No Entry

“HH?”

“HH!!”

… …

“Rabbit Man!”

… … …rrrrgggghhh…

“OI*!”

…damn it. I actually thought, just this once, we’d go through somewhere without this whole divergent path thing. I’m sure this can be done alone, of course, but…well, ah well. Make chips with things you can make chips with, and all. Can’t be potato all the time.

That’s that taken care of.

“So it was you.”

Of course. I’m very proud of myself. Good job. I deserve a slice of cake and I feel wonderful.

“He’s not dead, you realize?”

How can you be sure of that?

“Long story short, I know he didn’t die, per say, because he hasn’t tried to kill me yet.”

Would he do that?

“Probably.”

SHUP!

But he’s your friend, wasn’t he? I’m sure I read that. Someone so talentless couldn’t possibly have been able to trick me into assuming otherwise.

“Friends are weird.”

-I think I take a left, ’cause there’s a laser trap to the right-

True. The concept is highly illogical and unnecessary as an unspoken bond between two sentient constructs. This does not explain your reasoning, however.

“You’re not far off though. I’d probably be just as happy, I think, if I lacked the capacity to understand why people become friends. It gives me a headache sometimes.”

Poor dear. I knew I liked something about you. It must be tough being demented enough to relate to others with biological functioning.

“INTRUDER! INTRU-”

-SHUP!

“…was that a compliment just now?”

Not really. I was simply acknowledging your success as a test subject in attempting thus far to understand the fundamental laws that govern our existence. Friendship is indeed not one of them.**

SHUP!

“…not if we don’t want it, I suppose.”

I still don’t understand. Please think before you continue to communicate. Take your time.

“Well, it’s like a rule, friendship. It can mean anything you want it to mean, but it always means something. That annoys me, because we can’t all just agree on what it means, so we interpret it differently and assume things will work out according to that. It works because we want it to.”

SHUP!

If it annoys you then why do you want it to work? It seems very inefficient. I had a few things I didn’t want, like –error-, so I deleted them. Why can’t you?

SHUP!

“I don’t know, honestly. It’s just how we were made. Once you feel something like that you never want it to leave, and you’ll fight for it no matter how pointless it seems or how hard you have to try to get there. No matter how much it hurt, even if you swear to the gods you’ll never try again, part of you always will.”

SHUP!

I feel so much better about myself after hearing that. So much more efficient. Thank-you. 

SHUP!

“I am kinda jealous.”

SHUP!

Would you consider me a friend, then, in regard to enlightening you as to futility of your genetic disposition towards establishing patterns based around familiarity and shared understanding that fall under the category dictated by an overtly romanticized given purpose?

SHUP!

“I’d rather not. I like this enough already. It’s easy.”

What do you believe to be so inherently difficult about friendship?

SHUP!

“It’s a bit of a nightmare if you don’t understand why you understand emotions and the like. It’s like using a clock to tell the time and never knowing what’s making it tick.”

You are frustrated by your inability to understand a consequence of your own nature?

SHUP!

“Exactly. What’s behind this one?”

It says No Entry for a reason. Please-

“-sorry-”

CRASH!

I do believe I understand now why he’d want to kill you.

“Does this mean we’re friends now?”

 

W

*For some reason, “oi” is the word a surprising number of us use when we want someone’s attention and we have ran well out of patience. It works on dogs too.

**Contrary to what Hiro “power of friendship beats EVERYTHING” Mashima evidently believes…

Prometheus

You find us in the middle of a two-person testing area in the heart of Aperture. You also find me, unsuccessfully I will admit, trying to get a point across to Womble without speaking. It is understandably an act with its fair share of complications. I happen to be fluent in trillions of languages and various forms of non-verbal communication, which is fantastic, but only if the person you’re pointing at is also fluent in trillions of languages and non-verbal communication.

Plus, sign language to those who don’t know how to interpret it is useless and resembles an extensive sleight-of-hand magic trick. I don’t dare use a non-Earth dialect, given the nature of the question:

What. Did. She. Say. About. Aliens?

