Meanwhile -- intoned a deep, have-confidence-in-me narrator voice -- there was something brewing on a nearby alternate plane of existence ...
``My,'' mused Doctor Whiplash, ``but Turkles is behaving most brazenly today.''
``Why yes, young lady,'' Turkles continued, ``your eyes are like twin limpid pools of doe's blood ...''
Thelma's dreamy smile changed itself -- quite neatly -- into a grimace.
Turkles kissed her hand again, and again ...
``Ahrmrmrmm ...'' Doctor Whiplash started.
``I'm sorry ...'' came Michael's small voice from the kitchenette, ``but all I have is some spray cheese ... we could spread it on Ritz crackers ...'' He entered the room, his voice trailing as he spotted the rather obvious courtship gestures being made by an old-fashioned gentleman toward ... sigh ... Thelma.
Doctor Whiplash coughed. ``Hrmhrmhrm ... decorum, Turkles ...'' he continued.
Michael was pale; more so than usual, that is. He spluttered ``I'll ... just get the ... crackers ... and ...'' as he backed into the kitchenette.
Thelma removed her hand from Turkles' slightly menacing and yet rather pleasant grip ... she sighed. ``Poor Michael ...'' escaped her lips at barely a whisper.
Turkles growled ``Whelp -- it'll be good for him to see how a real man treats a lady he's taken a liking to.''
Whiplash reached for the coatrack and started rummaging through the pockets of his greatcoat ...
While Thelma continued to stare dreamily into Turkles' maniacal glower, the reader became curious at the shorter phrasing; staccato bursts of text; what did the author have up his sleeve?
As Michael sloghed in from the kitchenette [``... well, thanx for coming over anyway, Thelma ... can always use having a good visit ... I'll just go re-arrange my spring wardrobe ...''], Whiplash cried ``Heads up, Turkles!'' heaving a small, shiny object directly into his lap.
Turkles grunted as he looked down ... and stayed looking down ... in rapt attention ...
Thelma seemed to pick up where she had left off before. ``--octor? Doctor of what, if I may ask?'' Michael gasped as `Turkles' shrank close into the shiny, highly reflective object.
``Doctor of Trans-temporal physics; still young don't you know ...'' Whiplash muttered, winking several times to Michael, who was busy setting down a tray loaded with crackers and spray cheese ...
``Quite interesting -- say, is your friend OK?'' Thelma asked with genuine concern.
``Just very interested in something ...'' Whiplash murmered. Michael offered him a cracker ... ``Turkles never would end a sentence with a preposition,'' he muttered with upraised eyes. ``So what is this magnificent `Spray cheese'?''
As he asked that question loudly, suddenly the tray of crackers caught fire ...
``Good heavens, you're right! Get down!'' shouted Whiplash as he pulled a duelling pistol from the jacket and shot what appeared to be Turkles in the chest. The wound blossomed with slimy tenticles which flailed wildly for a moment before whatever owned them died. ``My God, they've gotten Turkles ... Quickly, Thelma, you said you knew Doctor Guerring? Did he tell you anything that you weren't to tell anyone?''
``Why yes, he said ...''
``No! Don't say it! You don't know what horror could happen!''
``Well, it couldn't be all that horrible ... After staring into the eyes of GRAVIMETRICDAR ...''
Whiplash was horrified. ``No! Heavens no!'' He paused to try to sort this all out in his mind ... Somehow it seemed to make a strange sort of sense ... ``You've seen GRAVIMETRICDAR?! Where did you see him? What was he doing?''
Michael was getting flustered. ``My God, you come in here, you kill that thing on the couch, and then you ask a lot of questions?''
``Calm down, Michael, this is important,'' said Thelma. ``Yes, I have seen GRAVIMETRICDAR, Doctor Whiplash. I was at Postage City getting a stamp, when he appeared and muttered something about hitting Kepler with an apple. Then he dragged my friend Sylvia through a dimensional wormhole. I was so upset I forgot to mail the letter, which I suppose is just as well since the letter was for Sylvia anyway.'' (Thelma still couldn't figure out what had posessed her to drop Michael for Sylvia, the implications were icky. Fortunately she was back to her senses now.)
Of course, thought Whiplash ... ``Do you have a picture of Sylvia? I think I know what's going on here.'' Thelma showed Whiplash a photo of Sylvia from one of her photo albums. ``That's her,'' said Whiplash. ``That's the girl who appeared to Turkles and me in the woods that day ...''
Back in our more familiar reality, Turkles was similarly stunned. The girl in the picture Michael had shown him was most definitely the one he and Whiplash had seen that day in London.
``But what the Hell,'' shouted Michael, back in the reality we're all normally somehow familiar with, ``does this have to do with ANYTHING?''
Turkles swung around to look at Michael. ``Oh, terrrrribly sorry, young sir,'' he said, dripping with sarcasm. ``Forgive me, OH! forgive me for bothering you with the minor trifle of the impeding destruction of life as we know it throughout the entire multiverse. Please, please, continue with your life as you know it,'' he spat, ``and feel free to disregard the fact that in your very home, yes, on your very couch, an evil hell-beast from beyond the Silver Suns has sat and chatted with your girlfriend,'' (She gasped at this, and looked at Michael, who was slowly flattening into the far wall) ``and chatted, yes, exchanged pleasantries and yes, even HIT ON your girlfriend while you, content to SIT BACK in your mindless suburban college-student OFF-CAMPUS housing IDIOCY, ignoring the THREAT IN YOUR VERY LIVING ROOM, WENT AND FETCHED CRACKERS AND SPRAY CHEESE, whatever that might be. No, don't mind me, I'll just make sure the world doesn't end anytime soon somewhere else.'' Michael's jaw, by now, was somewhere around his shoelaces. The crackers were still burning smokily, sending the odor of charred cheese wafting through the air.
