since Leia fell into that trash compactor, every action movie must have a dumpster scene.”
“Aaaaaawoowwoowaaa!” argued agent 1/2.
“Yes, let us try the door,” agreed 0.01. “Perhaps it would be be more stealthful if we were to circumnavigate the building in advance of infiltrating it. We might find a less obvious door through which we could make a more unobtrusive entrance.”
“It it my imagination, or has the writing in this story gotten worse?” Her replied, and started off across the parking lot, making her way between the camels..
“Perhaps the author is short of sleep,” 0.01 said, as it followed her between the camels. “Or drunk. That might explain the camels.”
“Different universe, different vehicles,” Her said, from somewhere several camels ahead. “Maybe nobody invented cars here. Or horses, either, come to think of it.”
Agent 1/2, who had been scouting ahead, ran back around the corner of the building, waving her arms.
“Oooorrrawawawawourr!” she said, and ran ahead again.
Her followed her around the corner, and just stopped. And then fell over, as 0.01, who had been hard on her heels, ran into her.
“What is that object?” asked 0.01. “And why is it in the back lot, behind Slurm's headquarters?”
The “object” appeared to be a giant brain, in a tank.
Stitzmorph slid out from under a pile of forklift pallets, stretched, and said, in a
bored tone, “It's the brains behind Slurm, of course.”
The Final Battle
At that moment, a voice rang out inside their heads.
“Ho ho ho!” it said.
And that's as far as it got before Agent 1/2, who apparently didn't much care for giant brains in tanks, opened fire on it with her AK-74.
The bullets bounced off the tank, spraying far and wide in every direction. Several of Slurm's windows shattered in a hail of glass fragments.
“Ho ho ho!” said the voice, redundantly. “You have no weapons that could harm me!”
And then, after a dramatic pause, it said, “And now, bow down and worship your new master – feel the power of the the Brain of Slurm, as I take control of your minds!”
0.01 shouted, “You shall not succeed, vile monstrosity that lives in a tank! And you cannot control my mind, for I am a robot, and I have none!” It pulled out the BFG-9000.
“Of course you have a mind!” boomed the voice. “Otherwise, how could you hear --” and then 0.01 pressed the firing stud. There was a monstrous green flash. All remaining unbroken windows in the Slurm building shattered, and the tank holding the Brain exploded. Gloppy bits of Slurm-brain plopped down all around them.
“Eww gross,” said Her, as she wiped gray goo out of her hair with a kleenex. “I thought that gun didn't work.”
“I got some fresh batteries at Radio Shack.”
The inside of the building looked even more dilapidated than the exterior.
“Isn't there some sort of rule about world girdling villain's organizations? Like, they're supposed to run a tight ship, keep a neat facade, and all?” asked Her.
“Perhaps the loss of their leader has demoralized them,” mused 0.01.
“Aaaarrroawwowowowow!” objected Agent 1/2, in impeccably accented Wookiee.
“Yeah!” agreed Her. “They lost their leader, like, five minutes ago. This building hasn't been cleaned in five years. Or maybe five centuries.”
A creature stepped out of one of the offices, and looked at them in surprise.
“You! Evil minion! Join us, or die!” shouted 0.01, pointing its elephant pistol at the entity.
“I? I'm not – uh, sure thing! Uh ... do you need anything cleaned?” The creature held up a mop. “I'm .. uh ... not actually a minion. I just do the floors.”
“Do you have a name, creature-who-is-not-a-minion?” asked 0.01.
“I'm .. .uh ... Joe.”
“No!” yelled Her. “That's too stupid, even for this story – we've already got two characters named Joe. Pick another name!”
“... Uh ... ? I'm... uh... not ... Joe?”
“OK, sounds good. Not-Joe it is!”
The elevators didn't seem to be in service (actually, the doors were rusted shut, so it was a little hard to tell if they were working) so they rushed up the stairs.
“Where is everybody?” asked 0.01. “We seem to be in an empty building.”
“There aren't many leaders. Not since Donovan arrived. They controls everything themself.”
“Why are you calling Donovan 'they', and why is your grammar messed up?” asked Her. “'Donovan' sounds like a guy's name – and who is this Donovan, anyway?”
