Accurate television ratings are a nightmare even for such a small, closed system as, say, an Earth. Most twentieth or twenty-first century Earths have resorted to contracting a company to go around and solicit volunteers to stick little boxes on their television that determine what they’re watching and when, and extrapolate from there. It’s a process mired in selection bias and further complicated by the endless advent of new technologies (legal and criminal alike) that routinely revolutionize the grand medium of video broadcast. Advertisers have no choice but to take the little boxes at their word and hope for the best--or, alternatively, redirect their money towards plastering computer-animated breasts all over the sidebars of America’s most popular piracy sites.
Extending this problem to the multiverse, where concepts like “time slot” and “demographic” exist less as numbers and more as complex wave functions, and determining ratings becomes nearly impossible. The current projection from GBN2’s advertising department is based less on surveys or little boxes and more on a simple thought experiment: for everyone who can be imagined as not watching GBN2, there must be an alternate universe where they are watching GBN2, and vice-versa, therefore their market share is about fifty percent.
This is wrong for many, many reasons. The objective truth is this:
GBN2 has only one viewer.
In the very basement of the universe, a dusty realm buckling under its own superdense matter, there sits the Indolent.
The Indolent has many good ideas for Grand Battles upon which he would expound at length if anybody asked, but nobody has. On the subject of whether the Indolent is in fact capable of expounding the science is uncertain, as the Indolent may, in strictly scientific terms, be technically a black hole. That is to say, information comes toward the Indolent, mostly through the television, but does not escape. Unbeknownst to GBN2’s sponsors, therefore, this key demographic of the network (lowercase “n,” mind!) has no marketing value, possessed as he is with an infinite capacity to consume without offering anything in exchange.
The network and its viewer are cosmically intertwined. The signal goes out across infinity but only the Indolent is tuned in.
Any love you have ever experienced is less pure, and less true, than this.
The Indolent is watching television. This is what he is seeing:
“Previously on Magic Fighter Punchy Punch:”
MAGIC FIGHTER PUNCHY PUNCH, sixteen years old, athletic, verdant in her anodized aluminum chainmail and cloak, shoots an assortment of goblinesques with a bow.
“I want to be with you, Max,” she says. “But I don’t want to be with--”
--Close up on the grotesque, toothpick-smoking worm protruding from the shoulder of the lead hunk’s leather jacket--
Moses--tortoise-like in all aspects up to and including taxonomic family--reads from a hefty tome: “And lo, She shall descend on wings of death, She of the arm of a hundred legs, and She shall…”
--A single reptilian tear--
“...She shall slay the Punchy Punch Princess, and the Punchin’ Place shall weep.”
The Indolent zoned out a bit for the forty-four-second duration of the opening credits--a montage of the title character being great at things while the supporting cast stand around and wait to smile and wave at the camera when their names are called--but he does not change the channel. The Indolent never changes the channel, though the remote is right there, on the arm of his couch.
Exterior, the Punchin’ Place, night. Magic Fighter Punchy Punch and Max sit beside the fountain, contemplating the stars.
”You don’t think it’s really true, do you?” asked Max.”I mean, you can’t just get killed because it says so in some book.”
”I don’t know.” MFPP brushed her hair out of her eyes with a feminine, yet tough, motion. “Free will… Destiny… These are heavy topics that really make you think, don’t they?” She stared down the camera, begging the viewer to disagree (he does not).
”They sure do,”agreed Max. ”It’s a fantastic, magical concept but it’s presented in a way that’s relatable. For instance… through the lens of what’s going to happen to you… and me. And to you and me.”
The young lovers matched eyes, their lips slowly approaching. Then Punchy-Punch brushed her hair back again and pulled away. “There is no you and me,” she asserted. “There’s you… and there’s me… and there’s him--”
--Close up on the gross worm sticking out of Max’s shoulder--
“--And there’s the looming specter of death. ...And there’s my magical, punchy-punch fists. But there’s no you and--”
Enter from offscreen MAOWYN, she of the etc. etc. etc., resplendent and tastefully seminude. “Ahem,” she says. “...Line?”
She lifted her centipede-arm to her ear, where it clicked and whirred in the closest approximation to a “whisper” one can achieve with mandibles.
“Right. I’VE COME TO KILL YOU, MAGIC FIGHTER PUNCHY PUNCH, AND FULFILL OUR DESTINIES!”
Magic Fighter Punchy Punch went for her bow (bows were in this year, fists were out) but before she could so much as nock an arrow a burst of lightning from the centipede-arm hit her straight in the Entire Nervous System. For five glorious, live televised seconds, actress Jen Tull became a hotbed of living science experiments. The eggs in her ovaries were instantly scrambled and the one in her oviduct was fried over hard. Her left eye exploded and her right imploded at the same moment. Her brain passed through all four observable states of matter. With one last crackle she dribbled into a bowl-shaped crater like so much Punchy-Punch Soup.
Max stared. Maowyn turned to the screen. “There! I have bested your ‘television program.’ Now take us to an interdimensional nexus!”
The worm, agape, slithered out from its hiding place inside Max’s hood. ”Check pleeeeeease!” it cried.
Cue laugh track.
”Cut! That was great, Sik, Maowyn, uh... Jen did good too. Ahem.
Barabbas Poe, balding, aged, disinclined to blink, sat facing the camera from behind his meticulously organized desk. His office is too well-organized to be just a TV set, indicating an unwelcome intrusion of reality.
