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.”
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.
…why are people so freakin’ noisy? Ugh. It should be obvious that if you’re capable of thought, you are capable of keeping them thoughts inside your own damn head! Who cares if you like them thoughts? I like lying down in a dark room pretending I’m a gribbly thing with lots of teeth. Doesn’t make it advisable to share them with every freakin’ set of eardrums in the immediate vicinity. Who cares if you think it’s a nice day? That’s subjective! SHUT UP! I’m don’t care!
…I knew this was a bad idea. Damn HH. I blame him. Actually, no. I blame me. Stupid me. Why’d you have to get all nostalgic and whimsy? We had a nice, calm, pleasant little time in that vacuum. Nothing but gribbly things with lots of teeth. Very simple. Very functional. But screw that, eh? Why waste an eternity in the blissful caress of mindless oblivion when there’s a world out here full of Gordon freakin’ Ramseys and meta-journalists? Ugh. Screw you. Screw whatever stupid messed up piece of you made us giddy about the sound of a perfect chord…
…they agree, you know. I’m certain. See the way they all look at you? Even the ones you don’t see are looking. I can feel them, looking and seeing and judging and condemning every damn pixel identified by their Ned-damn 500 megawatt face-transmogrifying built-in camera. Ha! I hate them and their stupid thoughts. It must be nice, lolling through each day like a concussed puppy, looking from one thing to the next without ever stopping to wonder if no one else cares about the thoughts spewing uncontrollably from their stupid puppy mouth…
…admittedly, the coffee is good. That’s one thing I could get used to, I suppose, providing no one takes it off me. I wonder why they call this place “:re”. Couldn’t they think of something…more wordy, even? Like, I’m pretty sure “:re” isn’t a word. It looks more like a reference. Ugh. Good thing they do good coffee…
…y’know, I’ve noticed that bud at the counter has been watching me ever since I arrived; he’s alright, I guess, as human things go, but I’m surprised this coffee ain’t been drugged by now. He’s looking at me the way a raven looks at a dog. Maybe he’d peck my damn eyes out if I dropped dead. I’m concerning him, just a little, and he won’t look away. But he isn’t scared. I don’t mind. I’m not scared either…
…maybe it’s between monsters. I don’t know. How do you even define a monster as a monster anyway? Is it even a bad thing? People aren’t often any better. Quite often they’re worse, even, because monsters only exist in books. People do bad things all the time, whether you know about them or not. Ugh. I’m overthinking this. Screw people. And screw you, flower-man…
…somewhere out there is a guitar player. Playing that song. The song. I can’t stop it. I don’t want it to. But I’m gonna. I’m gonna finish that damn song and then I’m going home. I can’t stand this place, with it’s sights and sounds and smells and feelings and excitement and wonder and sheer bloody optimism…
…when does it end?
On a tiny world full of…stuff…a man stands with his fist in the sky, brandishing a weapon of furious destruction that glints in the cold air like a miniature star. Jagged tendrils of lightening hum around him. The man is unfazed, seemingly, because this is what thunder gods do.
Find the enemy, shout at them a lot and fry what’s left with lightening until it stops moving. Another day, another bloody long Asgardian tale of masculinity and heroics.
Except today…well, today, frankly, it just isn’t working. The man is angry about this, as you would if you thought today was going to be full of very uncomplicated things like woodcarvings, instead of one very complicated thing who happens to be enjoying himself.
Today does not feel like a good day to be a thunder god. Which is ridiculous- there is never not a good day to be a thunder god*, and the man vents his frustration aloud at the sheer unrighteousness of this vexing living-breathing-impossibility.
Alas, the vexing-living-breathing-impossibility is unfazed. If anything, he appears to be laughing now, and again the thunder god raises his fist to sky. For a brief moment, vision is temporary blacked out by lightening bolts. That takes a lot of doing for an otherwise temperate planet full of mild temperatures and only the very occasional hurricane.
“I told you, that’s not going to work. Ever. Give up, and for Ned’s sake quit screaming at me, because the longer you scream the harder it is for me to leave.”
“Leave now interloper! Be gone from this place of tribute and worship, as decreed by the seventh god of the Asgardian warrior kings!”
“Why? I’m not doing anything, besides frustrating you, which we both know is entirely your fault.”
“Why do you persist on these riddles demon? I am a god! Why do you insist on defying holy creed?!”
“I haven’t finished my book. No thanks to you, I might add.”
“…what have I just told you…?”