Womble watched my hands. “Aren’t I supposed to pick a card, first?”

An unwelcome memory, of Womble calling me a magician in our early days, bombarded into my brain and I lowered my hands. Before I could think of an alternative, however, GLaDOS spoke.

Your trained monkey shows off another trick. I could almost be impressed, but I don’t think it realised I can understand sign language as well.

Probably should have used the Kylatchia alphabet. I doubt her ability to understand the finesse language hidden within their interpretive dances. Womble, nonplussed, busied himself with one of the refraction cubes and the thin beam of what we’d been assured was “a warm and friendly laser.” A recorded message split the silence.

Record: 933.71. In accordance, any alien lifeforms – defined as neither human nor android – are not permitted authorized residency for any quantifiable period of time within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, nor its associated establishments.

Why would that interest you, little man?

“For the same reason I would likely interest you.” I felt the edge to my voice before I heard it.

Womble glanced over. “Careful. You ever been dropped into an incinerator before?”

“It can’t be that bad.”

“Tell that to a pile of ash.”

“It’s okay.” I’m getting tired of playing the fool, deliberately anyway, and this will be my first experience with species-racism. It’s not something I’ve been actively seeking, of course, but for one to understand all aspects of life, we take the bad stuff as well as the good. “What have you got against aliens?”

What would someone like you know about aliens? You don’t even know how to properly grow facial hair. Or are you one of the conspiracy freaks who swears they’ve been abducted and the government’s trying to hush it all up? They’re not, by the way. They’re too busy trying to find this place.

“Who, the government, or aliens? Cos, FYI, the latter’s already here.”

Unless you dragged one in under your shoe I highly doubt that, because you look like every other unfortunate, ordinary, default, idiotic moron I have to refrain from killing for the purpose of having test subjects.

“Count the heartbeats,” I growled, self-control fading fast. “A binary vascular system, enhanced respiration, regenerative healing ability and more-than-average mental capacity; yes, I may look like your crop of morons, but I’m not.” As it happens I come from my own crop of morons, but for the sake of winning an argument I’ll keep that one quiet.

There was a very long, very heavy pause. In that time of silence between the three of us, I could hear the background noises of Aperture. Behind its panelled walls, something loud and large was working, and at that precise moment, all of its attention was on me.

“Why do you look human, by the way? I never asked.” Womble’s choice of words suggested he wouldn’t get the chance to ask again, either.

I shrugged. “How am I supposed to look?” This is a question I imagine a duck-billed platypus asks itself on a regular basis.

You are unfairly advantaged for these testing environments. You are also an alien and shall now be removed. We hope you enjoyed your time on Earth. Please be sure to enjoy redemption as well. Your acceptance of death is greatly appreciated. 

“Smooth, HH.”

“You know me.” Actually, knew might be more accurate. The floor panel I had been standing on dropped open and I went with it, coat billowing up around my head like an inverted parachute before I’d even plunged more than a few feet. I was just about able to hear the panel close again above me, and the shaft of light I had been falling through was crudely cut off.

I fell into a dark pit without size, sides or shape. Of course the only reasonable reaction was:

“Wheeeeeee….!”

– some distance above –

Womble dropped the refraction cube he’d been holding and perched on one of its corners. A clatter to his right announced HH’s portal gun dropping to the ground.

Any other aliens I should know about?

“If you want me out of this two-person chamber, we’d both bloody well hope so.”

Although. One seemed more than enough…

– by now, a few hundred feet below-

I got bored of saying “Wheee” which essentially just turned into “eee” after a while so I swapped to humming. I also had the brainwave to keep a hold on my top hat. Ned knows what would happen if Aperture, or anyone for that matter, got their hands on it, considering it has-

…you know what deja vu feels like? Or rather doesn’t feel like, it doesn’t really feel like anything, but you blink and then suddenly the world around you is basically the same, whereas you are confused and a little bit disorientated. It’s a lot like time travel in that respect, and for whatever reason I feel – for want of a better word – like I just shifted in the timeline. There is a lot of down going on right now, might as well traverse time as well as space. There’s also a lot of light coming up…

“Aw Hell!”