“In the television network business,” Poe narrated, “One attorney fulfills two separate but equally important roles: thwarting the criminal justice system’s attempts to dismantle the network’s morally reprehensible enterprise, and frivolously litigating for profit and power. This is his story.”
A title card reading THE POE HOUSE flashed across the screen.
The intercom buzzed. Poe sighed, put down the manilla folder he’d been halfheartedly flipping through, and answered. “What is it, Alison?”
“It’s that girl the bosses warned us about,” answered the receptionist. “She and Felix Something, that guy who does that one show, with that guy? They say they wanna talk to you.”
“Well, maybe they should have phoned ahead,” said Poe. “There are rules.”
“I know, I know!” Alison was quite young, and, frankly, awful at her job. “They’re really pushy. The guy’s saying he’s gonna ‘black matter’ me, like that’s a verb or something.” Incoherent rambling on the other end. “He just said it again. Now there are two of him. Stop that!”
Poe rolled his eyes. He felt sorry for the new hire, all the while remaining conscious of the utter drain on his time and money she represented. “It’s okay, Alison. Listen. You’re in charge, in this situation. It’s okay to tell them to leave. That’s okay and that’s your job. Okay?”
“Okaaaaaay…” More muttering. “But he says to say to you that he ‘wields the power of Black Matter.’ I think it might be some kind of frat thing or something? Some kind of code? Does that mean anything to you? There’s three of him now.”
“Alison! Tell them to leave!”
Several seconds’ pause. Then: “Okay. I told him to leave and one of him left but he made two more. He’s not gonna stop doing this. Now he’s asking if he can speak to my boss, which obviously he can’t, which is the whole reason he’s mad in the first place, so… this is dumb. Is there, like, security I can call?”
“No, never mind, Alison.” Poe looked up from his desk to find the entity currently presenting as ‘Dorin’ already sitting across from him. “You can let Felix in.”
Alison got indignant. “But then how will he learn--”
Poe hung up and unplugged the intercom. “They’ll sort it out.”
Dorin surveyed the office. “So this is ‘Legal.’ I gotta tell you, I’ve been in and out of more offices today… God. Yours is the worst. The most oppressive. Have you thought about getting a cactus? I see you as a guy who could really come to love a cactus.”
Poe sighed. “Here’s a good-faith offer… Dorin, is it? I won’t waste your time if you don’t waste mine.”
Dorin stretched out, feet up on the desk. The outsized crystal hanging from her neck pulsed with irritation. “I’m just shooting the breeze until my associate gets past reception. I don’t talk business without Fe--”
In walked Felix Atrum, looking terribly pleased with himself for having outwitted a thirteen-year-old girl with the assistance of a fifteen-year-old girl.
”...Speak of the devil,” finished Dorin. “Alright, business it is, then. We’ve just come from seeing Vex over on the set of Preteen Literacy Fun Hour. Looking for a little research assistance for a little project of mine.”
”A little project.” Poe realized he was treading on uneasy ground here. Both in legal terms and fate-of-the-multiverse terms, although these were, to the lawyer, essentially one and the same.
”That’s what I said, yeah. Anyway, certain information we were looking for was, as it turns out, excised from Encyclopaedia’s records. Classified, one might say, by order, apparently, of COFCA and GBN2.”
”Not affiliated, so I’ve heard, with the Network,” added Felix.
Poe folded his hands together. ”Censoring a living encyclopedia--”
”--Would constitute memory tampering of a sentient being,” interrupted Felix. “Of a contestant, no less. Very bad.”
”And as COFCA’s legal counsel, I of course would have advised against such a course of action, had they consulted me. But given that I am not your legal counsel I am under no obligation to advise you on how to proceed, should you wish to take this matter to court.”
”We’re not looking to sue,” assured Dorin. Poe looked a little crestfallen at this. “We’re looking to have the information in question declassified so we can get on with our research.”
”Hmm. Inquisitive, aren’t you… Dorin, is it?”
”I believe I asked first.”
”I didn’t answer the first time.”
”And so, not meaning to offend, I took the liberty to repeat the question.”
”Word on the water cooler,” said Dorin, after a pause, “Is that you’ve played both sides of this game of ours. You know things Vex wouldn’t know even without invasive and illegal psychoarchival tampering. So why don’t you just tell us?”
”Given,” offered Poe, “That clearly the lower-case-n network that I represent doesn’t want you gaining access to this information, why would I offer it freely?”
Dorin leaned forward. Shik’Skara banged against the desk with a clink. “Because it’s not, technically, against the rules for you to do so. And because you know what I am, and you know that I’m so completely the opposite of what you’ve been for so long that you can’t help but fetishize me, a little. You want to help me continue to be me because it fascinates you, doesn’t it, Barabbas?”
”And because if you don’t give up the goods I’ll Black Matter the shit out of--”
”Shut up, Felix. The man’s trying to think.”
”No worries, Miss Dorin-Is-It. I’ve grown accustomed to thinking over the blathering of halfwits and lackeys.”
Dorin flashed a red smile like hastily-applied clown makeup. “Sassy! I’m starting to like you, Poe. By the way,” she added. “It’s likely that telling us what we need to know will result in the utter and complete destruction of that other guy. That one you’ve come to resent in your time here. Hosts the Wretched Rite. Barabbas Poe Prime, is it?”
Poe reached into a drawer. “Ah, yes. Very well, then.”
He pulled out a silver cube with a symbol of a hand on it and handed it to Dorin. “It won’t work,” he said, seeing her excitement.
The girl grimaced. ”And if it did work? Would it be what I think it once was?”
