It is rather dark down here. That makes sense. No-one needs lights down here. No-one expects anyone/anything to crawl out of an incinerator.
Then I came along. Anything to be different.
My wrist hurts a great deal. It has been a long time since I broken a bone. Seems I’ve forgotten how gross it can be. My right hand wrist looks like a flesh-coloured and blood-stained sack of loose shingles. Seems I’ve forgotten what to do about it too. Memories of whatever I did at the time were uploaded into another person*. I assume the answer is not carrying a turret under the other arm in a dark tunnel a hundred miles below the surface of the world.
Some people might consider it a cure. Some people live in hope.
That must be nice.
That’s the turret. Trying to discover who it landed on. Who it gave a substantial bump on the head. Who saved its life. We’re friends now. In my head. Which has nothing to do with the fact I’d rather not be alone. A bleak situation can be improved by company. Womble and I have been in many bleak situations.
Sometimes our presence is what causes them.
This turret is an advance over Womble for a while. I don’t have to live with the constant nagging idea that I’m annoying him. I can annoy the turret instead.
Although so far I’m losing.
“Hello.” The retaliation of annoying might as well start somewhere.
“Don’t mention it.” Weird how it even mentioned it in the first place. No turret is programmed nor imbued with a sense of gratitude. It doesn’t need one. If anyone spares a turret it doesn’t give thanks. It waits for the next available target.
Bang goes that theory. I had never heard such a level of emotion in just two words before. Much less from an android. An unexpected sense of pity for a machine constructed in the name of killing other people – if only the Daleks could see me now.
Except. If he really is “different.” Murder and manslaughter may not be top of the priority list. Instead it has thanks and an apparent need for self-confession.
“Good. Different is good,” I tell the turret. “Being ‘Normal’ is living a lifestyle decided by somebody else. I don’t want that. Nobody should.” Spare moments passed us by and there was nothing but the distant rumblings of the incinerator.
“What does it take to be normal, anyway?”
“That never solves anything.”
Don’t make lemonade.
“Lemonade rarely solves anything either.”
Yes I have heard these words before. I don’t want your damn lemons what am I supposed to do with these?! The recollection is pristine. I can even remember the echo. A pitch-perfect memory of rebellion. An abject refusal to play the hand which Life has dealt. If Mr C Johnson had just made lemonade, none of us would be here right now.
Instead. To name a few…
Everyone would have great shower curtains.
There would be no portal gun and no army of mantis men.
The Borealis would be docked elsewhere.
I would never have heard the potato sing.
So the turret has a point.
Don’t make lemonade
I was under the impression that I was carrying an unintentional horoscope. I had new understanding as to why this little weapon had been dropped into flames.
The turret continued to speak.
Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man. He was cast into the bowels of the Earth and pecked by birds.
“Sounds like the gods to me.” Proud, paranoid, penchant for punishments. The birds get a bad reputation in that story too. They were just hungry. They could not know the part they would play in the torture of Prometheus. Much in the same way a gun cannot control its fate if purchased by a lunatic.
Prometheus should not be judged too harshly. Granted he gave mankind the knowledge of War. Annihilation. Selfishness. Lies. He also gave them Hope. Empathy. Perspective. Inspiration. Music. Prometheus saw a balance of good and evil and trusted mankind enough to give them a chance to figure it out.
I think I love him for trying.
I wish I knew what made him do it. And whether it was worth it.
The answer is beneath us.
Words from the robotic soothsayer. It is not impossible. Prometheus has to be buried somewhere after all. Perhaps the birds cannot reach him down here anymore. Although Aperture does have a livelier avian environment than I might have expected.
My chattering prophet was almost finished.
Her name is Caroline. Remember that.
“I will. The problem is that she will not.”
That’s all I can say.
“That’s okay. No doubt I can fill the silence.”
Before leaving the incinerator tunnels I took a thick permanent marker pen from my coat pocket. In the dark I knelt to the floor. I wrote my message blindly and clumsily left-handed.
Somewhere nobody would ever see it nor even think to look. Three words. An underwhelming memorial.