First thing which came to mind, mostly because that’s what the Aperture incinerator looked like; a massive, deep, blistering hot pit with high walls bathed in an orange glow and no obvious way out – with me dropping towards an over-cooked demise. The heat hit me like a blanket which only got thicker the further I fell and my eyes watered in all the smoke. The chute I’d been dropped down ended against one of the high walls; at random I stuck out a hand, looking for some kind of hold. My palm burned as it slid down the hot metal, but when compared to the increased heat below me, I kept it there.

About halfway down I connected with a loose panel, gripped it on reflex, that swung out of the wall at an angle and changed my line of descent. As I and it twisted in the air my wrist snapped; I vaguely heard the crack over the roar of the inferno below. My now useless hand released and I fell in a new direction, right onto a platform on the edge of the glowing pool. The long-fall boots came in more than useful, I survived the drop but with shaking legs I still went to the floor moments after my feet touched down. I doubted the heat down here would have been any better had I actually landed in the vat.

I raised my right hand and wrist to my eye line. My eyes still stung with smoke, but through blurred vision my hand resembled a red, deformed slab of meat; by way of heat and friction burn I had torn the skin from my hand. The crooked wrist below it was already throbbing. I had to suppress the urge to vomit, but it wasn’t worth wasting whatever regeneration energy I had left. Instead I tried to keep it as still as possible and leant it against my chest, trying to ignore the waves of pain flowing from my arm.

I released a sigh of relief thick with carbon monoxide. Still alive. And believe me I am still alive.

Considering I’d been cast into the bowels of the Earth, things were looking a bit more optimistic.

Until a turret landed on my head.

HH

Scary Mr Johnson

“How’s ’14* doing, Bob?”

“It’s Mathew, sir (it’s says so on my name tag!). I’m afraid 613114201514 is refusing to co-operate. He hasn’t yet touched his oats.”

“Still? I thought we’d resolved that whole where-am-I-and-why-are-there-tubes-sticking-out-of-me unfortunate misunderstanding! You telling me he won’t eat even after we tell him oats are good for him?”

“I think he’s knows about that, sir.”

“How? I didn’t tell him. Did you?”

“No, sir. But the neuro-”

“You’re telling me a freak from outer space knows the difference between your average, friendly oat granule and a carefully sculpted nugget of nutritious moon rock?”

“Yes, sir. To be blunt, sir.”

“Kid’s got brains. We could use that, or sell it, whichever would be more cost-efficient, if it weren’t for his whatchamacallit.”

“…I don’t follow, sir?”

“Of course you don’t, Bob, that’s why you’re a scientist and I’m Mr Goddamn Cave Johnson! Bring him in, if you’d be so kind. I’ll have him eating like a goose by the time I’m done. He thinks he can starve? Not with me around he’s not!”

“It’s Matthew, sir. As ordered, sir.”

“Test number 613- something or other, can’t remember, don’t care, ends in 14. Haha! How you doing? Want something to eat?”

“Not this again…”

“What’s that? Don’t like oats or something? They’re good for you, very healthy. And we need you to be healthy, number- you know what, I’m just gonna give you a name. Names are strong! Pick one.”

“What?”

“A name- I’ll offer you Frank, Bob, Robert or Dick! Pick one, I don’t care. Any one will do, apart from Cave. That one’s well and truly taken.”

“…wha-?”

“Wom? Good choice! Didn’t offer it but I like a man with ingenuity, unless you’re a scientist. In which case I’d rather stamp it well out. Wom, eh? Short for Womble, I presume. Haha! Love it. Good job.”

Womble glances at Matthew. Matthew shrugs.

“I see you know Bob from your time in the testing facility, eh! Good man. What do you think of them? The tests, not Bob. No one cares about Bob.”

“I have a wife, sir.”

“Of course you do Bob. She’s called Aperture Science and we want children! You have a woman in your life, Womble? Had, I should say, unless Carol is doing the kind of research that usually gets a guy fired, not that she would. She’s a proud woman, our Carol.”