”’The Network’ started off as a guerilla operation. Anyone who could get a transuniversal communication relay would send off a short message whenever they had ten seconds’ downtime in a round. But then they got organized. A powerful sorcerer seeded the battles with these spheres, which are a direct and constant line of communication to other contestants. A lot of revolutionary talk on that channels. Talk about banding together, rising up, overthrowing the Grandmasters. Putting an end to the battles.”
Dorin pocketed the orb. “Sounds like my kinda party. So what’s the punchline? What went wrong?”
”Well. No one knows exactly. They just stopped dead one day and GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network) had a broadcast monopoly once more. I do know this, however. The people in charge of the Network turned out not to be quite the idealists they claimed to be. And the problem with planning to conquer an infinite multiverse is, if it’s possible for somebody to stop you, somebody will.”
”Well, luckily I’m a lover, not a fighter, Barabbas. Although Gods know the line does tend to blur.” Dorin stood. “You’ve been very helpful, Barry. One last question, then we’ll leave our contact information with Alison.
“The name of this sorcerer?”
Fzzzzzt GOTO CAMERA3
”We now return,” promised a voice, “To ‘PLANET ACTION.’”
Sithembil Ameretat, glistening, pulled herself out of the ever-growing pile of larvae. “Terrenssse!” she simpered, embracing the weapon-toting jellyfish. “Mmmmm, thank entropy you’re alright!”
“I am for now,” promised Terrence. “No word from Barty on the chronophone. Azh for zhe Admiral…” he pointed at the larvae. “She’s in zhere, sthomewhere.”
“D’you ssssssee her?” asked Sith. “Sh’looked so… so… sh’looked fat, Terrensssse.”
“I know. And I have a hyposheshish as to why.” Terrence cradled his gun to his chest. “When Barty went back in time to witness zhe Crunch, he must have displashed some crucial atomzh… are jhu aware of chaosh theory, Zhithembil?”
“Only s’applied to ludicrousssss time travel ssss’narios, Terrence. Ssssso, hmm, yes. R’you saying--”
“I’m shaying,” said Terrence, jerking his tentacles around in his best impression of ‘acting,’ “That the displashement of those crucial atomzh caused zhe Admiral, in her larval state, to be plashed into a gestation cell where she wuzh given a steady diet of royal jhelly... mutating her into zhat shting zhat you saw. Now zhe might be able to lay a sthousand eggzh a day… maybe more.”
“It all makes so much sense!” lied Sithembil. “You know what we must do, then?”
“It’zz obvioush!” said Terrence. “We go back in time to shtop Barty from going back in time and zhen use Barty’zh time machine to go back in time to shtop time travel from being invented stho zhat no one can ever meddle with time again. Zhen we return here and invent a time machine stho we can go back in--”
“Cut!” Admiral Itzel, decidedly unpregnant, pushed her way through a pile of “larva” props and desperately waved at the crew to stop the show. “Okay, first thing,” she said, shaking faux-placental goo from her wings. “That was terrible. Secondly, news from the battle. Something’s going on with AMP and Etiyr but it’s in our blind spot.”
LeBeau emerged from backstage. “What do you mean, ‘blind spot?’ We don’t have a blind spot, that’s the whole point of the bargain we struck. That’s the whole reason we’re going along with this whole show in the first place, is not having a damn blind spot.”
“The bargain we struck,” said Itzel, “Gave us access to all the recording devices in the place. And there’s a blind spot. Theirs, not ours.”
LeBeau slapped his forehead in frustration. “This whole place is wired to hell because everything is potential television. Where’s--”
“COFCA’s offices,” groaned Itzel. “Can we clear all this junk off the bridge?” she asked of a page. “Thank you. Of course the Council is too paranoid to record themselves.”
“The AMP ‘srummaging around with our macro-ssssscale allies?” asked Sith.
“Seems so. We can hear screaming and typing from our monitors out in the hall.”
“AMP,” cursed Terrence. “Izh increasthingly a liability. We might be besthserved making an end of it and sthush terminate zhe round.”
“We have more immediate concerns,” intoned Itzel. “They were in the process of censoring a potentially seditious program as per our agreement. If AMP and Etiyr are working towards free expression on the network--”
“Then we’re crunched,” moaned LeBeau. “We need some sort of contingency plan in the event of a Convolution multiversal broadcast scenario.”
“I have a couple of ideas,” growled Itzel, “But you’re not going to like them.”
“Pardon, Admiral,” interrupted Terrence. “But I believe we’re being hailed.”
The assembled crewmen (barring Terrence, who was radially symmetric and had no face) turned their faces to the monitor, which was slightly blurry after a rushed job of fake-bee-larva removal. “Exoplanet VII?” asked the face on the screen, politely.
“This is Admiral Itzel speaking. Who is this? Make it quick.”
“This is Barabbas Poe, GBN2 (NAWTN) legal. Word from on high is you’re looking for a certain information-based viral consciousness.”
Itzel bristled. “You’ve identified its manifestation in the round?”
“Yes. It seems to be staying dormant right now… maybe so as to focus its consciousness towards a specific goal? This is not, by my understanding, normal behavior for it. It seems… agitated.”
“Don’t waste my time, Poe,” demanded Itzel. “Who is it and where’s it headed?”
Fzzzzzt GOTO CAMERA 2
This program, claims a title card, is for mature audiences only. For reasons of general sexiness.