Here Lies Prometheus
A passion for knowledge built this place. It is as suitable a location for the Titan’s grave as anywhere else.
Something like an hour passed. After too much walking most of which was uphill we reached a new underground area. A way out did nothing to present itself. In the immediate vicinity there were many piles of scrap metal. Steep walls. The light of a dozen random fires. One sad smashed elevator. Hundreds of miles of solid rock over our heads.
As equally without hope as the incinerator and dark tunnels before. Yet this is still the place where many things changed.
This is where I heard the potato sing.
PS: I am aware in the original story that Prometheus gifts mankind with fire. Not knowledge. It is still the same story. Prometheus stole from the gods something that has the capability to destroy humanity as well as create it anew. A weapon in the wrong hands. A blessing in the right.
Without fire humanity would have perished from cold and starvation.
Without knowledge it would have done much of the same.
They have both.
So don’t make lemonade.
* See As Individuals, April 2016
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.
“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:
– 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…
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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!”
“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.”
“-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.”
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?”
Of course, obviously I am joking. You’re going straight to hell.
“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.”
“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!”
“AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGHHHHH! INTRUDER! INTRUDER! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGHH!”
Go! Go! Fill him with metal! Make him fill a thousand storage containers with the contents of his soul! KILL HIM!
“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.”
“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?”
“Don’t push it!”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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?”
“…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.
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?”
“Good. Now fire the damn gun!”
“You’re welcome. But-”
“-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.”
*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.
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…
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?”
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?”
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?
*A man chooses…to build combustible lemons.
**Ex-aminer? Geddit?…………..I’ll show myself out.
Here’s one for you.
There was this song playing throughout existence. It was new to some and ancient to others, known to a few and a mystery to the rest. It had permeated every available air-wave. In our infinite universe, it was heard an infinite number of times until the right person heard it.
~ * ~
# A sight for sore eyes to the blind would be awful majestic… #
Majestic means one important thing, to both myself and Jeff Fisher. It is our inspiration, our reason, to return to a better way of life. I have set in motion my plan to find Womble and resume our adventures. My interlude has come to an end. I negotiated with machines of war, I danced with beings long since deceased and I read stories that truly are best left shelved. My appetite for alcohol has been sated and I have emerged on the other side. There remains little to do now but listen:
Listen to the music broadcasting from my ship. It’s incomplete, of course, and it is that which irks me more than its repetition. The five minute song is missing its iconic 30 second guitar solo, a deliberate omission into which Womble can make his reply. Had I known I’d have to endure my third favourite song being butchered like this, I might have left Womble behind with a slightly better plan.
Listen to the engines as we drift gently through the voids of time and space. They generate nothing more than a low level background hum, like a giant elevator with its unique version of music, completely underwhelming their dimension-thwarting abilities. I just so happened to notice it in the quiet between the penultimate and final lines.
Listen to the voices of the universe. Something I’ve always been able to do, thanks to the ‘universal residue’ trick. I keep meaning to come up with a better name, like ‘telepathy’, except it’s not thoughts I can hear. It’s memories. Like History whispering in my ear.
It currently says nothing of my friend. Although it is more than difficult to measure such things, by my count and by way of time travel contradictions, it’s been nearly twenty years since I turned away from Womble, Nibbles and the Daedalus. We’ve been apart before but this is different. Sometimes it isn’t what you’re hearing, but the lack of it. This extended absence appears to me as deliberate, the quiet of somebody hiding, not just otherwise engaged. In essence, the precise opposite of what I’m currently doing.
A lot can happen in twenty years, even more than that can occur in twenty seconds and for whatever reason Womble has obscured himself from the rest of reality. I’d like to know what that reason was. To that end, and to make sure Womble doesn’t just reply for the hell of it, I’ve added a last-minute addition to the plan. You see my friends, this particular song comes spring-loaded.
It’ll also cut out a lot of unnecessary travelling. For me, anyway.