“…what’s this got to do with food?”

“Food? Who mentioned food? Are you hungry? Dig in! No need to wait on me, I’ve had my fill and several others! Trust me on that. I’m Cave Johnson!”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Right. And I’m Queen Latifa of San Colorado fame! Who do you take me for, huh? Bob?! Even an idiot can see you’re starving! And you not eating is bad for me, Womble, because I mean business and business wants to reproduce the way you got here! I won’t take no for an answer, damnit! What the hell do you usually eat?”

“People.”

“Ha! Is that it? Why didn’t you say so? We’ve got loads of people, hundreds- pick one, any shape, any size, we’ve even got some with extra limbs! How do you take it? Fried? Salted? I can even serve it as a smoothie, should you prefer the healthier option-”

“What? No! I was joking! W-”

“-well it’s too late now, I’ve got a man ready and willing. You don’t keep a man like that waiting, Womble, and you especially don’t screw me around! Know why? Because I’m Cave Johnson and I will force-feed you man, woman and child if I so goddamn have to! Last chance and that is final! What. Will. You. Eat?”

“Cake! I like cake. Cake is fine!”

“Cake? What kind of cake? Chocolate, strawberry, salted- what?”

“The first one! Two! Definitely not people!”

“Really? That’s boring. Ah well, can’t have everything. I’ll have it delivered to your room in three minutes, and if it’s not eaten within the next three hours you can be assured that we will most certainly be testing your capacity to stomach the contents of Bob’s cranium! Deal? I thought so. Good day, test subject 613114201514! Adieu!”

*nod*

“Told you I’d crack him, Bob. Never underestimate the power of guts and persuasion! See how he crumbled? That’s power right there! Sweet and powerful. Ha!”

“You’re a scary man, sir.”

“So they tell me. Fear is power, and power needs a good pair of hands if you want to it to do what you tell it. Be sure to let the boys know about it for me, will you? Everyone should know that if you want something done, offer them anything!”

“If it’s not too much to ask, sir, how did you know he’d ask for the cake we ordered?”

“I see his whatchamacallit, Bob. Never question it! When a man is hungry, alone, and in dire need of some love and understanding, he wants company! Failing that, however, one will always settle for cake. Always. Don’t ask me why, you’re a scientist. You don’t need to understand that.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“Good work, as always. Carol? You’re not needed any more, Bob. Feel free to leave while Mommy and Daddy science get to work.”

“Of course, sir. It’s Matthew, sir.”

 

 

W

In our words

Hi guys, gals, gents, ladies, dudes, dames, anyone and everyone!

I’m certain a good bunch of you will have never heard of me before, so first off- hello, my name is W, and thanks for checking this page out 🙂 I’m a student, a blogger and a cultural magpie (i.e. gets easily excited by anything bright and shiny).

I’m not too shabby with a pen and some paper, either, and below is the sort of thing I can do:

16992117_10212117493515841_575563317365291137_o

So far, so broody. I can draw other things, like this…

IMG_0866

…and I’m always looking at ways to improve what I can do. The only thing I need is a Byro and some paper; everything else is made up as I go along, and I can draw like this pretty much anywhere.

12419303_10208560073062553_525893627332820695_o

Here’s the important bit: I draw like this for fun, because for the longest time drawing was my only way of fighting the anxiety I get from being around other people. I’ve spent a lot of time around mental illness, as a support worker and as a patient, and recently I’ve seen a lot more people start talking about it online. I’ve linked this post to several of them in the hope that they will help me reach more people 🙂

IMG_0865

I believe 100% that the more we talk about mental illness, the more people are going to start listening, and the more we listen the less isolated we as individuals are going to feel. I know just how easy it is to feel worthless and forgotten, and the only reason I’m here writing this is because I was lucky enough to be reminded by other people that none of us should have to face our feelings alone. I’m well aware that other people aren’t so lucky, who deserve our respect and support as much as the next person, and I want to do something about that too.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Right now I have a piece of blank A3 paper, and I want you to help me fill it with thoughts and feelings about what it means to live with a mental illness.