At that moment, the door burst inward and a figure clad in a rather dapper skirt-suit leapt into the room, flailing about menacingly with the SWAT entry tool she had used to force the door. ``FREEZE, everyone! Don't be moving, now!'' she cried. ``You! You! Down on the floor!'' She gestured at Michael and Thelma with the tool. They stared, slack-jawed. She made it a trio of stunned stares when she noticed who else was present. ``Wh-- Wh--'' she stammered.
``Lydia?'' Turkles took a faltering step toward the lovely young detective, poised to ask the thousands of questions he had wanted to ask for months, years, since the final moments when ... When he had last seen her.
``Turkles?'' The SWAT entry tool dropped heavily to the floor as she blinked back the tears that had started to leak from the corners of her eyes. ``Is it really you?''
``Lydia, oh Lydia ...'' Turkles crossed the room in a single long-legged stride, gathering her up in his arms, pulling her close, ``I thought ... I thought you had ... Oh, I ...'' His lips found hers, and they kissed, pulling each other closer even as they made up for the lost years of loss, the fear that each of them had held that they would never, ever, see one another again, would never, ever know what really happened that day, so long ago now, when their lives, joined by chance, were torn asunder, their souls rent ...
``So who's the chick?'' asked Thelma.
``Hell if I know,'' Michael started to say, but he was interrupted by the sudden explosion of debris as the refrigerator, which had been smoking in a corner, ignored, for the last several hours, was suddenly flung open from within, revealing a disturbingly familiar tentacled form, which reached out for them, suckers grasping to drain the very blood from their veins, the very lymph from their nodes ...
***** elsewhere *****
Whiplash's recounting of the photo of Sylvia and the sudden sense dawning on the entire previous dimensional quest involving the myseterious vision of her [not to mention mysterious Baboons named Gloopy] was ended when the visage of GRAVIMETRICDAR oozed its way out of the exploded refrigerator.
Lydia faced Whiplash with that ``not again'' look of hers; Dr. Whiplash -- with scientific precision -- realized the futility of brandishing his feeble, physical weapon and pocketed it; Michael gaped; Thelma muttered something about wierdness indices of BBSers being nothing compared to this bunch; GRAVIMETRICDAR roared:
I WARNED YOU WHEN I TOOK IT -- NOW YOU MUST SEE!
GRAVIMETRICDAR extended a globular-tipped tentacle ... within was a horrifically-zombified Sylvia.
``SHE IS MINE,'' GRAVIMETRICDAR roared, ``AND NO AMOUNT OF AID THESE ... ODD MORTALS CAN GIVE SHALL CHANGE THIS. I HAVE TAKEN STEPS. ASSAULT ME IF YOU DARE -- DARE TO HARM HER!''
It laughed a truly evil laugh, and sucked itself into the fridge.
Micheal gaped some more.
Thelma sat down.
Lydia looked at Whiplash ...
***** elsewhere *****
``HA! It didn't close the portal!'' shouted Turkles, making a beeline for the smoking fridge and the strangely vast skies within ...
Turkles leapt heroically through the portal, dragging Thelma and Michael behind him, followed closely by Lydia, who shouted grieviously ``No, wait my love! Don't leave! I couldn't bear ... !''. Turkles drew up all the reserves of courage left within, steeling the pit of his gut for the horrors that may await his friends (whom he had drug along once more) and himself. Would it be like the Fire-Pits of Coontarus IV? The icy wastes of Squalloronomous? Or the horrendously charred tundra of Taxiquma that teemed with mutated abominations of oozing pustulent icky people?
Turkles closed his eyes, for a moment unable to face the horror ...
He blinked. Wait a moment ... is it ... ?
``Dr. Whiplash?? But, I don't understand?''
Whiplash, Thelma, and Michael stood before the open portal staring at the hapless Turkles and the ravishing Lydia, accompanied by ... Michael and Thelma.
Michael2 stared at the quartet with googoo eyes. Thelma2 drooled a little.
Just then, the portal flickered as two shapes became clear in its precipice.
A voice could be heard beyond and within: ``What do you think we'll find here?'' A second voice replied: ``Who knows? It should be interesting.''
A moment later, Turkles and Dr. Whiplash stepped out of the portal.
``Oh dear,'' said the two Dr. Whiplashes.
Both Turkles surveyed the room and spoke at once, ``Righto!'' Slightly startled, they looked at each other, paused for a beat, and continued. ``We're going to need to set some ground rules here. With two copies of everyone rushing about, we're going to need some way to differentiate. So, everyone who hasn't stepped through a dimensional portal today, raise your hand.''