# I’d rather be dreaming of someone, than living aloooooooooooooooone… #
Where there had been silence a few hundred times before, a guitar chord sliced into the silence. I remained where I was, sitting on the floor with my back to the console, grinning like a lunatic. My friend played the solo perfectly, carving each chord through the ship, matched note-to-note with my memory. My blood chilled the same like the first time I heard it, with the unparalleled satisfaction that the song was complete and my friend had been found. The last-minute addition – some would call it a “trap” – activated. A teleport feedback loop acquired the source of the reply message and did what all teleports love to do:
A few feet in front of me, Womble popped into existence, still holding his guitar and still playing the final chords, his eyes closed. Part of me considered it, but ultimately, nothing could have made me stop him. My best friend playing my third favourite song; it was easily the best thing to happen since he left.
Womble freed the final note and let the last of the lyrics play, interrupted by my personal applause. His eyes opened to the sound and his guitar slowly lowered. He fixed me a Look which was, no other word for it, weird. What made it worse was I did the exact same thing in reverse. The excitement of the music over, my residue ability caught up with me and every single one of my instincts set up warning signs. This was Womble…and yet most definitely not Womble. It was like watching a well-known film played in the mirror. It’s almost right, but not quite.
And because the universe has never made itself easy to understand, the entire situation was equally improved and muddled by the real Womble crashing through the door. Definitely him this time. I recognised the chaos, not so much the new coat.
“We’ve talked about this!” Womble roared. Completely ignoring me, Womble grabbed his doppelganger by the scruff of the neck and hauled them out the same door he’d just barged through. With that, he slammed the door behind him, paused, and opened it again.
“And give back my headphones!”
Slam. Pause. Turn.
“He’s new,” Womble said. Not since “The End” have two words closed a matter so definitively.
I still had my eyes on the door. “We are in the Time Vortex right now.”
“He’ll be fine.” Womble waved an airy hand and took the nearest seat.
You don’t get to my age without learning that, just sometimes, you don’t need to ask. Except no matter when your birthday is, age and instinct don’t always agree. I myself felt it necessary to ask at least one question and I’d better make it a good one.
“Fifteen-all in mad tennis,” I muttered and leaned over the console. Odyssey quietly working in the background had located where we had stolen the “Other Womble” from. I shrugged and set it as our destination. It’s been too long since our last mystery tour and there’s literally no time quite like the present.
“You’ve redecorated then.”
I glanced around the room. “It’s a totally different ship. And, you’re one to talk,” I added, noting his new attire. It was difficult to discern where stitching stopped and the actual material began – Cinderella, eat your heart out.
“Any reason it’s shaped like a shark?”
“Just wanted to tick something off the list.” A simple, boyhood desire I’ve had ever since our trip to Melancholy Hill.
My console screen came to life, with the usual read-out of information pertaining to our newest location. I gave it glance, as Womble retrieved the dropped guitar. The word “science” appeared more than a few times. I decided to spend my one question. This one felt like it might actually go somewhere.
“Does the word Aperture mean anything to you?”
~ * ~
There’s no finite conclusion, here. I have lived long enough to know finality is just a pipe dream. Personally, I think Wax Fang sang it best:
If you’re searching the lines for a point, well you’ve probably missed it. There was never anything there in the first place.
There are ways of reaching someone when they’re lost. Sometimes all it takes is the knowledge that there’s someone else looking for them.
There was this song playing throughout the universe…
“LET GO OF ME, YOU GINGER BRUTE! LET GO! R2! R2!! WHERE ARE YOU R2?!!R-” *WHACK* “-too…”
Dear Ned he can scream. The twonk’s been like that for a good three hours now, screaming its circuits dry while my hairy accomplice does…well, whatever the heck he’s doing. I haven’t looked. My eardrums are throbbing enough already, even with ear-defenders. And I wouldn’t be of any use anyway. It sounds painful, but…well, considering lust is technically a sin, C-3PO shouldn’t be too surprised. We found him in the VIP suite behind a sound-proofed door.
“LET ME OUT!! I AM A HERO, FOR GOD’S- WHAT IS THAT? NO! NOT THAT!! LET ME-” *WHACK*
“Oook ook! OOk!”