And so it continues. Lightening, fury, manly energy and the sort of dialogue most of us tend to have with mosquitoes or a traffic jam. Entirely pointless, as with much of life. Except very blatantly.
It would have been kinder to do as the jumped-up sack of brick said, and come back another time, when he was too busy being a hero somewhere else.I’m sure he’d like that, even though manly thunder god creed would deny him from ever admitting it. But sod the law about working around heroes. Do it for one and they all expect it of you.
The trouble with quests is that they very much depend on timing. You can’t not be there doing that, because you need to be there doing that- or else that thing you need doing is never going to be possible, on account of needing to be done at that place at that exact darn time.
Mine, currently, involves recovering bits of a certain book scattered throughout the galaxy, using only thought and a large number of very exact quasi-dimensional location/time correlations. The book is important, because it’s the only book in existence with a phrase that for the life of me I should but cannot remember.
It’s turning out to be bloody hard work.
*They don’t even get hangovers
I see a man writhing. On fire. HH, I presume. He is in agony.
Something is tearing him apart from inside out.
Cracks stalk his skin and spit light into the monotonous pall- every color imaginable, every shade and every hue. I think this is related to the so-called “regeneration” all Time Lords supposedly have: the power to change their own DNA and resurrect, at the cost of a stranger’s personality. Something is wrong.
HH isn’t changing. The body is fighting itself and his mind is split in two, both refusing to let go, grinding itself down against the pressure of constant regeneration. He simply cannot cope with conflicting personalities in a cycle of unending rebirth. It’s too much.
It’s impressive that someone even came up with something so specifically designed for a Time Lord. They’re not easy to pin down, and for the most part they’re not even worth bothering with*. Build an appropriately-sized wooden shed, seal the exits, hire a very big dog to sort out everything else and you’re laughing.Whatever HH did to offend the darkness, he must have done it in spades. And then some.
Time to light the pipe, I guess. And use the lighter I’ve been lagging around on the off-chance something villainous might actually plan ahead for once. The top glows a familiar shade of turquoise, sending faint lines into the air that spread out like upended roots. I inhale, and the sensation that hits my senses sends a tingle through my spine. It’s what happens when you step between two very specific dimensions, except that this is happening inside me: by combing the earth of one realm with the raw power of another, I’m temporarily within both- their conflict has created a union, so to speak, which I can use as a tether.
It’s a nice feeling. I sense the darkness around me like I imagine a fish would the ocean, an ocean in which I can swim freely. It’s custom-built for what I’m about to do to the thing destroying HH.
I’m not sure if he even realizes it, but in this form I can see it clearly; whatever’s tearing him apart isn’t made of light, it’s merely forcing light out as cover. Amidst his breaking skin is a creature as black as the world around us, a fulcrum of sorts for all the pain to flow out from. I’m guessing this is his inner demon or something, because I can’t imagine he’d let the darkness in.
Somewhere within HH was a door of sorts, hiding something from thought. All the darkness needed was a key, and HH’s guilty conscience would do the rest, struggling with something that could only fester and wait until the moment he slipped. It’s not beyond imagining that the darkness found an opening- live long enough and you’re bound to leave a few scraps unfinished.
“I can hear your thoughts. Who are you?”
“So you noticed? Fabulous! Nice to meet you, I’m Womble.”
“What’s a Womble? Why can’t I see you? Why are you here? Go away. Leave.”
“That’s not fair, I’ve only just arrived. What’re you doing?”
“THAT IS NOT YOUR CONCERN. LEAVE.”
“Unfortunately it is. If you want to make it easier, I’d suggest you talk. I like talking. Beats fighting any day.”
“Who are you to command me? Here I am all. I am god.”
“Heh…I’ve never liked gods. And they’re not keen on me either, on account of that one time many billions of years ago, so you wouldn’t be an exception neither. Anything else I should know about you?”
“Who are you to mock me?”
“I’m sort of the hero. Not a very good one. I should’ve been a villain, really, with clothes like these.”
“He is beyond saving. You cannot save him.”
Rule one on how to be the hero: when some says “can’t”, take that as your cue to be heroic. Never fails. It’s like the sight of some lonely couple passing through a moonlit pasture to the average firefly. Regardless of what aught to happen, it’s got to happen.
It’s rather simple what happens next. I reach towards HH and grab the creature by one arm, so that half of my arm is stuck among the cracks of light with the darkness- my hand hidden by the remains of a Time Lord shoulder.
I’m sort of glad HH won’t be remembering this…
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
This comes as shriek. I can see it’s confusion as claws scramble over my arm, tugging and scratching, trying desperately to remove something it can’t really fathom, and I almost laugh at the sheer irony of our present situation.