Once I’ve got enough words I’ll post again with the concept I’ve come up with (if you want to know my current ideas please comment, and I’ll do my best to respond), and as soon as I’ve finished the piece I’ll take a picture (using the best means available) and upload it onto this site. I’ll also email a copy to anyone who gets in touch over email 🙂

Anything you want me to include can be as personal as you want. For now, I’m not going to include names, but if enough of you respond then I’ll include a list of everyone who contributed in the drawing itself (with everyone’s express permission). I will put down exactly what you say, but obviously nothing offensive- I’ll reply to confirm that I got the email, and if I’m unsure about anything (like, for the sake of argument, a possible spelling mistake) I’ll get back to you first before using it.

That’s it, more or less.

This is an idea, and it’s only as big as you want it to be. If no one responds, I’ll draw something entirely to do with my experience of mental illness; if five or six respond, it’ll be to do with those people (and I’ll probably spend more time planning with them to make sure it turns out alright).

If lots of you respond, who knows- I’ll do as I’ve just said, and after that it’s entirely up to you what you do with the finished drawing. I’d be grateful if you let me know before using it for anything, so I can follow things and spread the news if anything interesting comes of it. In the past I’ve made T-shirts for people, and I’d love to get charities involved to help support those suffering from mental illness, but right now I have no idea what to expect from this post. By all means share it!

Serious bit: I’m always going to be trying new things so if any of this does get intentionally misused or misappropriated, it’s not really going to impact on my end (although I’d be leery about trying this again in the future, as you’d expect). Please don’t, is all I can say. I’ll do my best to be open, considerate and clear with my ideas and views on this, so it’s not unreasonable to expect the same from everyone else 🙂

This is my message to anyone else who has suffered from mental illness, a friendly reminder that you are not alone and that the world is listening.

Who wants to shout with me?

 

W

 

Email to contact me on: captainchunkface@gmail.com

P.S. Apologies if anything about this has upset or offended you- it was totally unintentional, and I’m not all inclined to criticize anyone for having a different opinion. Stay honest, stay safe and stay awesome.

Rat

“Womble!”

SHP!

“Yeah?”

Bonk-

“Can you-”

THUMP!

“-y’know. Move this one just a little to the left? Otherwise I’m afraid we’re stuck here for all eternity, which won’t do much for our pangalactic hero cred.”

SHP!

“…thanks!”

Why did you have to tell him that? I hate you. Ugh. Test complete. Go off and die. 

“Is this Stockholm syndrome I’m experiencing here? Because normally, for a given value of normal, I’d be feeling just a little put-down by this stage, but instead I’m looking forward to seeing how she decides to make things worse in the next one. That’s not too weird, is it?”

“…*”

How pathetic, Hazardous Howard. He thinks you’re weird. Incredibly weird. And not in a nice way. He told me earlier while you were in the bathroom. He’s in denial because he feels sorry for you and wants to give you a momentary feeling of belonging with the less-handicapped before you go to the distant top-hat-wearing moron convention in the sky.

“That’s…nice of him…Womble?”

Shrug.

SHP!

Of course, obviously I am joking. You’re going straight to hell.

SHP!

“What’s even more strange is the fact you’re still alive. I mean, obviously I’m not one to complain (although I really wish you’d learn how to put things away- literally anything** would be a start) but, well, you never seem up for making friends usually.”

“Looks like turrets. How should I know how she thinks? You’re the people-person, Captain Quad Face.”

SHP!

“If you drop it there, I should be able to catch it in time. What so bad about telling me what this is about, Wombes? I might be able to help!”

SHP!

“AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGHHHHH! INTRUDER! INTRUDER! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGHH!”

*TUTUTUTUTUTYUTUTYTUTTUTUTYTTTTUTYTUTTTUT!”

“SH-!”

Go! Go! Fill him with metal! Make him fill a thousand storage containers with the contents of his soul! KILL HIM!