Sometimes, it’s…well, necessary to be mean. Sometimes it makes sense. We’ve all had times when being evil felt good, even if only in the moment. The trouble usually is that in creating such a contradiction, you can be reasonably expected die pretty soon after, in case anyone else has a smart idea.
“DAMN YOU R2! I HOPE YOU BURN IN EVERY CIRCLE OF HELL!! I HOPE YOU WRITHE IN- ‘:@#!!#_ghhjg!4>hjg%32hjg^&hj)jk.//j…”
“Oook. Ook. Oook-ook-ook.”
It’s dangerous to be the bad guy. I’m pretty sure we’d count. Any minute now, we might well have Han Solo bearing down on us with an army of wookies and a messianic brother-in-law, no doubt intrigued by the morality behind our decision to ransack the golden boy of Endor because the orangutan wanted to.
Explaining why is always tricky. Why do anything? There isn’t a great deal of morality between a good reason and bad one, ultimately.
The man who “liberated” Rapture by performing surgery on it’s children and collecting superpowers wasn’t far off the guy who also collected superpowers and decided to simply run the place instead. The robot who ran tests on someone because they were bored, in retrospect, was rather nice to the someone who passed those tests, gained invaluable life-experience about the application of physics, and more importantly SURVIVED.
*OOK ook ook-ook. Oook.”
A bad person isn’t necessarily evil, but they’re undoubtedly efficient. A cannibal who eats bad people is more remarkable than a cannibal who eats whoever walks around the corner. The former uses intellect and reason. They might well be incredibly good at other things, like economics. Would it be wrong to imprison them if, alongside dining on rapists and thieves, they could be helping to solve a nationwide financial crisis too?
“Oook! Oook-ook oook oook!”
Heck. Sometimes you need someone around to give the good guys something good to do. Bruce Wayne would’ve spent his entire life punching poor people in some foreign prison, if not for the league of ninja Qui-Gon Jinn.
Luke Skywalker would be boring as hell without the title of universal hero on his CV. Hobbits would still be acknowledged as a race of fat lazy midgets if Sauron hadn’t tried to take over, and master Frodo would have undoubtedly ensured mother Gamgee never got any grandchildren either.
The dwarf in the flask was doing everyone a favor when he made himself a new Hoenheim- he virtually ended slavery, and the original Hoenheim got his freedom. Not bad for something that wasn’t even the same species. Imagine a cat doing that, or a dog for that matter. No chance.
…the irony is that no one could ever actually like a villain for being a villain. It’s in the job description. I doubt Han Solo is going to forgive me for this, ever. But maybe he aught to have something to feel pissed off about. He’s a universally-accepted hero. And maybe that’s a fight we want to see. At least we’ll be able to understand each other now. Mr orangutan here is a freakin’ genius. He can take the wookie- who knows, they might even just click and share a pint together.
C-3PO’s contribution to the universe wasn’t much, when you really think about it. He didn’t kill Jar Jar Binks. He simply translated what R2 said, in order for everyone to agree with R2, and then speak directly to R2 regardless. It’s debatable if robots can feel pain anyway- Anakin must’ve been feeling cruel if, for reasons of his own, he decided to give his creation a nervous system.
Besides, this thing is awesome, in an odd kinda way. It reminds me of…what was it? HH mentioned them once. Like a…sackboy? Only…eurgh…I can’t remember. Like a Sackboy that got it’s head stuck in an incredibly small fridge. A cubehead? I don’t know. It’s pretty small, and it doesn’t do much. Maybe it should have been given a pair of hands. I’d better ask, now that its possible. Just as soon as we’ve left this sector.
The orange Einstein couldn’t bring himself to remove all the gold. I feel like its gonna start dancing at any minute. And then women will appear- human women, in skimpy outfits and glitzy shoes. And we’ll be forced into sunglasses and badly-fitting T-shirts…
…still. Even if it did, it’s still more awesome than the golden boy of verbal panic attacks. Thank god that’s over.
R2 is in for a rough time if there really is such thing as “hell”…