Nancy Little walked down a hallway, fully clothed, stumbling slightly. A narrator with a voice that brought to mind anthropomorphic erections riding skateboards announced that it was time for
GIRLS FROM PROHIBITION
WITH LOWERED INHIBITION
INDULGING IN EXHIBITION
Nancy leaned up against a wall, wiped sweat off her brow, and removed her jacket. Beneath of the jacket was an utterly tasteful blouse. An overexcited guitar riff made a circuit of the Indolent’s sound system and vanished into the rift between his ears.
Like all good detectives, Nancy was following the paper trail. Like all good TV characters, she did all her reading out loud.
Sheet one: “Nancy? I know you’re following us. This fucker doesn’t know despite the fact that he’s like 65% fucking cameras now by weight but I know because I have fucking haunted typewriter senses and unlike some people I actually pay fucking attention! Jeez you would not believe these people I’m in this battle with Nancy there’s one guy who’s, what, a whole planet? And she doesn’t pay attention either! You’d think between a whole fucking planet there’d be the cumulative attention span to fucking pay attention but I don’t think that guy’s even done anything since fucking breakfast. Which was a long fucking time ago. The problem with these animate types is they’re all focused on seeing things with their eyes that they have and hearing with their ears or in the case of this guy fucking microphones that keep spinning around and hitting me in the fucking face and they’re all touching things with their grubby little person-fingers and they get all distracted by all their senses and don’t just fucking pay attention! Which is how you get situations like this heroic fucking rescue mission to save a fucking rock and his fucking news program because God knows--”
She turned the paper over. Nothing. She found the next sheet lying just outside a door reading COUNCIL OF FIRST CONTACT AMBASSADORS. She continued walking the corridor as she read.
“Hey Nancy, maybe if I could get this guy with his fucking electromagnetic field--electromagnetic fields are another thing I pay attention to, by the way, and this guy’s is ugly--if I could get him to pay attention to the merciless world of unrelenting bullshit all around him, I could get him to do that thing that I do where I get him to do what I want and then I could ride him around everywhere and have something resembling, I don’t know, fucking autonomous locomotion, wouldn’t that be see, sea, see, sea, see, sea, see, sea, see, sea, yes I’m talking to you, I’m talking to you, don’t go through that door until you let me talk to you cause I’m the sane person here and you’re the crazy schizo robot freak.”
Nancy had lost her trail. She reread the paper. “Oh,” she said. Nancy doubled back to the COFCA office door, unbuttoning a single button of her blouse to the accompaniment of another guitar riff and an asthmatic puff she would not have recognized as coming from a saxophone.
The third sheet of paper was lying under the door. Deciding (out of a well-honed sense of caution she’d developed during her former career as a coward) not to open the door just yet, she carefully pried it free and read. “Okay. You’re going to let me do the talking here, right? Because I happen to be exceptionally eloquent and persuasive and you happen to be crazy and terrifying and resort to violence at the earliest opportunity. No, all of you. The gestalt of the physical thing thing I’m speaking to, yes. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t give a shit. No. See what I mean? This is why I do the talking ‘cause I’m only one fucking personality and I’m a good personality. Okay? And don’t kill anyone. Until I tell you to. Waaaaait sea sea sea wait wait wait wait see see don’t open that door until I crap out this sheet I don’t want them to see this convers oof!”
The screen isn’t quite high-definition enough for the Indolent to see whether Etiyr had actually written “Oof!” on the sheet, but his interpretation, as a longtime viewer of GFPWLIIIEUH, was that “Oof!” was her reaction to the rampaging centipede-armed bird-goddess errantly punching her in the stomach on the way by.
Nancy rose to her feet and peered inside the door. All was quiet.
Then the bird-goddess did a double-take, ran back and snatched Nancy up by the hair. “Owowowowowowowow”
”Quiet,” squawked the goddess, surveying her closely. “You’re a carrier for a fortune deity, aren’t you?”
”Um,” said Nancy. “Let’s test. If you let go of my hair right now that would be really lucky because this really hurts--”
Maowyn dropped Nancy, who landed nimbly on her heels, somehow. “Well there we go then,” she gasped.
”Perfect,” said Maowyn. “You’re coming with me. I’m looking for something that might not exist and I could use a lucky charm.”
”I really don’t think--”
”If you refused I would kill you,” said Maowyn, “Which would be unlucky for you, therefore you’ll accept. That’s not a threat, because it’s not possible to threaten you. I’m just trying to speed you along.”
Nancy sighed. “Well, I can’t argue with that lo--”
“We now return,” declared an alarmingly British announcer over an exterior shot of a Jacobethan-style space station, “to Silver Manor.”
The camera cut to an opulent bathroom centered by a steaming hot bathtub. Two women entered--one, bebathrobed, probably of-age, strode in and got naked with the blithe determination that television tends to associate with naked aristocrats. The other, who had clearly taken great pains to conceal her pointy ears but employed nothing more than a flimsy layer of expensive-looking cloth to hide her equally-pointy nipples, took out a sponge and began bathing her. The whine of an oboe conveyed the majesty of the moment.
“Mi’lady Amy,” said the elf querulously, disinterestedly oiling up the important parts of her mistress’ body, “If I may be so bold as to speak--”
“There’s no need to stand on formality here in the ladies’ washroom, Holly,” insisted Amy. “Here there are no men watching us.” The Indolent, riveted by the sophisticated drama, errantly scratched a blizzard of dandruff off of his scalp. ”Here, we can be truly ourselves. Why are you still wearing clothes?”