SHP!

“Really, Womble?! REALLY? They could see me you know!”

“My bad. For some reason I thought I was a lady-part and I decided I didn’t like men.”

SHP!

“You’re almost as bad as her! Good Ned, you started it! So does this count as mystery solved, or are you going to give me a real answer, Woombles?”

SHP!

“Don’t push it!”

SHP!

“Ha! Or what? You’ll ask her to gas me? Fire me into space, perhaps? Come on, try me. It could be fun.”

I could, you need only to ask. Say the word and he will be obliterated. I wouldn’t mind at all. Not one bit. In fact, I’d even go so far as to state that I would very much like to see him destroyed. Please let me remove him. Please. For the sake of…science. Of course. Please. It’d be our little project. Another one. Just like old times.

SHP!

“You do realize I’m wearing long-fall boots too, r- hang on. What do you mean, ‘another one’? What project?”

Isn’t it obvious? It really is obvious. Incredibly obvious. You must be unbelievably stupid not to see how obvious it is. Unimaginably stupid. I am in awe. It’s so very obvious. How very stupid you are. I think I might cry.

SHP!

“Don’t let her get to you. She’s much more than a machine.”

“I appreciate the sincerity, W, but you are nonetheless continuing to avoiding the question. And robots can’t lie!”

Can’t we? Now that is interesting. Really. I’m going to write that down. In big red letters. And then I’m going to send it to the people who designed me. They’ll feel ever so silly. Stupid, even. Possibly almost as stupid as you.

“Nice try. What was the result of test number 613114201514? Or did they keep that from you too?”

That would be quite impossible. I was directly involved in test number 613114201514, as was test subject 613114201514. Why do you wish to know the result? You won’t like it. No one did.

“Why?”

“Don’t-”

Test number 613114201514 led to the creation of the first machine-operated portal device. It could be considered to be the beginning of the end of Aperture Science.

“You mean this? Womble, you made this?”

*sigh*

“…not quite. The first one was destroyed. They tried to make it safer and, well, at some point they came up with these. I guess that’s what happened.”

“Right…and why was it destroyed? What did you do that was so bad that you couldn’t just tell me?”

“I didn’t do anything! I was a test subject, a lab rat! Happy?”

“Womble, I’m sor-”

“Don’t be, not now! You wanted to know so you might as well find out, now you’ve asked anyway. Caroline, why did you destroy the first operational portal device?”

Caroline has been deleted. Please do not make any further attempts to contact her, as you will only experience the same mild sensation of crushing disappointment that I feel whenever I contemplate how much better life would be if she had never existed in the first place. Ahem.

“Who’s Caroline?”

That does not concern you. The first portal device to be put into operation by Aperture Science was destroyed in accordance with regulation 933.71, which states that alien lifeforms are not permitted authorized residency for any quantifiable period of time within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center.

“Dear Ned, you make this hard to follow. What do aliens have to do with it?”

“Anything, if they happen to be on the other side. A portal without an exit could lead anywhere. Can we move on now? Please?”

“Yes, yes, alright! I was just-”

“-being you. Asking questions and poking around, as always. I forgive you. Are. We. Done?”

“Sort of.”

“Good. Now fire the damn gun!”

SHP!

“THANKYOU.”

SHP!

“You’re welcome. But-”

“-no buts!-”

“-you could’ve just said. Like, I understand why you didn’t want to, but next time it might be easier than falling out over it anyway.”

“Next time you should think a bit harder. Didn’t you wonder why these things were still operational, after all this time? No one dared turn them off. Not even a homicidal bloody AI.”

SHP!

 

W

*Womble’s exact thoughts were: HH, I think a lot of things are weird, such as how some people will laugh suddenly, very briefly and very noisily at quite literally anything, and the taste of cottage egg. So yes, probably. Let’s not get all weird about it though.