Slightly disconcerted, Michael, Thelma, Dr. Whiplash, and Lydia raised their hands. The Turkles' continued, ``Ok, we'll refer to you as the 'originals' for whatever good that will mean, and we'll call you by your first names. Whiplash, you will be known as Doctor, I know how sensitive you are about your name.''
``I thank you, Turkles.''
``Right,'' the Turkles continued, turning towards the other Michael and Thelma, ``do you two have middle names?''
``Yeah, Nelson,'' the second Michael spoke up.
``Julie,'' Thelma chimed in.
``Good. We shall call you two by your middle names'' the Turkles contined, turning to the second Dr. Whiplash and the second Lydia. The first Turkles continued alone, ``you, my darling, will have to settle for being called Inspector Cartwright.'' He was followed by the second Turkles, ``Old friend, we'll simply refer to you as Whiplash.''
``But, Turkles, how shall we differentiate the two of you?'' Whiplash asked.
Again, the dimensional travellers spoke together. ``It appears that will not be necessary. We seem to be of one mind, thinking the same thoughts simultaneously. I have an uncanny feeling that this will be useful on the adventure.''
Michael spoke up, ``wh-wh-what adventure is that?''
``Why, to rescue poor Sylvia of course! We cannot leave her to rot in the pit of that loathsome creature GRAVIMETRICDAR. Now, we need only to figure out how to get there.''
Two copies of five people looked at each other contemplatively.
Meanwhile, far away, in another world, another time, another plotline altogether, Jack Fist was in the middle of another melee.
``Take that, you alien filth!'' he cried, bringing the butt of his plasma-rifle down on the flat skull of one of the G'k'k'metk'on Assassins. The insect-like being chittered and flailed at him with its roach-like pincers. Jack deftly reversed the rifle, and, as the huge roach lay there writhing, fired a pulse of supercharged plasma through its carapace. It twitched and oozed, and finally stopped moving altogether. A thin brown liquid dripped from the cleanly-burnt round hole through the chitinous shell.
``Darned bugs,'' Fist muttered, slinging the rifle over his shoulder with the nonchalance of the seasoned soldier. ``Now to deal with the queen-mother.''
Keeping an eye out for any other wandering drones, he sprinted off down the silvery silk-lined passageway.
He knew this was it. Each step brought him closer to the moment he'd worked for all these years. He had the ruby. He had the activation code. When he got to the throne room he would have his revenge. And then he would be reunited -- was it really possible? -- with his dearest Sylvia ... The thought warmed him as he dispatched the pair of warriors guarding the door. This was it, after all these years! Taking the key from the dead guard, Fist opened the door to the throne room. He threw himself to the floor and mowed down the queen's entourage in one fluid motion. The helpless queen stared at him in horror.
``I've been waiting a long time for this'' said Fist as he walked to the altar/control panel of Rn;agopon. ``After all the times you've tried to kill me, I thought I'd return the favor.'' Fist retrieved the Heart of Rthypy, and placed the jewel in the indentation in the center of the altar's panel. The altar sprang to electronic life, and Fist began typing out the code sequence that would return him to Sylvia. As he finished entering the code, a glowing gateway appeared in front of him. ``So I brought you a little gift.'' Fist was on a roll now. With a flourish he took out the small atomic bomb he'd smuggled in in his backpack and armed it. ``I just wanted you to know who it was that had killed you.''
Fist started suddenly as he noticed a movement behind him. The drone had almost managed to sneak up on him, but this was Jack Fist's moment, and nothing was going to spoil it. As the drone lunged toward him, he easily grabbed its upper pincer and flipped it over.
Right into the portal.
Jack Fist caught a glimse of Sylvia through the portal as it closed behind the drone. Somehow he didn't mind the fact that he couldn't disarm the bomb.
``Man, this day is really sucking,'' said K'plan'ta'gal'dkkktt, or `Plant' to his friends. ``I have to get up at 45 o'clock for c'flarttt duty, and my ff'ing alarm doesn't wake me up. Gah. It was a good thing, I suppose, that they were still doing that construction work outside my window. And then my boss yells at me, and that h'tt'dkfjek'tt drove by and splashed me on the way home, and then Jjj'tddkkk'eee stopped me and took my lunch money, and then ... gah,'' Plant continued to mutter to himself on his way back to headquarters to finish up his shift of c'flarttt duty. ``I wonder what else will happen to me. I mean, gah, can this day get any worse??''
Several hours later ...
*INTRUDER IN SECTOR QU'DLDIW'STTKDD SIX*
``Oh shit!'' said Plant, ``that's my sector! I knew I should have waited until I got home to go to the bathroom!'' Plant `hurried himself' and quickly exited the `little i'lddfletnadt's room,' snatching up his bl'llitzer knife on the way. He tore down the corridor, alarms flashing and sirens blaring. ``Oh man ... if anything happens ... I'll lose my ROTC scholarship!'' He stopped at the doorway and glanced inside. ``What a hideous creature!'' he thought as he viewed the carnage that was before him. Some `thing' had actually managed to penetrate the security of the queen's chambers! It was a biped, with some sort of soft pink covering over parts of his body and multi-colored cloth-type things over the rest, and it held a large nasty looking metalish object in one of it's appendiges that seemed to belch flame! How awful! Plant took a deep breath. ``This has been one hell of a day,'' he thought, said the plai'ckta'llar' to focus his thoughts, and stealthily and swiftfully entered the room, brandishing his bl'llitzer knife. With lightning (not lightnin) speed he lunged at the biped. Unfortunately, he underestimated the creature's own martial prowess. The biped grabbed Plant's arm and with amazing strength, flung Plant through a shimmering portal! Plant landed, head first, on the other side of the portal. He rubbed his now-aching head and looked up. ``Oh no ... this day just keeps getting worse ...''