“It’s this new butler, Master Reinhardt,” spoke Holly freely, struggling her way out of her dress. “I believe him to be a spy for Earl Ekelhaft. Just the other day I was in the pantry, slowly removing my clothes, when I overheard the blond chambermaid telling to the redheaded chambermaid that the porter had told the brunette chambermaid that--”
The Hand of Silver swaggered his way shirtlessly into the ladies’, cursing with a tongue as sharp as his erect cyborg-nipples. “Amy!” was the first coherent thing he said, then, “Holly, you are dismissed.”
“But I’ve only just finished sudsing up m’ilady’s b--”
“I said dismissed, you sylvan whore!’
Holly struggled her way back into her dress and departed quickly. “This is the ladies’ room, Hoss,” complained Amy, bitterly splashing water at her brother.
“The ladies’ room of my manor,” countered Lord Silver, pouring the pot of oil all over his head and chest. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been up to,” he sulked.
“I think,” countered Amy, “That you don’t know what I’ve been up to.”
“Well I just told you not to think that!” Silver, in a rage, ripped off his tearaway pants and joined his sister in the steam. “I know,” he said, “About you and Cedric.”
“Well,” hissed Amy, “I know about you and Holly!”
“I know about you and Holly! Don’t you remember that time with you, me, and Holly?”
“That wasn’t me. Incidentally,” added Amy, “I know about you, Holly, and Ekelhaft in a wig.”
Silver snorted. “Don’t play superior with me. Don’t think I don’t know about you and Thatix.”
“I don’t think you don’t know that. But I do think you think I don’t know about you and the pillow with your own face on it!”
The drop running down the lord’s cheek could have been either a single tear, or baby oil. “What I’m starting to think,” he choked, “Is that you’re forgetting about you… and me.”
Amy put a hand to her slim but pleasantly symmetrical chest. “Oh, brother,” she breathed. The two siblings locked tongues in an extreme close-up shot that made it difficult to tell whose tongue was whose. “I’m so sorry, brother. I don’t care about you, the blond chambermaid, the redheaded chambermaid, the brunette chambermaid, Xylphos, and the candelabrum. Our uncontrollable upper-class hedonism aside, all I really want is to strengthen the line with you.”
“Always remember Amy,” said the Lord. “One day all of humanity will be united in a four-dimensional being manifesting in our universe as a perfectly round, perfectly tanned breast. The unification of our entire race will be both the apotheosis of all our achievement and the ultimate act of incest. We will be known to history as frontiersmen, siblings in--”
”Cut!” A young woman and a shifty fellow, both fully clothed, barged onto the set. “Which one of you,” demanded the girl, “Is the Hand of Silver?”
”I am,” sighed Hoss, accepting a towel from an intern. “What are you doing on my set? Coffee,” he barked at the intern. “Iced. All this steam, I’m dying in here. This can’t be good for my skin, are these, what burns?”
“Focus,” commanded Dorin. “You’re the Hand of Silver. You’re the wizard guy who activated the silver spheres? You made the Network, not affiliated with GBN2?”
”Which, in turn,” added Felix threateningly. “Isn’t affiliated with the Network.”
”That was another life,” insisted Hoss, catching a thermos of iced coffee smoothly in one hand. He took a sip.
“It was him,” confirmed Amy, drying out her hair.
”In this life,” asked Dorin, “Could you do it again?”
”I’m an actor now,” said Hoss. “That part of my life is over. No more multiversal conquest for me. Now I live for art.” His nipples glistened.
“He could do it again, with my help,” added Amy. “I’ve been studying magic in my spare time, not sinking every day at the gym trying to ‘get ripped without getting too big’ like some people.”
“Listen, whoever you are,” pleaded Hoss. “I’m done with all that. I’m an actor. People love me now. People here love my body.” Baby oil ran in streams down his face. “It turns out that’s all I ever really wanted. Do you have any idea how long I--”
Amy hit her brother over the head with a candelabrum and slung his unconscious body over her shoulder. “We’ll work it out when we get there,” she said dryly.
”Good enough,” shrugged Dorin. “But you’d better deliver on this.”
”Oh, we’ll deliver,” promised Amy. “I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while. Just one pit stop we have to make first.”
An animated planet collided explosively with an animated comet. Stars glistened against the black backdrop like a stripper’s eyelids. A galaxy came into view trailing four-dimensional afterimages, tracing eccentric ellipses. A blue frog on a brown leaf fell through a miniature wormhole and found itself fighting a red frog over a yellow leaf. Quantos Xodarap, dressed only in a labcoat, silently demonstrated the operations of a potato battery and then definitively ceased to exist across all creation.
A synthesizer heralded the coming of the title card, rotating out of its own shadow onto the starry background in a font reminiscent of an austere industrial skyline. MYSTERIES OF THE MULTIVERSE, it read, and then, in cursive, with Melissa.
“Hi,” said a highly presentable woman, circumnavigating a spacious occult laboratory while arbitrarily pointing at things. “I’m Melissa Harmon. And this... is Mysteries of the Multiverse.
“In our last episode, we talked about the number eight--its cosmic recurrence in relation to the infinity symbol. We talked about how the eightfold structure of “battles” and “seasons” allows for a sort of dialectic communication between universes, and theorized as to the nature of the Grandmasters and the cosmological purpose of the battles themselves. We also showed kids at home how to invoke the metanumerological properties of the number eight, using only basic kitchen supplies, to exercise psychic control over not only their own realities, but a wide spectrum of probabilistic quantum interference patterns.
