Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

The wizards stared in horror at the scrying glass.

“What the bloody hell was that?” one of them cried out, after a long pause.

Teus, sitting in his reserved seat overlooking the Great Hall of the Wizards, pinched the bridge of his nose. He hadn’t expected this. This was… he couldn’t relate to it. Between the extended bouts of screaming and the exhibition of the other strange beings, there had been… mental assaults, for lack of a better term. Some of the wizards hadn’t coped well. It had been like his brief journey to the Plane of Life. Watching the uncontrolled, psychedelic evolution there had not been pleasant at all. But this made it look puny in comparison.

At least they had found the golem. Not that it had been easy. The scrying glass was simple enough to set up despite its immense size, but it had taken too long to pinpoint the energy the angel gave off. And obviously they had been far too late to recall the two before they were whisked away. But they had found it.

And lost it again. Now the screen was just static.

Teus raised his voice above the babble of the congregated magicians.

“Could someone retune this contraption?” he asked, using his iciest voice. “We need to find where the machine has gone now. It won’t be far off, now, will it?”

Upon hearing his command, a group of junior wizards, skinny adolescents in red robes, moved to the sides of the huge pane of glass. Hands grasped sets of brass instruments that jutted from the frame. As they fiddled and twisted and muttered, a new picture began to resolve…


“He didn’t get your name right.”

Alaster knew, somewhere in its memory crystal, that the boy wasn’t coping well. The boy had screamed in terror at the mass of people – more people than he had ever seen in his life in one place, and screaming at him almost endlessly. The sheer agoraphobia had been so acute that he’d missed the “fight to the death” aspect of… whatever this was. And now the boy was sat in this alleyway, in this strange city at night.

With the fog rolling in.

“’s Alaster, not Alabaster. Alaster. Means protector.”

Timothy stared at the grimy brick wall, his robe wrapped tight around him. His pointy shoes peeked out from underneath.

He missed the castle. He knew it, even if it was just as cold and dark as this place. This place was full of big buildings, too big. He had to crane his neck and he still couldn’t see the top of them. Not even the Archmage’s Tower was that high. It scared him.

“If he’s so smart, why didn’t he get your name right?”

He missed the other boys. They teased him a lot, but at least he could talk to them. Here there was cold and fog and the lights weren’t very bright, but there was no-one here. Sometimes he heard a wailing noise, like a siren, from far off. He didn’t know what it was, or what made that noise. He didn’t care.

“He’s just a dummy.”

He was scared and cold and tired and he wanted to go home.

Alaster looked down at Tim, and then, with creaking movements, knelt down, wrapped an arm around the boy and lifted the child up like a doll, placing him on its shoulder. The other gauntlet remained wrapped around the hilt of the broadsword.

“We Must Go,” it ground out from its voice box. “It Is Not Safe Here.”

Timothy nodded wordlessly, hands clutching onto the armour plating. Taking this as its cue, Alaster turned and headed into the fog, each step like a swing on a pendulum.

Whereupon they were promptly arrested by the police of Los Angeles.


The wizards winced at the resulting scene. Teus merely nodded.

“Vorpal weapons, gentlemen. And, with credit to old Yessic, that armour is exceptionally well-forged. I’m surprised those projectile weapons didn’t leave a mark.”

He took a sip from his wine glass and considered the liquid for a while.

“The… being earlier,” he continued, clearly thinking on his feet. “It mentioned a device called a… television. They are being used as teleportation devices. We must retrieve the two before they find one, or we might lose them again. And we are not expending any more effort to look for them.”

“Does that plane even have one of those?” This was one of the junior wizards. “Their technology appears advanced, but there isn't a drop of magic there apart from those two. I’m not sure that they can find a way out…”

Teus raised an eyebrow.

“…my lord.”

“Thank you.”

Teus leaned back in his seat, mulling over this new fact. Then he shook his head.

“Impossible. There must be some kind of image projection or broadcasting receiver there. What if the transporting rule applied to those as well? No, we must act quickly. Prepare a retrieval team. We need to recover the suit now, before it is too late.”

“And the boy?”

“Oh, yes, I quite forgot. And the boy.”
Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"Eagles, come in." *beepbeepbeep* Yep, nothing. What did three beeps mean again?

"Any contact points, come in." *beepbeepbeep* Stop showing off, nobody's there. You don't even know what a contact-point is.

Freefall heaved a sigh and folded her arms, glancing around at her boring, grayscale surroundings. The windows clearly read 'night', some old city streetlights casting deep shadows through a slight, audible drizzle- wait, where's that music coming from?