Jack began making final adjustments to the control panel in which he had inserted the ruby. The Queen could only flail about in utter abandon, unable to stop the biped from destroying everything she had worked for. He set the portal to collapse upon one more being going through. Then, he set the door lock to prevent anyone from following him, verified that the nuclear device was set to blow, and jumped through the portal.
Crackle Crash Ga-Bang!
Grooffasgahqqwrhg asbfaql;shg qhgqfbphqwrg asa;h gfpa;slgih q1wr!
Jack landed in a forward roll, and jumped up into a crouched position. He scanned around him. An odd looking place. A young man sat, crumpled in the corner, and gibbered. All around were little colored pieces of paper, perforated in a grid-like pattern, and they appeared to have some sort of tacky substance on the back. Sniffing the air, he detected the remains of one of the hideous bug things. Clearly it had been killed. No sign of his beloved Sylvia.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city ...
``Turkles, where do we go from here?'' Whiplash grabbed his doctor's bag in one hand and his umbrella in the other. Almost a poster child for the Victorian Gentleman ready for action. Lydia holstered her Uzi, checked her flak jacket and hunkered down to listen.
``Well,'' the two Turkles started together, ``I think from here we should try and locate Sylvia. For that we need a dimensional portal.''
Michael: ``Where can we find one of those?''
Thelma: ``Oh, just run down to the corner market, or actually, I think you can get them at Spag's?'' The sarcasm dripped in luscious drops from her lips. Nelson found himself even more attracted to this version of his beloved.
``Actually, I was thinking of heading for the North Pole,'' the Turkles continued.
``Of course, the Lost City of Galmador,'' The Doctor intoned, the very tone of his voice giving away his awe.
``The Lost City of Galmador?'' The question was uttered by Julie, but it was on just about everybody's minds.
``The Lost City of Galmador is rumored to be centered around the hole into the Hollow Earth. The World within a world that dwells underneath our own. It is lit by a glowsphere that rests at the center of this planet, and all around people live on the inner crust. The Hollow Earth holds many dimensional temples. There we will be able to obtain passage into GRAVIMETRICDAR's dimension.'' The Turkles ended their speech.
``Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!'' Inspector Cartwright goaded them into action.
In another part of the city, a small country store called Postage City.
Jack scanned the walls with some bizarre ovoid device from his belt pack. ``Hmm,'' he muttered to himself, ``an unusually high number of particle wave transmissions in this area.'' Even accounting for the dimensional portal he came through, the readings were quite high. Obviously, another dimensional portal had been opened here. That must be what happened to Sylvia. If she could, she would wait for me here. Jack called up his artificial intelligence unit, built into the com unit in his arm. The holographic image generator projected an image of a baboon. ``Hi, Gloopy,'' said Jack, ``can you locate the nearest place to enter a dimesional portal that will transport me to Sylvia?''
Gloopy's response, was clear, calm, precise, and to the point, ``I'll do my best, Jack. Connecting to local World Net Computer Directories will take some time, the hyperspace connections are non-existent. I'm going to have to use EM pulses to communicate directly.''
``How long will it take?''
``Approximately 4 seconds. I recommend taking the time to get into a more combat useful position.''
Jack walked out the door, and into the waiting arms of destiny ...
``You'll never get me to betray them,'' cried Sylvia, as the muck-encrusted claws of RAVIMETRICDAR prodded her to answer.
``Oh, but you will, my pretty,'' sneered the demon, grimacing hideously, ``you will.'' It gestured toward a huge machine, gears grinding and wheels turning, displaying numbers. ``My Analytical Engines have determined that your cheerful little friends will be arriving here before long, in a vain attempt to rescue you.'' It sneered, tentacles and assorted mismatched body parts writhing in foul glee. ``And I will be more than happy to greet them with a ...'' It paused, savoring Sylvia's bound writhings. ``... with a smile.'' GRAVIMETRICDAR stretched its fleshy lips wide, revealing a ragged fence of curved fangs, black and grey with accumlated filth.
``No, I'll never tell you what you want to know! Never!'' Sylvia tried to twist away from the loathsome beast, but it extended a dripping limb to caress her smooth cheek. She retched as the odor from the rotting extremity reached her nostrils.
``Then you will rot here, little woman,'' sneered the beast, spinning slickly on the accumulated pool of slime and filth beneath it. As it crept from the chamber, several explosions burst around the gateway. Tiny demons, misshapen and dripping with ichor, began rebuilding the walls of the prison.
``Then I'll rot here,'' she muttered, glancing at the huge walls of churning gears and flywheels that were the computational center of Gravimetricdar's empire. ``Unless Thelma rescues me ... Oh, Thelma ...'' She sighed with the memory of their last real talk, when she tried to convince Thelma that that Michael guy was a real twisted freak. She wasn't sure if it had worked, but Thelma certainly seemed to have avoided him for the next several weeks. But lately ... At least, she thought to herself, I finally managed to get rid of that stupid Fist guy. Action Hero, my left buttock.