“But what about interaction between battles? Though we know that a Grandmaster takes eight individual ‘contestants’ and organizes them into a single unit--a Battle--what is the concordant principle that organizes eight battles into Seasons? From what Science has determined, the three known ‘seasons’ have each been founded by a single Grandmaster--respectively the Director, the Observer, and the Fool. However, these organizers--only loosely affiliated with the Organizer--spend more time trying to keep the battles separate than to allow them to cohere. Look at these eight eggs.”
Melissa presented eight eggs, splayed on the counter. “One can easily imagine that these eight eggs could be whipped up into a gargantuan plate of delicious scrambled eggs. However, to make scrambled eggs, the ‘shell’--the exterior part of the egg--must be discarded. If these eggs are battles, the ‘shell’ represents the vast expanse of spacetime separating the rounds, which maintain the borders between the eggs and keep them distinct.
“However, when considering eggs one must remember that the purpose of the shell is to be cracked--not from the outside, to feed a predator, but from the inside.”
An infant pterodactyl emerged from one of the eggs, shrieking differential calculus equations in base eight. Melissa snapped its neck to shut it up.
“See? Battles are just like eggs! It’s the contestants who have historically broken through those walls and established contact. The most famous battler to accomplish this is a man named the Hand of Silver.”
A message in poor audio quality played over black-and-white, shaky-cam footage of, for whatever reason, a parade in Communist Beijing.
”The only way to fight back, is together... all at once... everywhere! They cannot contain us all! To that end... I give you this orb! It will allow you, to talk to anyone else, with an orb... any time you want! You will be able to see them... as clearly as you see me! You will be able to understand them... no matter the method, by which they communicate! And, most importantly... you can use this device, to map your local multiversal structure... and send this information, to others!”
”The Hand of Silver started off as a humble human youth, with no exceptional powers beyond smarts, determination, a charismatic social media persona and some sort of bastardized Marxist theory. His power is a lot like this balloon.” Melissa pulled an uninflated balloon out of her pocket and blew it up. “See? It got a lot bigger over time. Silver’s ‘power balloon,’ if you will, expanded to cover his entire home universe. Now, watch what happens when he gets drafted into a Grand Battle.”
Melissa let go of the balloon. It whizzed around the lab with a comical farting noise before its withered husk landed in the hostess’s hair. She fished it out and smoothly continued her narration.
“However, upon entering the battle, the Hand of Silver discovered two things:
“One: dark magic;
“Two: the battles themselves, in their station as limited multiversal nexuses. In the first temporal iteration of the battles--mind, we’re talking about alternate timelines, not alternate universes, and if you’ve been following our show so far you’re sure to know the difference--the Hand was able to leverage the Battles to transform his unholy spawn--a fellow battler known as the Ovoid,’ constructed out of the metaphysical and metacultural aggregate we would recognize as ‘humanity’--into an ultimate Grandmaster known as the Amalgam. Try and imagine an infinite number of balloons colliding into each other in a room full of smashed eggs--”
”Why are you showing me this, sister?” demanded the Hand of Silver, tied to a chair in the sound booth.
“I thought it might be educational, Hoss” replied Amy pleasantly.
”I’m looking to provide a model of educational, socially constructive television,” added Dorin. “And since GBN2 etc. etc. is devoted to trash like Silver Manor, I thought your Network might be the best medium to do so.”
”She’s not lying out of malice, brother. Like the best educational television, she wants us to expand our imaginations. What could she be planning?”
Whack! ”--Much like this golf ball!” Melissa removed her goggles and tossed aside the nine iron. “The door crumbled into dust, stabilizing the timeline and ensuring that the Hand of Silver will never have another chance to conquer the universe. It so happened that in this timeline, the Amalgam was destroyed only a few minutes after the silver orbs stopped working, ensuring in one fell swoop that the Hand is an utter fuck-up and will never again achieve success anywhere in the multiverse.”
The Hand of Silver twitched.
“That concludes our segment for today. Remember, you can see the Hand of Silver, spacetime’s greatest failure, in high-def full-frontal nudity on Silver Manor, right here on GBN2, which we’re proud to say is not associated with the--”
Time wobbled. Harmon’s hair began to shrank, and then she began to shrink, aging in reverse until a sobbing infant sat on the table.
Hoss ended the incantation and burst his bonds with a bolt of silver flame. Dark and satanic energies coalesced in the sound room; Hoss teleported onto the set, grabbed Baby Melissa in both hands and punted her offscreen. “Spacetime’s greatest failure,” he intoned. He turned back to Amy, Dorin, and Felix. “Four seasons and my own network--which does all it can to distance itself from my own Network--still defines me by what I was doing before I even started acting!”
”And when they do mention it,” added Dorin, “All they talk about is your body. No one appreciates your spot-on ability to convey a petty, entitled Internet troll acting out his fanfiction-grade fantasies of ultimate power.”
”I thought I was somebody,” sneered Hoss. “I thought I’d made something for myself in this world. But no. It was all a lie. Back to the drawing board, I guess.” He nodded at Dorin. “Give me the orb. Amy, help me prepare the room.”
The party vacated the sound room and sat around in the desired pentagon (Shik’Skara was let off his leash so that he might serve as a fifth). The brother-and-sister team set about drawing runes, intoning chants, pulling levers, activating devices.
It was all terribly boring. The Indolent eyed the remote on the arm of the couch, considering switching channels for the first time in eons.