It was a typical night alone. Kind that drives a man to drink, 'cause it's the same as every other night. A man gets used to these nights, here in the city... looks forward to 'em.

Oh, brother.

A change in routine means you've lost. It means you're either drowning yourself in the expensive city nightlife, sharing cheap booze with an expensive woman... or you're doing what someone else's forced you to. Someone's screwed you over. Often the Mafia, their stranglehold as tight as a politician's tie. More often, it's the cops. Fat gangsters, only twice as arrogant. A gangster lets you mind your own business; a cop makes his yours, then scolds you for not minding your own.

I'm not all that sure what the difference is between a cold night at home and one in the slammer. Probably the booze.

*knock knock*

All of a sudden there's a knock at my door. Strange jobs, I get at these hours. The jobs I regret. The jobs that get me paid. Jobs that- "Just open the door! I'm sick of hearing your internal monologue."

Ah, a broad. A wisecracker, at that. I let her in.

She pushes past me, doesn't give me the time of day; I knew she was trouble the moment I saw the way she walked. As alluring as a frigid morning, and an expression like a dive into icy water. She turns around, and there's one whopper of a black eye.
"Fell down some stairs?", I quip. She isn't impressed. I get the idea that this ain't her first shiner.

I take my usual chair, reaching for the whiskey under my desk. She kicks herself into the other like she owns the place. A thick brown jacket, and some blue menswear as dingy as the look she's giving me. All too loose, like she's bundling herself away from more than just the cold. Maybe she isn't as tough as she wants to be.
"Hey, how can you tell it's brown, anyway? Everything's black and white."

"If everything were black and white, miss, I wouldn't have a job."

I reconsider the booze, reach for my cigs and matches. She eyeballs the place like she's casing it as I light one up, settling her gaze on my cheap excuse for a television set. Wonder if she'll do me a favor and steal it before the night it sets the whole office on fire.

"Give me your office."


"I need to use your office, maybe for a half hour."

"First of all, you're too young. Second, I don't have the money."

"Ha ha. How about you get lost before I throw you out the window, you corny excuse for a TV character."

"Listen here, toots." I bolt up and slam my hands on the table, make sure she sees the revolver hanging out of my jacket pocket. "I'm not all talk. I do a damn good job around this city. I make people's miserable lives just the slightest bit less miserable, and I deserve a little bit of goddamn respect for that. I don't take orders, least of all from some scrawny broad with a nasty boyfriend. Now tell me what your problem is, or get out of my office."

We trade glares for a moment. I see a lot of things I don't understand, in my line of work. A bratty girl standing up to a detective with a gun, in his own office? Something doesn't add up. Maybe she just doesn't know how big the wohurk*-

The ball of Freefall's palm crashed into his temple, sending Joe McMiller, P.I., sprawling unconscious over his desk and onto the floor. Gray blood dripped from his nose where it'd hit the bookshelf, while clear whiskey pooled around his half-shined shoes from where they'd knocked down and cracked his personal stash.

Freefall stomped out Joe's cigarette, scooped up the injured bottle before it drained completely, and kicked back in Joe's plush chair, his office's only real luxury. She leaned it back against the wall, crossing her legs on top of the desk. Her eyes settled on the gray alcohol swirling around in her prize.

"If you can say 'goddamn', I can at least have a taste. No way my team's tuning in, yet."

She took a small, burning swig from the intact side of the bottle, then set it down and clicked the hidden communicator on her suit's collar again.

"Eagles, come in."

She smirked, immersing herself in the slow jazz. It's been a slow week of hero-ing... I think this is gonna be fun.
Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Meanwhile in this dimension, a commotion was happening.

The dappled butcher-paper jungles of low-budget movies were a dangerous place, despite all pretenses. The costume-store denizens knew of the hazards. One moment, a green-wrapped hand-vine could take you away to left-stage. Another moment, a vicious cardboard tiger could “break” your neck, leaving corn-syrup blood in its vicious trace. Despite the (poorly-constructed) threats against man, the native were especially in a happy mood today, for today was a day for celebration!

They had caught a massive man-ape –a shadowy creature obscured in myths and legends. Actually, they had no idea what kind of creature they had founded. However, the thing leaked colored liquids, so it MUST be a creature of the myth and legends. After all, could the all-too-monstrous aluminum-foil lizard leak pigmented paints? Obviously, this silhouetted beast was worthy of awe and respect.