“Donovan is ... uh.” explained Not-Joe. “It hardly seems to have much gender of any sort. But ever since the chain saw incident it ... well, it's they, not just it ....”
“Obviously, Donovan was the brain in the tank,” explained 0.01, a bit more clearly than Not-Joe had. “A brain in a tank that gets huge and controls people is always named Donovan.”
“The writing in this story is really going downhill,” remarked Her. “And it didn't start out very far above sea level. Next I suppose you'll be saying Donovan's corpus callosum was cut by accident while the gardener was pruning the bushes, and that is why he/it is called 'they'.”
“No, I won't say that, because you already said it.”
Welcome to Rug Row
They emerged from the stairwell on the thirteenth floor. It looked, if possible, even worse than the first floor had.
“Hey, this looks important!” said Her, pointing to a door. Unlike the rest of the hallway, the door looked clean and well maintained. It had a pebbled glass panel in it, and it had “Supreme Leader” neatly lettered on the glass with gold ink. Above the lettering was emblazoned the evil Slurm logo.
Conveniently, the door was unlocked, so they charged in. The room beyond was clean and
neat, with a large, expensive looking desk, several tables, and large computer screens on
one of the walls, but it didn't seem to be in use. The furniture was covered with bed
sheets, the computer screens were dark, and the small refrigerator standing in the corner
was turned off, with the door propped open.
What's Going On??
“Hey, what's this? I think it's a clue!” said Her, pointing at a blackboard on the wall near the desk.
0.01 looked at it. “I don't understand,” it said. “I don't believe the city has been domniated. I'm not even sure I know what that is – how do you domniate a city?”
“You just think about that for a while,” said Her. “But look! Today is Tuesday!”
But 0.01 wasn't listening. Its attention was on a glass panel in the wall, next to the “To Do” list. Stenciled on the glass, in large red letters, was the message, “IN CASE OF TIMELINE DAMAGE BREAK GLASS”. Next to the panel, a hammer was hanging from a chain attached to the wall.
“Were we not also tasked with seeking out a solution to the timeline damage wrought by the Mandela mandala?” it asked.
“Yeah, Stitzmorph hates the fleas here. But we have no clue how to do that.”
“I may have found just such a clue,” observed 0.01, and smashed the glass panel.
Behind it, there was a black box the size of an old crank telephone attached to the wall. Stenciled on it in white letters (in the Star Trek Modern font) was the label: “Mandela Effect Normalization Unit”. There was a single button in the middle of the box.
Next to the box was a book.
0.01 took out the book. It was about an inch thick, and was filled with very fine print on very thin paper. On the front cover, in blue letters, it said, “ME Normalization Unit Instructions” and below that, in large fluorescent orange letters, it said, “WARNING: Read all instructions before attempting to actuate unit!”
“Wow I guess we'd better get reading!” exclaimed Her, staring at the book.
“That doesn't seem likely to prove necessary,” replied 0.01. “The unit has just one button. How complicated can it be?”
It reached for the button.
“Wait!!” shouted Her. “We want to reverse the effect – but this says it normalizes --”
But 0.01 had already pushed the button.
The box burst, and flames and sparks shot across the room, barely missing 0.01's array of
eyes and Her's green stubbly hair. As a cloud of smoke poured out, the black box
collapsed in on itself, until there was nothing left on the wall where it had been but a
0.01 looked around at the room. It felt strangely disoriented.
At that moment, a door at the other end of the room opened, and Stitzmorph sauntered in.
“Hail Slurm!” he said.
“Hail Slurm!” replied 0.01 and Her. Agent 1/2 barked politely. She was disguised as a dog.
“Good work on the ISS,” Stitzmorph said. “But I want some faster progress on the world domination task. I'm taking the summer off and I want to see it squared away before then.”
“Hail Slurm – it shall be done!” replied Her and 0.01, in chorus.
With that, the meeting ended. As it left the office of the Supreme Leader, 0.01 glanced at the door, with the familiar Slurm logo on it. It was just as it had always been ... yet ... at the same time, it felt that there was something different about it. Hadn't it been blue and black?
“Just the Mandela effect, I'm sure,” it thought to itself.