Settling back into the mold growing on the wall behind her, she resigned herself to a long wait.
Meanwhile, back at Postage City, Ed the Envelope Specialist, Doctor of Envelopistic Relativity, gazed with horror at the blank space on the apparently-solid wall where the amazingly be-muscled and -weaponed man had leapt from the burning square of solid light, materializing from a space apparently occupied by extremely large insects. He had been staring at it for several minutes now, mind churning at the amazing possibilities that had been unleashed upon his unsuspecting world-view. If alternate realities and dimensional portals were possible, then what else could be possible? Superhuman abilities? Extradimensional beings? Military Intelligence? It beggared his imagination ...
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Three men, wearing dark suits and sunglasses, appeared at the door to Postage City. Ed looked up.
``Excuse me, sir, are you Ed the Envelope Specialist?'' the one in the lead asked.
``Umm, yes. What can I do for you, gentlemen?''
``I'm afraid you'll have to come with us, sir.''
``Why? What have I done?''
``I'm not at liberty to say.'' He gestured to the other two agents with him, who swarmed forward, scooped Ed up off the floor, and carried him out the door. The man in charge flipped the `closed' sign over and shut the door behind him. Ed was carried off screen.
Meanwhile, in another portion of the multiverse, specifically, the portion where all the really nasty explosive things are happening, GRAVIMETRICDAR is pacing.
``Damn her! She won't tell me a thing. Well, perhaps the other one will.''
The demon stalked over to a portal in the room, and walked in to see Sylvia again. She was still bound and gagged, but she seemed somehow different. She, yes, I guess the term is that she was swooning.
``TELL ME HOW YOU DESTROYED THAT COCKROACH!''
``But, I didn't destroy the cockroach, that was Lilith.''
``WHO THE BLOODY HELL IS LILITH???''
``Lilith is my other, more violent personality. I don't know what you want from me.''
``I WANT ANSWERS!''
``Oh, hopefully, my hero Jack Fist will find me soon. He'll be able to rescue me.''
``ARRRRRRGGGGGHHHH! WHO IS JACK FIST? OH, NEVER MIND!''
The demon stormed out of the room, closing the seal behind him. He stalked over to his computer. ``COMPUTER. SCAN THE MULTIVERSE. LOCATE JACK FIST.''
Somewhere, in a computer lab on a college campus in Arkham, Massachusetts, a lone figure sat, typing away. He wore a lab coat over jeans and a t-shirt, and thick, horn-rimmed glasses. He pounded away at the keyboard, scratched his head, and finally, in frustration, turned the damned thing off.
He was a perfectly ordinary programmer, whose name just happened to be Jack Fist.
The two Turkles twiddled controls on small ovoid devices and said in unison, ``It's just over that hill. Let's go.'' As the group began making their way up, a lone figure appeared atop the hill. ``Hello! Come on up, I've been expecting you!'' The voice was distictly feminine. Whiplash began walking faster, and the rest of the group hurried to catch up ... except for the Turkles, who seemed lost in thought.
As the group reached the top of the hill, they couldn't help being impressed by what lay before them. The Lost City of Galmador gleamed red and gold on an otherwise barren snowscape. The figure who had called to them was almost as impressive. Though not young, she was quite handsome, and her face seemed to radiate wisdom.
``It's good to see you all again. Come, let's go inside where it's warm.'' At this, the Turkles seemed to become intensely confused. ``Of course, Doctor,'' said Whiplash, and turned to follow the woman. When no one followed, he stopped. ``Excuse me, madam,'' said Doctor (the other Whiplash), ``but I don't believe we've met. May I ask your name?'' Now it was the woman's turn to be confused. ``But of course we've met ... I'm Doctor Rachel Geurring.''
Just then, Turkles fainted. Both of him.
Meanwhile, back in the future/past ...
A younger Dr. Rachel Guerring sits in front of the Mindbox 3001 HCI unit. Her fingers drift over the almost-useless keypad as the cranial matrix reader settles into place, pushing her burnished red hair against her scalp. She mutters softly to herself, ``Let's see if this puppy actually works ... I've got two hours before my Doctorate presentation ...''
Within the electro-tachyonic boundaries of the Mindbox unit, Rachel's mind reaches out into the void that is her latest discovery: the temporichthyonic mindscape. With a drift of thought, she creates a tropical island and settles down on it to review her notes. Her (mental) hand drifts forward, conjuring a small stack of papers, which she grabs and begins leafing through. ``So far, so good ... Let's see if the regression subroutines are working ...''
She closes her eyes (both sets of them) and envisions the Temporal Fish. She sees where she is ``now'' as a green light just behind the dorsal fin, blinking lazily. She reaches out with her mental hand and pushes the light toward the fish's head. She looks down at her (virtual) self and sees the skin tighten. Her entire body shrinks down to that of a ten year old. ``Cool.''
She stops pushing the light.
``Note to myself:'' she says in a higher-piched and slightly more childish voice, ``Put in safeties on the regression routines. Pre-natal regression could shock the subject to death or worse.'' The papers scatter about her head and the words appear, preserved until at least the end of this session. ``Well, lets see about the projection routines,'' she says as her mental hand pushes the green light along the back of the fish to its original position, and then beyond it. The light rides up along the dorsal fin and falls off into space.