Naturally, the natives were going to eat him.


Tschichold wished he never woke up.

- for the reality he woke up to assaulted his visual senses. The shoddily crafted props. The hastily placed-together garb of natives. The miserable tissue paper leaves. UGH, this place was the stuff of the artistic nightmares! This had to be a dream, a stuff of his hallucinations. Well, he could have reached to the conclusion that this was just another one of his mere delusions. However, feeling of boiling water from chest down (despite the cauldron being a giant cardboard box sprayed with stone-texture paint) convinced him otherwise. Also, the toilet-paper tube spear poking at his left cheek helped.

The artist’s visible eye twitched and darted as he attempted to figure out what was going on, fruitlessly attempting to push away the atrocious aesthetics of the place from his view. So, he was just remembering things and suddenly, there were so many flashing lights. Also, there was this broadcaster, who kind of sounded like a jerk. That was not the most important issue because there was this battle going on and –

Wait, battle?

Panic seized Tschichold’s heart (if he had one). A battle? Seriously? He mulled on that realization a little more. A battle to the death? Did that mean he could die any moment, anytime? The shadowy artist started to choke on the stubborn lump in his throat. It was not that he was afraid of death. It was that he does not want to die an embarrassing death. From what he knew, there was embarrassing death mines everywhere in this place. It was a horrible effigy of a jungle, yes, but it was a jungle, nevertheless. Tschichold was no ecologist, but he was pretty sure jungles were extremely dangerous. He might get a case of purple permanent-marker pox or something. HE DOES NOT KNOW. HE WAS AN ARTIST NOT AN VIROLOGIST.

Through the haze of the cauldron smoke, sputtering and hissing suspiciously like dry ice, a wretched mask appeared. A piece of poster paper, decorated with cheap-restaurant crayons, plastic craft-feathers, and glitter. Two bleary eyes stared out of the uneven eyeholes as forced, but muffled, laughter echoed behind. The masked native continued his cackle as he dropped some baby carrots into the stew in which Tschichold was going to be part of. However, Tschichold did not realize the baby carrots were actually real (surprise!). He was staring in horror. He was staring into the mask that seemed to be made by a second-grader. He was staring into the abyss. No, not that. He was staring into the face of death, THE FACE OF EMBARRASSING DEATH.

Tschichold screamed.

The artist could not take it much longer. With a sudden buck of his feet, Tschichold squirmed out of the cauldron. Fortunately for the main meal escapee, the native did not have the savvy hindsight to hinder his limbs with some sort of binding material. As such, the escape proved to be disappointingly easy. To the surprise of the dumbfounded natives, Tschichold was a good ten feet away from the cauldron, making surprisingly good ground despite his wimpy legs.

Tschichold ran with all his might, panicking thoughts streaming rapidly through his head. So many questions! So many what-ifs. What if he had an embarrassing death right now? That was a horrible epiphany. An epiphany reinforced by a spear nearly nicking his ear. A painted spear clearly made of cardboard and duct tape embedded itself in the strangely two-dimensional tree, spooking Tschichold. He would probably die sometime in the future, but not with a goddamn cardboard tube stuck on his back.

Suddenly, more cardboard-tube spears came raining down, convincing Tschichold to continue his fugitive escape. How was he going to get out of this channel. He was in a (poorly-constructed) jungle! How could he find a television screen in particular place? The only sentient people here were the natives and they were going to eat him.

A bola made of rope and wadded newspapers tangled his limbs, slamming him on the ground with such a force. Suddenly, the natives swarmed around him. Despite protests and the kicking, the hunters managed to truss up Tschichold like a paint-leaking shadow turkey. A deceptively strong cardboard tube was threaded between space of his arms and legs. Before long, the artist was hoisted back to the native settlement.
<font color="DarkGreen">
“We got him!”
The spear-wielding native proudly announced. Joyous cheering erupted from the villagers as their prey was shoved back into the stone-textured cardboard cauldron.

Tschichold wondered why they spoke English.</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by WaveOfBabies.

They say the only thing man has to fear is fear itself. Those who say this have never pondered the reality of a zombie apocalypse. Seeing places once so full of life abandoned as humanity desperately tries to outrun the swarm, seeing grisly sights of cruelty from man and undead alike, seeing a man being ripped apart by his own loved ones. One could almost argue that zombies WERE fear itself. It was almost a mockery of human beings themselves, shambling forward mindlessly with no thoughts but to kill and consume. What a perfect place for the awakening of a certain Ablendan Blake.