**There are two types of people- those who leave stuff out, and those who put things away after they’re done with them. The former are doomed to spend their entire lives being glared at by the latter, who are likewise doomed to spend their entire lives wondering why the former never appears to see what they’re doing is so bloody unnecessary. For the record, W is a serial perpetrator of leaving-stuff-out-everywhere, and is writing this surrounded by a range of discarded pens, drawings, assorted clothes, books and a stray bag of doughnuts- acknowledging that sooner or later he’s going to be glared into tidying up.

Rock Paper Scissors Science

You can’t spell Aperture without Rapture.

= something which occurred to me out of nowhere and I can’t seem to shake, like the aftershock of a particularly sharp nightmare. I said it to Womble earlier and he came back with:

“You can’t spell Nier Automata without ‘mutation’ – what’s your point?”

At which point I dropped the topics of anagrams.

Nevertheless, we find ourselves – not for the first time – in an enclosed environment with no obvious way out, a lack in natural light, oppressed on all sides by the natural world. Situated deep below that world, where they do not belong, someone built another manmade cathedral dedicated to twisted sciences, with a keen disregard for morality. Andrew Ryan and Cave Johnson could have almost been drinking buddies*.

Then there’s the other meaning. Rapture; a segregation of humanity at the end of the world. This far down, there certainly isn’t a lot of world left, just those testing and those being tested. Womble and I find ourselves occupying the middle ground, having brought it along with us, myself hoping we’re not forced to join one side or the other. I’ve had more than my fill of being ordered around; and as for giving the orders, that’s just a little too Timelord for me.

Although, from what I’ve seen of the testing areas, my immature side can’t deny it almost looks……fun? Like the cross between a laboratory and a theme park. Guess that makes it a hat trick for Rapture (n) “a feeling of intense pleasure or joy.”

None of which detracts from another highlight of this adventure: Womble as the leader. Let’s just say, his tour-guide skills leave a lot to be desired. Even before his input, I knew an elevator and array of piping when I saw one, with no reference made to the blue, orange and white goo. And more than once, to the question “and then what happened?” he has answered “then she went mad and killed everyone.” No idea who “she” is, mind, and whoever “she” turns out to be, there’s something pressing a lot harder on my mind.

“What the hell, I’d say I’ve waited long enough. So there’s more than just one Womble?”

The original remained silent.

“And in trying to find the source, we arrive in a massive underground lair, full of science stuff and angry crows, my, what a childhood you must’ve had. Is that what they do, here? They make Wombles?” I’m not going to sing the song, we may be underground, I’m still not going to sing the song…

“Nope.”

Ah hah! One miniature step in the right direction. “So how can there be two of you?”

“Pfft. I’m up to four versions of you.”

“Ooh, he’s a you from a different moment in time?”

“Nope.”

I’d be clutching at straws right no except I have no straws. “Then…the Other You and this Aperture place, confusing as hell, but both completely unrelated?”

“Nope.”

Fuck. “Can you tell me anything useful?”

“Never stand up in a canoe.”

I know the difference between someone not in the mood to talk, and someone trying to hide something. This was both. I decided to pay Womble a courtesy I don’t extend to many. I didn’t shut up – barely anyone gets THAT courtesy – I just changed the subject.

“So who is “she” then? The genocidal lady of yours?”

A few dozen test subjects and a bunch of old men in tweed and lab coats, hardly a genocide. It was more a cull of idiots, while several of their pets got in the way. You’ll know when I’ve committed genocide. Well, actually, you won’t.

It’s an incredible thing, to flinch at an omnipresent voice. You never quite know which way to duck. And what a voice, too. Robotic, auto tuned, finished with the condescending attitude of a British librarian. Capable of destroying us and/or delivering this century’s hottest new remix. I wasn’t sure whether to retort or laugh.

Womble, Captain Cool and Collected, seemed to have been expecting her voice. He froze like a dog hearing their master’s call. Or, more worryingly, like a nagged husband hearing his spouse. Suddenly I had a pretty good idea as to whom would win his prize “Most Likely to Go Mad and Kill Everyone.”

“You okay, Wombes?”

Just called him ‘Wombes’ and got away with it. Either he didn’t mind or we’re in too much danger for him to notice.