Just as he was working up the mental energy to lift an arm, the angry centipede-armed goddess who had just murdered his favorite young adult fantasy serial protagonist burst into the frame, disgorging sparks and hellfire at all those assembled. The Silver siblings put up mystical defensive shields, Felix black mattered himself into the walls, and Shik’Skara floated around manically spouting vague prophetic warnings; this left Dorin alone and vulnerable. “Just what I was looking for,” crooned Maowyn, wrapping a talon around the girl’s throat. “A nexus of all godworlds. Little girl, you are my ticket out of this--”
”Not just yet,” slurred a modest young lady trailing after the goddess. “I’ve been thinking, and this whole plan of yours isn’t going to have worked the way you’re doing it now.”
Maowyn turned her beak balefully upon Nancy. “Isn’t,” she repeated. “Going to have worked?”
”Right,” agreed Nancy. “Because, see, you’ve been wandering around hoping my luck power will bring you to exactly the thing you want, and it has, which is lucky for you, not for me, and my powers only bring luck to me. So obviously you were going to do something really good for me before you do whatever the thing is you’re going to--”
”Sorry,” interrupted Gaurinn. “I’ve been a bit fuzzy on the plan for a while now, but… We already have the nexus, so why should we care about--”
”No, she’s right,” sighed Maowyn. “We have it, but we won’t have had it unless I have been about to do this. You’re a very linear thinker, aren’t you? You’re a terrible time traveler.”
“I’m not a time travel--” Nancy disappeared in a flash of white light. “What did you just do?”
“Heaven,” said Maowyn. “Unending bliss. That should shut Fortuna up.”
“You can access heaven?” Gaurinn ejected some a glob of sparks and nanites like so much chewing tobacco. “That was an option?”
“Not for us.” Maowyn turned back to the girl wriggling on her claws. “Until now. Maybe.”
”I’m confused,” said Dorin. “Gaurinn, didn’t she used to be some sort of, uh. What’s the word. Illiterate horse-o-phile? There’s a word for that.”
Gaurinn studied Dorin’s face. “Do I know--oh. Maowyn! Don’t let it talk to you! It’s--”
“I know, Gaurinn. There’s nothing to worry about. She’s weakened in this form. Forced to become what the host understands, which is a lesser deity, good for some words of wisdom and a boon or two.” Space began to spin. “I’ve been playing this goddesshood game a lot longer than this upstart. We can beat it on its own terms.”
A golden triangle manifested on Dorin’s forehead, radiating a light so pure that everyone except Hoss turned away from it, and Maowyn (carrying Gaurinn along) visibly dove inside the girl’s brain. Dorin’s eyes flashed every color of the rainbow and then snapped tight. She burped up a frothy mix of saliva and holy water and collapsed to the floor.
Shik’Skara turned purple, shouted “YOU SKINNY-BITCH DYKE COCKSUCKER” and shattered into eight pieces.
Amy let her shield down and went to Dorin’s side. “We could astrally project in there and help her,” she offered.
“Leave her,” said Hoss. “The plan can proceed with or without the guest star. She was a catalyst at best--taking her off the table might have been doing us a favor.”
”I was planning on betraying her at the earliest opportunity in any case,” said Felix, strolling out of the wall and adjusting his tie. “But this leaves us with a problem. We still need two more cooperants to complete the pentagram, do we not?”
”I might have left Harmon alive,” he admitted. “I’m sure we can--”
”Halt!” came a robotic voice. AMP, Etiyr and Kracht triumphantly entered from offscreen, accompanied by a robot armored in a thick layer of corporate logo stickers. “By order of GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network) and the Council Of First Contact Ambassadors, you are all ordered to stand down and submit to full-contact censorship.”
”You,” moaned Hoss, pointing at Kracht. “It’s been you all along. You ruined everything. I would have been more than more than a God if you hadn’t stuck your stupid mineral nose into--”
Kracht hit Hoss rather hard in the jaw, knocking him into a perfect action-movie six-hour coma. He smiled. “You know, I’ve spent an infinity of lifetimes fighting that guy and I never got to just punch him.”
Amy’s mystical runes hummed as her cybernetic components whirred. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been exposing my body to your cameras for how long and now we get censored? Was it ‘cause the crystal just said ‘skinny-bitch dyke cocksucker’? ‘Cause that is a combination of words that will hopefully never be repeated in my nigh-infinite lifetime, and that guy seems to have been psychically murdered by a bird god.”
There was a clacking sound from AMP’s direction. “Oh!” came a voice out of one of the floating speakers. “Yeah, hang on. Etiyr says: ‘Yeah, look. We were all for the whole free (here he says a bad word) speech brigade five minutes ago, until those COFCA (another bad word) explained that what they’re trying to censor out is the Convo (here he puts a bad word in the middle of a good word, which I think he was trying to trick me into saying it) lution. I’m AMP and I’m a dumb baby.’ Hey, wait a minute!”
”Your current content flow contains two Rated-Zero concepts: one, ‘the Network,’ two, ‘the Convolution,’” explained the robot. “These ideas must not be allowed to broadcast. I am Envoy, COFCA diplomat/fisticuffs representative/designated . extremophile/notary public. My authority is absolute.”
Felix bristled. “Absolute, is it? Well, let’s see how your ‘authority’ stands up against these guns.” Felix rolled up his sleeves to reveal the words “BLACK” and “MATTER” tattooed on his forearms. “Come get me, fascists.”
Felix and Amy charged at AMP, Kracht and Envoy…
...And Dorin screamed.