Alblendan made his way through an abandoned town, his tattered robe covering him as he watched for any activity whatsoever. His single remaining eye darted around like that of a predator, adapted to the darkness of his hood to try and pick out any potential prey. He was not so fortunate, though, as to successfully spot anything. The skies seemed an unnatural grey, and a cold wind was blowing that chilled him to the bone. The occasional dramatic crack of thunder was accompanied by hard rain, pounding on his head like hailstones. His vision seemed clouded over by strange, black particles. He swiped at them with his claw-like hands, irritated by this strange development we know today as film grain.

He continued to romp down the streets, as one thought went through his mind: hunger. Feed, the flies of Beelzebub demanded, Alblendan clutching his head to try and block out their droning cries. He knew this hunger well, but their constant reminders were not helping at all. Then, suddenly, his nose twitched. He knew the smell he had just detected: blood. He darted off in the direction of the smell on all fours, following his nose like a grimdark cereal mascot.


The survivors were your usual zombie hunting sort. The older father figure, a priest named Father Pedro. The blue-collar ordinary one, Richard Silas. The young, spunky girl, Katie Sanders. And finally the ex-con with a chip on his shoulder, Max Grimes. In the current part of the zombie film, the ex-con had just taken a bad wound from a zombie encounter. He clutched his stomach, which had deep slash marks on it thanks to a zombie's horrible claws. Naturally, this would be the part where the spunky girl applies first aid even as the ex-con provides his gruff objections. Then they would probably strike up a whirlwind romance until death or evacuation came. However, a ghastly moan let the survivors know that their time was numbered. Dragging Max into a house so they could properly provide first aid for him, the survivors grabbed their traditional zombie-killing shotguns and began to prepare for the inevitable swarms.


Ablendan continued dashing forward, until the smell of flesh blood was overcome by a smell very familiar to him. Rotten flesh. Scowling, Ablendan stood once more and tried to detect the overwhelming scent that was now assaulting him. As he looked around, he noticed a group of depressingly grey looking people. Or at least, they looked like people. They stood hunched over, their movements slow as they all stood around a single house. Sometimes they banged on the door, and other times the horrible sounds of scratching were heard as they tried to scratch their way through it. For a little while, Ablendan was confused. Were these humans or not? He continued examining them, sniffing the air. They smelled of carcasses, not of life.

He looked at the ground next to him, noticing a small stick. Better than nothing. He drew the stick back and hurled it right at one of the strange "people." It hit with a wet, meaty thud, as the creature turned around. It noticed Alblendan, its mouth creaking open as it let out a ghastly moan. Slowly it shambled forward, its mouth agape, but before Alblendan could attack the strange creature its head exploded into a shower of brains. A loud shot was heard, causing Alblendan to leap back with surprise. What the hell was that?


"Ha! Got him!" cheered Richard, as he watched the zombie's head blow to pieces before the might of his shotgun. He was too busy celebrating his kill and focusing his sights on another zombie to notice the strange hooded man fleeing the scene. Father Pedro, confused, followed the strange man with the sight of his gun. Was it human or not? Zombies didn't seem to react to sounds and sights like the hooded man did, after all. He eventually lowered his gun after giving the decision much thought. Probably some confused hobo the swarm missed. He and Richard continued gunning down zombies, as Katie tried to get Max back on his feet.


Alblendan broke and ran, but as he did so he once more turned his head to the house. Literally, the head turning at least more than ninety degrees to get a better look. Two men were hanging outside the windows, long tubes in their hands. They resembled the muskets of his time, but much more complicated. As he took in his sight, three things became clear. These strange creatures were not human, and judging by how they smelled weren't edible either. There were humans inside of the house, presumably the source of the delicious blood he had smelled earlier. And finally, these humans were armed and potentially very dangerous.

He smirked. Messing with these humans would be much more profitable for him than attacking the zombie horde. They would be inedible, and any death they brought on would be long and unpleasant. These humans, on the other hand, would make both fine meals and fine executioners. In either defeat or victory, he would profit from such a venture. Realizing what he had to do, he climbed a tree and prepared himself. After all, these monsters were groundbound. Why would their prey anticipate an aerial assault? If he missed he would fall into the sea of zombies, but if he succeeded he would be in a perfect position to strike.

Taking a deep breath, he flew forward in a leap of faith.

Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Maria stood by the door to the manager’s office, anxiously contemplating whether or not to knock. She knew from experience that Mister O did not like to be disturbed when he was in his office, but surely this was more important? He had to be aware of what had happened. The roar of the crowd and the over the top shouting of the announcer had been deafening. There was no way that he hadn’t noticed it. She glanced around nervously; really desperately wishing she didn’t have to deal with this situation on her own. Eventually she raised her hand to knock upon the door, just as it opened.

“Maria.” Mister O greeted her with the same warm smile he did every day. He quickly stepped through the door and carefully closed it shut behind him. “You are, as ever, looking radiant today.” Though Maria’s expression softened, the anxiety did not go away entirely.

“Mister O,” she said, “did you not hear that awful racket? The braying of an unimaginably vast crowd? The cheery banter of a man who wants us dead?” Once, maybe twice, she almost stumbled over her words in her panicked rush to get them out. Mister O calmly strolled down the corridor, running his fingers along the pastel wallpaper as though he had never seen it before.

“I heard.” Mister O said. Carefully he picked up and examined a particularly tacky ornament, which he couldn’t actually tell what it was supposed to be. “It doesn’t change anything.” He shrugged idly, put the thing, whatever it was, back down and headed down the short flight of stairs. “This is new.” He commented.

“It doesn’t change anything?” Maria repeated incredulously, as she followed him downstairs. “Mister O, I really believe that there are things out there that will be looking to kill us both at the first opportunity they get.”

“Yes.” Mister O said simply. “The best course of action is to do what we do best, my dear Maria.” Reaching the bottom of the stairs he found himself in a small hallway. In front of him a front door more suited to a house than an inn, to his right a door to a dining room and presumably through there a kitchen. He frowned. “We’ve definitely lost some floor space, but I don’t think that should matter, because…” He trailed off as he strode to the front door and threw it open. It revealed a modern street with houses and shops; a road lined with parked cars, and while there was none to be seen at the moment people. Potential guests. “Perfect.” He said enthusiastically.

“Mister O,” Maria’s tone belied her frustration with the manager, “please take this seriously. You didn’t see the things we’re supposed to be up against.”

“Trust me Maria. I know what I am doing.” Mister O turned and grinned at the receptionist. “Think you could go out there and see if there are any people around?” Maria just glared at him as though he had gone mad.

“Why won’t you take this seriously?” Maria asked. “We are in real danger.”

“Maria, please don’t be like this now.” Mister O replied, his tone turning harsh. “Do what I say and we’ll both get through this alive. This thing we have been enlisted in, it is not a calamity or an emergency. It is a good thing, and we will ultimately be better off.” There was for a moment silence as the two stared at one another.

From outside there was the noise of a car coming to a stop outside the bed and breakfast. Mister O turned and looked, and when he looked back he could not hide his enthusiastic grin.

“Maria, we have customers.” He said. “Their room is on the house, I insist.” And with that said Mister O retreated back upstairs to his office.


“Can I take this blindfold off yet?” Sarah Aston asked irritably. This comment was greeted by a couple of chuckles that didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular. Sarah had long blonde hair, perfect skin maintained through many many layers of makeup and larger than average breasts.

“No not yet.” Her boyfriend Darren Liston replied as he jogged around the front of the car. As he did so he banged his foot and grimaced painfully for a moment, this also elicited a laugh or two from the nonexistent crowd. He quickly recovered and opened the door on Sarah’s side.

Darren had short dark hair, incredibly pale skin, glasses and an akward manner about him. He wore a black shirt with the acronym LOL printed on it in large white letters, television shorthand to indicate just how much of a computer geek he obviously was. He removed Sarah’s blindfold, an act he accompanied with an audio fanfare. Sarah looked at the Traveller’s Rest bed and breakfast.

It was little more than another of the identical houses that lined this middle of nowhere street, though this was mainly for the reason that this was an out of the way kind of set that didn’t get used very often. The only real difference between the Traveller’s Rest bed and breakfast and the 2 bedroom house next door to it was that the Traveller’s Rest had a sign in their driveway. Either way it did not live up to Sarah’s expectations. She frowned.

This is your romantic getaway?” Sarah asked. There was laughter, which Darren patiently waited to finish before responding.

“Don’t you like it?” He asked earnestly.

“Like it?” Sarah repeated incredulously. “Why yes I love it… No! Of course I don’t like it what were you thinking?!” She snapped angrily causing peals of laughter.

“But, I thought you said you liked bed and breakfasts?” Darren asked.

“I meant I like beds and I like breakfasts.” Sarah retorted. Uproarious laughter, with even a little applause. “This place… is a dump.” More laughter.