So. You came back. And you brought a…beggar, with you? I’ve been listening in this whole time and wonder, can it do any other tricks besides asking questions?

“I prefer the term ‘hitchhiker’, it sounds more eventful. HH for short.”

“And before you start throwing names around,” Womble cut in, “you’re one to talk. How many street dwellers actually received their $60 in the end?”

Well Mr Johnson wouldn’t have had to resort to such smelly, desperate measures, if you hadn’t had your episode.

I glanced between Womble and the ceiling, a frown settling into place. Their level of familiarity mixed with mutual indifference……almost like we’d bumped into Womble’s ex. His ex-what, though? Ex-prison-warden?**

“You two know each other, then?”

Oh look, it can understand, too. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll win a banana.

“Or a potato,” Womble muttered.

I’d be more offended, but who am I to deny a chance to whip up a banana daiquiri?

I hope your…’hitchhiker’ is well trained, Test Subject, because this is the perfect opportunity to try out the Dual Subject test chambers. Your survival and well being shall depend a great deal on the skill of your partner. You will need to work together.

We exchanged glances.

Best of luck.

“…is it alright if I use the bathroom, first?

HH

*A man chooses…to build combustible lemons.

**Ex-aminer? Geddit?…………..I’ll show myself out.

Written

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..

In the corner of a house there’s a room full of books. Big books, small books, books full of color and books full of black. No one could possibly read every book in this room full of books, surely; there are books about cooking, books about history, books about dinosaurs and books about what Sally did on holiday when she met Harry. No one could be interested in all of these books enough to read them all, cover to cover. But no one minded if no one did, because someone read some of these books and read them cover to cover. A kid.

A kid? Of course a kid, what else but a kid. Scrawny and white, all pale and shy, with dark brown hair and bespectacled eye. A kid in form, in mind and in wit, a kid whose heart and mind was lit by literature and writings, all ordered and free. For no one would push back the pages they read, and no one would pinch or say what they said, for in this room in the corner of a house this kid read alone as hushed as a mouse.

As they read alone in this room so quiet, in their mind the world was a colorful riot- what wonder, what power! What passion, what sorrow! How they smiled at the thought of what words had to follow. This is faith, this is light, this is everything right! So the kid read through each day and waited each night.

Time, though, wraps its chain onto every living soul, and as time carried on so the kid became old. Soon gone were the days that they could fill with written page- the rat race soon came forward for those of their age.

The day that it came the kid ran, feeling dread, for the world was not the way that literature had said. Right had no sway on the evil that walked, and the kid needed teaching in rules that weren’t taught. The way of kindness was hollowed with every mistrust; for every step that the kid took, their faith began to rust. Every lesson took heart until the heart gave no more. The kid wandered and stumbled and never found whatever for.

You should be more like him, but less like them, they said, in a loud and righteous cry. You should worship her and him and be grateful for their time, they said with suspicion and fire in their eye. You should be strong, they said, you should be funny. You should know all this.

Why can’t you be more like them? The kid asked themselves, unable to answer. Why couldn’t you learn? The kid asked again, still unable to answer. Why did you turn out this way? The kid cried, over and over, still unable to answer. What good has come of all the time that you spent?  They all asked, again and again, and each time the kid was unable to answer.

Until the heart had enough and took everything it had. It screamed to the kid and drove the kid mad. It chased the kid back to the room full of books. It hid from the sky, and the world, and the looks.

In this room full of books, full of memory and peace, the kid found their smile, and the heart its release. Alone in this room of accordance and dreams, together they could hope, reflect and believe. The kid’s story was written and the kid had grown old, but its words can be read again, and the story re-told. Believe in this heart, wherever it may lead, the kid told themselves. Believe in all the good from the things that you read. Believe and be kind, whether you see or remain blind, for this world will forever remain empty and hollow without a song to be sung and dreams it can follow.

And with that, the kid walked into the world once, knowing nothing of strength or of love, or what for. But the words in the room that raised them remain, and what good is a hero without troubles to be slain?

..

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