The island disappears in a puff of tidal wave. A grey landscape rushes up to greet the suddenly plummeting Rachel (who is her original age again), and passes through her. Or is that the other way around?
She stops. She's still falling, but the speed doesn't matter any more. And she can think again. ``Note to myself: maybe I should work on a different temporal model.'' This time, the papers are nowhere to be seen. But a door is. It opens from slightly above and behind the Rachel's disoriented form. An accented voice (``I do believe this is the way out we've been looking fo--'') reaches a crescendo as the figure fully enters this null space. He (Rachel sees him only in silhouette) crouches down to examine her sprawling form and speaks again. ``Turkles, a moment, if you will ... Please hold off the goat beast for a few moments longer. That's a good chap.''
A different voice; more panic-stricken: ``Dr. Whiplash, there's not a whole lot more I can do out here! Step it up, would you?''
Dr. Whiplash (Or just Whiplash, for those of you taking notes): ``Rachel, are you all right? We thought we'd lost you when the goat beast first attacked ...''
``Do I know you?'' Rachel responds, confused.
``Oh, dear. You do look younger. Oh, dear.'' He loses himself in thought for a moment. ``Turkles! In here! Quickly!''
Turkles hauls the two unconscious forms of himself into the null space. Sylvia floats in, arm in arm with her hero, Jack Fist, being followed by another Jack Fist, this one a computer geek. Three Michaels in various forms of serious injury stumble in, being guided by four Thelma/Julies. Gloopy hauls in a corbomite-encrusted Doctor, and Three Inspector Lydia Cartwrights hose down everything outside the door with automatic weapons. One has tattoos over 90 percent of her body, one is dressed as an Amazon, and one seems normal. They close the portal and it disappears.
``I hate days like this,'' says the only conscious Turkles.
Whiplash turns to Rachel again. ``You really don't remember us, do you?''
Rachel dazedly shakes her head.
Whiplash: ``I really am sorry. All of you are dead. I mean, both of you.'' He stops and vigorously rubs his temples. ``I'll try to explain ...''
The ``normal'' Lydia turns to Whiplash: ``Bullshit! We need to get out of here!''
Whiplash regains his composure. ``Right. Rachel, this is going to be the most bizarre thing you have ever heard. You will meet all of us, well, most of us in about 20 years' time. Later that week, you will die. I'm sorry and I still love you. I hope you understand that. But now, I need your physical form to take the matrix off its head. You need to go back to your body. You remember that this is all your thesis, right? And here's my number ...'' He stuffs a business card into her hand and gives her a quick hug.
``Wake up now, Rachel!''
Rachel hears the echo of his voice as her eyes flutter open. She's gasping for breath as she looks at the clock. ``That was some anomaly and -- DAMN! I've got 10 minutes!'' She dashes around the room and gathers her scattered notes. She freezes and looks down into her hand. There, she finds a business card, in victorian script, which reads, ``Dr. Whiplash, Metaphysician'' followed by a London phone number. She shakes her head and remembers how he looked at her.
She runs to the Mindbox unit and punches some diagnostics ... Nothing.
The entire troupe sat in the warmth of the glowcube as Dr. Geurring finished her story. ``That was the first and the last I saw of Turkles and Whiplash until I met them again two days ago and they told me of GRAVIMETRICDAR's plan to destroy my life's work. I must admit I was slightly startled, but it all fits: all the near misses with falling objects ever since I began my work, and then the `accidental' summoning of DATAPOS this spring. It just makes too much sense. I've been waiting here in the meantime. Galmador is shielded against neutrinos, so GRAVIMETRICDAR can't detect me here.''
Whiplash seemed visibly shaken by Geurring's story. ``Don't worry my dear, the encounter you describe hasn't happened yet. I'll do everything in my power to make sure no harm befalls you.'' Geurring smiled and took Whiplash's hand. ``Thank you, Whiplash. These next few days will be an acid test of my theories. With luck I'll be around to see my ideas proven.''
``I'd like to talk to you about the details of your theory, Doctor Geurring,'' put in Doctor. ``My degree is in Trans-Temporal Physics. I think we could learn much from each other.''
``I'd appreciate that, Doctor,'' replied Geurring. ``If I am to die, I'd like someone to continue my work.''
``Now, now,'' said Whiplash, ``no one's going to die.''
``On the contrary.'' Everyone turned to face one of the Turkles as the two of him continued ``if we are to survive, if the March of Science is to live up to its name and become more than the crawl it is, GRAVIMETRICDAR must be destroyed!''
In GRAVIMETRICDAR's dungeon, Sylvia was gathering her strength. She knew she could not defeat GRAVIMETRICDAR by herself, but she did have some power. She focused all of her thought, all her strength, all of her soul inward ... inward ... inward ... Yes! It was working! Now out again ... Sylvia channeled her being into the effort to locate someone who could help her ... there! There it is! Or rather there they are ... two men ... and oh dear, they did seem to be rather pure of heart. She would have to invent some story about saving the universe or something to get them to help; no one that goody-goody would want to save someone of her evil nature ...