“But it’s already been paid for!” Darren said, despairingly. Sarah sighed.

“Fine. We’ll stay the weekend I guess.” She said with a sense of weary obligation rather than any actual desire to do so. “But don’t think you’re getting any you know what.” Further laughter, this time including applause and whooping.

End of Act Two.

Time for commercials.


Sarah and Darren reluctantly checked into the bed and breakfast, with tons of hilarious quarrelling between the two. Maria could only watch bemused as they carried out their seemingly rehearsed argument for the benefit of an intangible and easily pleased crowd. There was further comedy to be had when Sarah and Darren wanted a meal cooked, and lacking a chef, Maria had to cook their meals for them, with amusingly disastrous results.

By this time it was getting dark outside and finally Sarah and Darren began to tire. They bickered and bantered and referenced things which Maria had no concept of, but which the relentless laughter seemed to think was relevant and hilarious.

Maria, no longer needed by their guests, found herself hanging around Mister O’s office door, once again wondering whether she should knock. He’d seemed pretty annoyed with her before for some reason she hadn’t been able to figure out. She was being perfectly reasonable, he was the one who wanted to bury his head in the sand and pretend nothing was wrong. It made her uneasy, and the bizarreness of their guests wasn’t doing anything to help the growing anxiety. She raised her hand, ready to knock upon the door, utterly convinced that she had to convince him to see this as a real threat, no matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise… and she stopped.

From around the edges of the door shone light white. Dim at first but growing brighter and brighter every second. After a moment it was so blisteringly white that Maria had to close her eyes. Another moment and that was not enough. She covered her eyes with her hands and it still seemed to shine through. Blinding white light consumed the entire corridor, and then in a second was gone. Maria took a couple of seconds to recover.

“What was that?” Maria asked in a low voice, no longer really wanting Mister O’s attention.

“I don’t know, but it can’t be good.” Sarah replied. “I think maybe we should leave Mister O alone for now.” Darren nodded his head in agreement. Maria turned around and looked at Sarah and Darren; the maid and the cook respectively. They shared her look of concern. At Darren’s lead they headed downstairs, opting to leave Mister O alone for the moment. Sarah leant a comforting arm on Maria’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry, we’ll figure this thing out.” She said. Maria half-smiled. She was glad to have such good friends who she could count on in this crazy situation.

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Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

Aaron reeled, spun – then fell over. Everything had happened so suddenly. The road, the world, had been whisked away like a Newtonian tablecloth, then the cage, the crowd, the announcer’s wild shouting – with even moments of darkness as commercials played a blinding psychedelic melody of light across the audience in split-seconds – and then they were here. Aaron lay on his back, staring up into the dim grayness above him. “Um, Change? Did you get any of that?”

<font color="#CDAD00">Change, currently a blue sheaf of plasticized notes, hovered near the wizard’s head. I believe I did, Aaron. We have been entered into a battle to the death, which depending on your mindset is either profitable, catastrophic, or possibly both. But where are we now?

“I’m not sure.” Slowly, with the world still spinning, he pushed himself into a sitting position. The light was dim, but he could see vague shapes silhouetted in its glow, of oddly-shaped appliances and blocky countertops set in front of semi-translucent backgrounds. “It looks like…oh hell, I’ve got no idea!”

Change swerved, and fluttered in front of Aaron’s eyes. Calm yourself, Aaron. This ‘battle to the death’…could end up excellently, or our own lives might be taken instead. The band supposedly holding Change’s notes together rippled, then turned lightly, a sign that the Transaction was contemplating.

But then lights came up, an ON AIR illuminated, and the shapes around them resolved – literally resolved, as if they had been spun from some gossamer firmament that had only then come into existence. Change ducked back into its satchel as a stage, a kitchen countertop with a sink, a backdrop neatly truncated at the edges of the set all created themselves from shadow. And then the host arrived – not spun from reality, but much more normal, as if stepping onto the stage from the dim gray just off-camera (both wizard and Transaction spotted the camera as it formed) was a perfectly normal occurrence. He even was normal, a man in a grey suit and loud tie, and a manner of speaking that made you cringe in its cheesiness.