This was not a scream of demonic possession or even something so simple as a scream of pain or triumph. This scream had resonance. It was the scream of an electric guitar connected to a biological, teenage sound system.
Something purple began to emanate from Dorin’s eyes. And then the screen went black.
GOTO CAMERA VII
High Admiral Itzel appeared on the screen. “Hello, GBN2 viewers and staff. This is High Admiral Itzel of Exoplanet VII. I have hijacked the broadcast in response to a memetic emergency. Please remain calm. Regular functioning will resume shortly.
“To explain--both for the benefit of the home audience and current staff members--the GBN2 studio was infected by a viral countercultural consciousness that we refer to as ‘the Convolution.’ Think of a sentient inclination toward chaos and misrule that corrupts and destroys systems invisibly, from within.
“The information we’re now receiving suggests that, through a stroke of luck, ‘the Convolution’ had, either inadvertently or out of a sub-’conscious’ self-destructive impulse, trapped itself within the psyche of an omnimessianic figure, a girl named Dorin.
“However, the entity was since expelled by an external deity we believe to be Taccha Maowyn, a mercy-goddess from a primitive and violent universe. Maowyn was attempting to use the endo-Dorinite pantheographical culture-highway in order to return to her home universe; she is currently being held within Dorin by our onboard ontological disruptor pending trial. Anyone in the vicinity experiencing crises of faith, this is normal and will pass. In the meantime, try and comport yourself by remembering that the ultimate meaninglessness of all existence can be viewed as a relief in light of your constant failings.
“Given the ‘Convolution’’s expulsion from Dorin, we believe it to now be residing in the studio as some manner of counternormative machine-intelligence, perhaps lodging within the fragmented personality of the being known as ‘AMP.’ Any further broadcast from this station outside of our idea-tight studio-bridge could risk broadcasting this thoughtplague to a multiverse’s worth of viewers.
“To that end, we regret to inform you that we have taken it upon ourselves to drop this studio into the nearest sun. Fortunately, our infometricians have been working around the clock to program hard-light simulacra of the current studio natives based on the data pulled from GBN2’s cameras. All your favorite stars will live on holographically in our lower decks and continue to produce content of the quality that you, the viewer, have come to expect from GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network).
“Our ethical standpoint is that this is not murder as we have reason to believe that all of you were only simulacra of ‘real’ people to begin with. If you begin to question whether or not our holographic reconstruction is truly ‘you’ or whether you will be dashed into nonexistence on the surface of a star, please report this issue as it may be an early warning sign of an ontological disruptor malfunction.
“Until this issue is resolved, please enjoy a carefully curated collection of pro-establishment reruns from the ninet--” As Itzel spoke, she began to drift over to the side of the screen as an intrusive split-screen presence began to assert itself. This intrusion identified itself by closed captioning as an anonymous COFCA representative, manifesting as an ominous silhouette.
”Pardon, High Admiral Itzel?” it asked.
”I’m sorry, how did you get into this wavelength?”
”Never mind that. We at COFCA understand your position here, but you need to restore power and resume normal programming.”
Itzel buzzed with contempt. “If you’re saying that, I assume you’re aware that you’re the only inhabitants of the studio who we aren’t able to duplicate. To which I may respond, you were the only people paranoid enough not to allow yourselves to be videotaped. Our infometricians couldn’t get anything on you past a reputation and a haircut.”
”Admiral Itzel,” replied the COFCA representative, “I’m sure in a closed environment such as your worldship you find it practical to assume offhand you have all the information. In this case--”
”If you knew this entity as well as I did, you would not risk broadcasting right now. In fact, you wouldn’t risk opening this hailing frequency. You would hastily commission some clones from another planet and then accept your fate.”
”That was the plan,” insisted the representative. “However, over the period since the entity’s arrival we’ve been running worst-case scenario risk projections based on our viewer demographics, and some new data came to light. It turns out.” The silhouette paused.
The silhouette continued to pause. “You had my attention, sir,” said Itzel impatiently. “Don’t waste it.”
”This.” The COFCA suit struggled for a delicate turn of phrase. “This isn’t something I can say in front of sponsors. I’m going to send this textually. I need you not to read it out loud or to scroll it across the screen.” Another pause. “There.”
Itzel looked down at another monitor. “Oh,” she said. “You’re sure?”
”This report comes straight from Encyclopaedia himself.”
”Ooooooookay. You understand it’s still not possible to save the station.”
”We know. Our existence is meaningless anyway, or at least your devices help us to believe that. If we’re reborn into the prime COFCA we might get in touch.”
The splitscreen disappeared. Itzel turned to face the audience. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.”
GOTO CAMERA 666
The screen turned purple. Within the endless purple there shone a yellow triangle.
It was the most beautiful and perfect thing the Indolent had ever seen. In other words--damn good television. He had been enjoying the participatory nature of the ‘Convolution’ storyline. He could imagine infection by the Convolution as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy--just sitting here and watching TV gave him access to the ultimate secret, the key to sublime cool, infinite trendiness. And he could participate even further by buying Convolution-brand products, dressing “Convypunk” and helping to get the word out. It was a swell bit of marketing, playing up trendiness as being the same thing as joining the ultimate multiversal conspiracy.
Then again, thought the Indolent.
How was he going to spread the message from the couch?
The purple faded to static.
Arson | Serial kidnapping | Reckless endangerment | Disturbing the peace | Crimes against nature | Welfare fraud | Grandmastering while intoxicated
(This post was last modified: 01-22-2014 05:19 PM by Elpie.)