Sylvia projected her astral form across dimensions, across time, to a place called England, where she found these two men, Turkles and Whiplash, and told them of the great danger that theatened all of existence ... that they alone held the key to stopping it ... that they must AaauauuuUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!
GRAVIMETRICDAR stood over the now comatose form of Sylvia. He had not thought her able to attempt this ... Something was going on here that He didn't understand, and He DIDN'T LIKE IT. ``COMPUTER. REVIVE DOCTOR GEURRING.''
Sylvia snapped awake, her mind still spinning from being yanked from her astral projection.
``YOU WILL TELL ME HOW YOU KNOW HOW TO PROJECT OUT OF MY LAIR, DOCTOR GEURRING. YOU WILL TELL ME NOW. OR YOU WILL DIE. NOW.''
``What?!?!'' said Sylvia, rather uncalmly. ``What the ... bite me! I'm not doctor Guerring! But if you let me down from here, I'll help you find him.''
The sun had risen several hours ago, and Jack Fist had been awake to see it -- that is, he would have seen it if there were any windows in the lab, which there weren't, or if he'd pulled his eyes away from the huge multicolored screen of his X terminal and looked out those nonexistent windows. His project, an X-based Commodore 64 emulator, was almost completed. All he had to do was finish rewriting the BASIC operating system, porting the 6502 assembler code to nice, clean C and setting it up to run in a window on the terminal's screen. He had just begun to implement the graphics screen handling when his terminal beeped and a little window hidden in one corner of the screen suddenly flashed into life.
``Damn,'' he muttered, ``time for physics. Wish I could skip that, but ...'' He trailed off, thinking back to last term and the previous class, whch he had utterly bombed. One more failure, he knew, and his computer access would be revoked. ``Stupid CS department policies ...''
He stumbled into the physics classroom in time to grab a seat in the back of the room. The professor, a little Indian man, was shuffling through papers. A few words were scrawled illegibly on the whiteboard. As Jack slumped into the uncomfortable plastic chair, the professor took a few sheets of paper and turned toward the class, grinning whitely, little teeth lined up in neat rows.
``Hallo class,'' the professor began. He spoke with enough of an accent to make it slightly difficult for Jack to pick out exactly what he was saying. ``Welcome to Physics 112, introduction to the study of physical properties. I will be teaching this class. My name is Ravi Metricdar. I will begin this course with a discussion of the atom. Now, as we all know, and as has been repeatedly proven, atoms are tiny solid spheres ...''
Jack's surroundings began to fade as he floated off. Before he drifted off entirely to sleep, he faintly heard Professor Metricdar lecturing on something about how the atoms are suspended in the ether, and about the transmission of magnetic particles between these atoms.
``On the other hand,'' said Sylvia, drawing back to the extent her bonds would allow, ``you could always take that biting thing as read ...''
She shuddered, watching as the vile, pustulent, and toothily grinning maw of GRAVIMETRICDAR approached her heaving torso.
A smallish dimensional portal, to an apparently very placid universe, opened in the back of the chamber. A confused-looking and slightly Wile E. Coyote-charred young man stumbled out of it, looked back, looked around, noticed the hideous creature about to do something unspeakable to the young lady chained to the wall, muttered, `` Definitely the wrong universe,'' and went back through the hole, closing it behind him like a door. Gryphon wasn't getting paid enough to screw around with GRAVIMETRICDAR on this trip.
The small doorlike portal opened again, disgorging the same disoriented Gryphon as before. He shook his head, wiped the soot from his glasses, and saw the same scene. Muttering something along the lines of ``here we go again,'' he turned around to discover his escape hatch gone.
Gryphon knew he was merely a fictional character being controlled by the hands of another person, outside the shell of his own microuniverse, and that he really had very little control over his destiny. He also knew that his controller (called ``User'' in his faith) was somewhat cruel and even downright mean sometimes. But to leave him in a room with GRAVIMETRICDAR?? Could even He be that evil?
Gryphon shrugged. It certainly appeared to be that way. His User was cruel, but his User was All. After all, if he didn't have a User, then who wrote him? He shrank back against the wall and hoped that maybe all his User wanted him to do was watch whatever the hideous evil demon beast was going to do to this poor hapless female who, he noticed, bore a striking resemblance to a favorite screen star of his.
Unfortunately for the poor character, GRAVIMETRICDAR noticed the quasi-fictional disturbance created by the gateway Gryphon had entered by. Growling in his annoyance at having been distracted from his amusement, he shlumbered around to face the, let's face it, rather less than intrepid explorer.
``WHO ARE YOU,'' demanded the vicious beast, ``AND WHY ARE YOU STANDING IN THE CORNER OF MY PLAYPEN INTERRUPTING MY FUN?!!?!''
``My name is Gryphon,'' Gryphon replied, trying to nonchalantly rummage through his backpack for something to blast this thing with, ``and I'm here because my User wills it.''
``YOUR USER, EH?''
GRAVIMETRICDAR sneered. One of those cretins who believe that life is mere fiction and they are only characters. He had met them before, and shown them the Error of their Ways as he sent them to the Big Cutting-Room Floor in the Sky. He drew back a hideously clawed, twisted mockery of a hand in preparation for doing the same to this one.
At just around the same instant, Gryphon came up with something useful from his pack full of random junk: a Nethack 2000 35mm SLR camera. Hoping against hope that the batteries were charged, he raised it, focused, and snapped a picture.