“Hel-lo there, and welcome to the Bargain Buy Super Sales Home Shopping Channel this fine early daytime, I’m your host Barry “Bargain” Barnes – and you must be our guest today! Just off the road, I see it, ha-ha, I must compliment you on your retro style sir, very recommendable these days you travel a lot I take it? It must be exhausting but let’s get down to business! Now as our guest I’m entitled to offer you three, that’s right three, products at super-super low prices and here they are, Mandy?” A middle-aged woman in a well-made but sadly not-quite-right red dress with sequins stepped out from off camera, and carried on a cushion a package of small white cubes. “That’s right, what Mandy has here are the new revolution in laundry, the Deter-Dirt Cubes™,” – he could pronounce his ™s – “that can remove and, get this, prevent dirt from accumulating on your fabrics for up to twelve hours, not a dig at your clothing at all, you, not at all” – he patted Aaron on the shoulder, then discreetly wiped his hand on his pant leg.

Aaron then noticed that everything that couldn’t be seen directly by the camera took on the same implied, wraithlike look of the world before ON AIR. “Wh-what…is this?”

– “and thank you Mandy, now bring in the next one now – this is the Bargain Buy-”

“Yes, yes I got all that! But…but Mandy!” He waved where she had vanished offstage. “Where does she go when she’s not on camera?!”

Then there was a look in Barry’s eyes, one of weak confusion, of helplessness that seemed to counterpoint his idealized existence. For a second Barry’s eyes reflected <font color="#FFFFFF">static</font>

-and then it was gone. In fact, the event itself had gone, and it took all of Aaron’s willpower to recall what it was he himself had said – we can fix it in post –

“Here we have our genuine cubic zirconium Sack O’ Diamonds, yours for the low, low price of $199.99, all exchanges in credits or versecash please, though if you can get ahold of some Barrybucks get discounts! You won’t believe these aren’t crystal carbon folks, and neither will you! How do they look, eh?” Barry tipped the entire sackful of crystals onto the countertop in a shower of sparkle, somewhat <font color="#FFFFFF">uncharacteristically
for him.</font>

Aaron looked on in horror as the world wavered for a second as bands of distortion, ringed in <span style="background-color:#FFFFFF;"><font color="#000000">øá© áñð åíþé bursts of white chaos, like snow blown in the middle of the air and melted into nothingness that</font></span> broke across the world in lances of nonexistence. He fancied he could see himself seeing himself seeing himself in the depths of the fractal madness in one gash – then it was gone – “Change!!, he could barely hear himself scream over the screech of unfurling noise –

Perhaps we are disrupting something of this channel – undermining its purpose, or causing confidence crises in its existence?

“How do we make it stop?!”

It is a shopping network. Change slipped into Aaron’s hand, a familiar feeling in a flailing world. Buy something.

Barry and Mandy skipped back and forth in time and space, like a living record scratched beyond recognition as everything kept falling apart amidst the snow, “And-and and and- andthethe the next product we have here is our very-own home-brand home-brandbrandBargain-Buy Black&White LeCheapo Television for only $399.99-”


-and just like that, it was as if nothing had happened. The expectant visage of Barry Barnes wore a hopeful, charming smile. “Yes?”

Having spoken, Aaron plunged ahead – “Yes! I would like to buy this… LeCheapo Television. It strikes me as…a remarkably commendable purchase, and I would like to spend my…” he peered at Change’s notes, “…Barrybucks…on it. You have your own currency? In ten-cent notes?”

“Quite so,” the salesman expostulated ebulliently, “It keeps the Shopping Network running smoothly. The exchange rate’s very reasonable too, it helps me keep all this,” he indicated the stage and the world, “and we do good business. And speaking of which congratulations sir on your purchase a very nice one if I do say so myself would you like to try it now, guarantee I’m not selling you a lemon or something, whatever the term is?”

“Well,” he felt little parts of his mind warming up in a practiced pattern, “it’s not much, is it? It’s only got to be worth-” surreptitiously, he counted Change- “200 Barrybucks, Barry.” And then, it was.

(The repercussions of this were larger than expected. Bargain-Buy Black & White LeCheapo Televisions became highly sought, and eventually made their way into actual existence. Barnes, despite being a shopping-network host-construct created in a televised experimental world, made a tremendous loss in selling them, which led to the collapse of the entire network shortly after Aaron’s departure.)

To Barry’s credit as a salesman, he managed to resist the change for a full second before blurting out, “You have yourself a…deal!” like a bar of soap exploding from one’s grip. Even then his face was a rictus of pained pleasantry as Aaron paid.