It really is simple.
“I’m buying time.”
Let the firefly strut.
*I’ve always wondered why bad guys are genuinely surprised when a certain Time Lord starts ruining things for them. If they’re doing something so bad that it takes a time-travelling sort-of-immortal brainiac to show up and/or wave his glowing stick in order to stop it, they should be prepared for anyone. It should be the first thing on their list when deciding if the plan is worthwhile or not- e.g. “Is this going to encourage heroism?”- and be insured against. But maybe that’s not villainous enough.
“OWWWWW! What the heck was-
This is from- need it be said -the great orange primate known to all and sundry as The Librarian, who stands over me like an avenging angel made of furry garbage bags.
“What do you mean, insur-?”
“Rrrrrggh!! Stop hitting me!”
“That was for planning to have me killed. Good intentions or not, I deserve to project at least a little bitterness about it.”
This is from whom I can only assume to be HH. Quite clearly HH, even with the alarmingly white features and an even whiter TimeLord-ish outfit, which makes him look like the intergalactic ambassador for some bizarre washing detergent enterprise.
“So you survived, huh? How?”
HH switches his gaze to someone I assume is standing directly behind me; I can smell something horrible, and there’s a haze of smoke drifting around my head.
“We change things. You can go now, by the way- unless you actually want to see a man beat seven shades of crap out of his former stupid self. Again.”
HH nods, as does the Librarian, and in a flash of sharp light they disappear. All that’s left now is the pale desert, which stretches out before us all cold and empty…and apparently I’m about to beat the crap out of myself…
“Right…where to begin? Turn around.”
I do so, because why the hell not. Standing before me is an older man, probably me, very clearly Twili* and smoking something foul from a small metal pipe held close in one hand. Liking the jacket (pale grey with a thick black furred trip), although not a lot else seems that different. Black scarf, ripped jeans, leather flip-flops, tight black shirt- somewhere between a Goth and a surfer, with added tramp.
“I know you know I’m you, so forget what I said about beating the crap out of us. It’d be a waste of time and I want to enjoy this. Want one?”
He proffers a second pipe from inside his jacket, which looks identical to the first one.
“When do I start this?”
“Maybe now, maybe billions of years later. It helps deal with the light, though, saves that whole business with the bodies.”
I take the pipe, on the basis that I’d be an idiot not to. You do not know irritation unless you’ve tried using bodies that glitch the reality around them, as a result of you being in them, to the point where bits of DNA will warp or bits from differing points in time will fuse (such as, among other things, switching a live grenade from hundreds of years ago with my left kidney), and which occasionally cause a memory leak that royally screws with any and every sense of self you’ve ever had…
…if it spares me any bit of that, it can taste of the very worst in assorted vogon dung for all I care. Future-me smiles.
“Why couldn’t you have given me this earlier? Would’ve saved one heck of a lot of stress, as you damn well know.”
What’s that Look f- oh no…
“OWWWW!! AGAIN! WHY NOW?”
“Just to be clear- time does NOT work that way! Stuff is meant to happen, why is why it always does, and neither one of us is going to be stupid enough to try stopping it. Second invention of the universe, after idle thought. So don’t even think about it.”
“Alright, alright, jeez…you could’ve just said…”
“I owed you that one for putting me in danger.”
“How? Clearly we get out of this alive, if what you’ve just said is all true. What now?”
“Listen up and listen carefully, because I’m only going to save our shared arse once. After that, you’re on your own, so don’t go crying to our time-travelling friend for a rewind, or else I’ll post us both to oblivion my damn self.”
…this is very definitely me I’m talking to- no one else would threaten someone else with their own damn suicide…
“You remember Blink, right?”
“With the stuff in that pipe you’ll stay this way for good- so don’t lend it to anyone, and for Ned’s sake don’t go nuts. Remember always what happened last time one of us appeared. They’ll be watching still, and we have work that still needs doing.”
“Get your arse together and save HH.”
“Right. Then what?”
“Remember how to fight.”
… … …
“…you can come out now. I’m going to need patching up.”
“Ha. Don’t worry. I kinda deserved it.”
“It wasn’t obvious obvious. You should’ve said.”
“That’s really not obvious. Next time you insure a robot against ‘abrupt and total abandonment’, write it on a piece of paper or something!”
*Red irises, yellow sclera, bright orange hair, pale blue-white skin partially covered in black, and a default Look that suggests they’d much rather be asleep.