GRAVIMETRICDAR roared in anguish as the 50,000,000-watt strobe burned out all fifteen of his retinae. At that very moment, summoning some heretofore unplanned reserve of fortitude, the fictional adventurer ducked around him, fishing his keyring out of his pocket. His luck was holding today; one of the keys on the ring fit the chains binding the young woman to the wall.
``Get out of here,'' he said to her, rummaging in his pack again as GRAVIMETRICDAR slowly regained his senses and began to turn.
``What about you?'' Sylvia asked (as if she cared).
``You mean what am I going to do? Die, probably. Now go away, I'd like to do it in relative privacy.'' He took a small, pineapple-like metal device out of his pack and yanked the pin out of the top of it. GRAVIMETRICDAR howled in rage and lunged. Gryphon threw the grenade into his slavering maw and then cowered for all he was worth.
Sylvia didn't look back. She just ran like hell.
There was a huge explosion, and a lot of rock came crashing down.
Sylvia looked at the pile of rubble which ended just behind her and thanked her lucky spirits she had decided to take track that one semester in high school. She wondered briefly who the guy with the camera had been, then disregarded the thought and began putting as much distance as physically possible between herself and Ground Zero. When GRAVIMETRICDAR woke up from that one, he was going to be pissed.
Well, she said to herself, he was sure as hell no Jack Fist, but he got me out of there ... the poor guy ...
Sylvia ran ... and ran ... and ran s'more ...
And did we mention running?
She stopped, and looked around. She had passed sometime in all that running from the dark and dingy cave into a dark and dingy museum. ``This is all very ... something. What's this? `Greek Fire. One part sulphur, two parts,' oh damn, it's smudged out ... `Do Not Shake or Stir.' Lot of bloody use that is.'' *crumple* *toss*
``Waitasec!? That was written in English! On spiral notebook paper?! Curiouser and curiouser ...''
She passed many curious exhibits. A cubic globe of the Earth, complete with dragons in the seas. An odd winged balsa wood structure that might've flown two feet before gravity took hold. A glass of water powering a light bulb.
\ ----------------------------\ This way to the Egress > ----------------------------/ /
``Hotdamn! I'm outta here''
``Weaving sho shoon?,'' said the disturbed demon with the bottom jaw held on with duct tape.
``Oh, shit, not again ...''
Meanwhile, in a more familiar reality, Prof. Metricdar is recovering from a nearby hydrogen explosion.
``Now, class, what does this prove about hydrogen?''
A helpful smeck in the front middle of the lecture hall raises his hand. ``Ummm, Hydrogen is highly flammable?''
``No, this proves that Hydrogen atoms fuse at a very low temperature ...''
Using every last bit of strength, Sylvia dove through the door leading to the Egress, and her salvation, so she thought. She slammed the door behind her, trapping GRAVIMETRICDAR in his own dimension, then looked around.
``What the hell was that?'' Sylvia exclaimed, turning around. Before her, she saw one of the most bizarre creatures she had ever had the misfortune to meet. It stood nearly four meters, but most of that was neck. It had a goose-like head, complete with beak, and a long neck which led down to the body of a common housecat. It did not, however, have the customary four feet, it had instead six. Four of which looked like those of a cat, but the other two had a distinctly simian appearance.
``I repeat my question, `What the hell was that?''' Sylvia glanced around, apparently looking for an answer. From who, she had no idea. She finally settled hopefully on the creature before her.
``You're not very helpful.'' She placed her hands on her hips. ``Well, is there an actual way out of this room, or what?''
``Oh, do shut up!'' Sylvia began searching for another door. A pounding at the one she came in caused her to redouble her efforts. She became frantic.
``Well, Mr. Fist? Can you tell us what makes Nitrogen Nodules cling to the roots of plants?'' Jack looked down hopefully at Professor Metricdar.
``Ummm. Photosynthesis? That process whereby plants use energy from the sun to transform ...'' he faded off as Ravi favored him with a scowl.
``Wrong. The correct answer is `Love.' Thank you for playing.'' The bell rang, the class groaned, they all stumbled out into the afternoon air.
Four police cars squealed around the corner in pursuit of Jack Fist. Two motorcycle cops joined the chase. Jack put on an extra burst of speed.
``I estimate the chances of your survival at just under 48
``Don't quote me the odds! Gloopy, just get me out of this!''
``There is an alley three meters up and to your left.'' Jack bolted and turned right. ``Your OTHER left, you idiot!'' Jack pulled a 180 and dove into the alley. ``Quick, dive into that dumpster!''
Jack dove in, as four police cars skidded to a halt at the front of the alley. Well, actually, two of them skidded to a halt, one skidded into those two, one crashed upside down on top of them, forming a nice ramp for the two motorcycles to ride up and dive into the next intersection, where they were hit by a passing bus. One of the police cars conveniently caught fire, causing the whole pile to explode in a ball of flame.
Jack looked back. ``We better get out of here, Gloopy. What the hell did I do wrong, anyway?''
``Apparently the sovereignty of the Imperial Guild of Heroes is not recognized here. It makes our mission only slightly more difficult.''
``I've coped with worse. What now?''
``Now, we wait.''
``Wait? Wait for what?''
Gloopy remained confidently silent.