Aaron felt the familiar wind of Change changing existences as the notes changed hands. Mandy wheeled the pathetically small television over by Aaron’s side, and with great pomp and circumstance flicked it on. On the grainy black and white screen appeared a grainy black and white mobster in a trench coat, smoking a grainy black and white cigarette under a lamppost and gazing intently down the grainy black and white road. The wizard hesitated -

Then Change leapt on him, screen-first.</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by Pick Yer Poison.

Steven Chip opened a pair of double doors as an unseen narrator filled in the equally invisible audience. "Here at the University of Sinc, located on a remote island with a unique, thriving ecosystem, marine biologists have made a fascinating discovery. As one of the leading experts in this line of work, marine biologist Steven Chip has been invited for a first look."

He walked down a hallway, chatting silently with a man in a labcoat. "Dr. Fjorn Lief is the head of the marine biology division at the University of Sinc. Although he and Steven have never met in person, the two have been long time online correspondences and immediately hit it off."

The pair walked into a room full of fish tanks. Other biologists were scattered about, either feeding fish or taking notes, but the largest cluster was next to a tank in the back, inside of which was what appeared to be a white jellyfish. "Dr. Lief explains that the specimen was found near the southern tip of the island, where it was collected and brought back to the lab for study."

Suddenly, the noise in the room started up, the voiceover vanishing. Steven pointed towards the creature. "I'm counting, seven tentacles here. Is that right?"

One of the lab assistants slid his finger down the clipboard he was holding, then nodded. "Yep. It was hard to tell for a while because the thing is absolutely terrified since it's lost its eggs." Steven opened his mouth to ask how they knew that, when suddenly he realized that, despite the strangeness of the idea, he somehow knew that that was the right reason. It took him a moment to realize that the reason he knew was because, somehow, the jellyfish was broadcasting the idea. Again, despite the strangeness of this fact, it was unmistakably true.

He leaned in closer to get a closer look at the creature; if nothing else, he knew it was definitely not a jellyfish, nor any other species on record. "I hope we don't have to dissect this guy to--"

Steven cut himself off, clutching his forehead. At the word "dissect," a river of thoughts had flooded into him from the creature. A specific female of its, or rather his, species, a clutch of eggs, a lot of very loud and confusing noises, a battle of some sort...Steven was somewhat frightened by the simultaneous depth and lack of understanding he was able to get from the creature. He waved his hand at Dr. Lief, who was hovering frantically. "Scratch the dissection. This little guy is too much of a marvel to risk losing."

In light of all this scientific promise and the smell of book deals, nobody was really expecting Aaron and Change to come flying out of a flatscreen monitor and knock the tank over onto the group of biologists, spilling a writhing Nizzo, along with a whole lot of freshwater, onto them.
[Image: zjQ0y.gif][Image: vcGGy.gif]
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Kriok followed Winston as he led her along-- according to him, to a break room with a television. Her cybernetic mind drifted along several parallel processes. She busily considered how much time she had before she’d have to evacuate this channel, what tools and equipment she could make with the resources available here, and what to do with Agent Winston. Two of those lines of thought would have to wait, but one could be resolved easily enough. ”How long until they find his body?” She asked her hostage.

Winston didn’t like the alien, he was certain of that much.

He didn’t like that she had effectively taken him hostage. He didn’t like that she just expected him to comply with her questioning. He especially didn’t like that she killed his partner with no apparent regard for his life. He didn’t want to play out his relative fortune, but he certainly wasn’t going to help this bio-mechanical creature with whatever insidious plot it had concocted.

“Perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, there’s not many people on this level and it’s not that busy of a day.” Winston lied, hoping she didn’t notice his bluff. In reality, it would be closer to three minutes-- long enough to raise tension and doubt over Agent Winston’s survival, but short enough to not necessitate a commercial break and a disruption of the drama. He knew it’d be shorter than fifteen minutes, but he never attributed it to mechanics of his genre, always to the top-notch security of the building.

Kriok filed that knowledge away, pushing it to the back of her mind. The agent had stopped, proceeding to open a door to a break room. The room could be generously described as spartan-- aside from the television, it lacked any furniture that wasn’t directly utilitarian. Agent Winston moved to grab a remote-- Kriok kept her javelin launcher trained on him as he went through the motions.

The television flickered to life, displaying the
harsh, flickering black and white pattern of a dead channel before Winston switched channels. He quickly cycled through a few channels-- sports, another channel of sports, news, a comedy, a documentary-- the channels blurred together until it went back to the beginning, showing a sports game once again. The device seemed exceptionally crude to Kriok-- it lacked the pure information content available in simulated realities and direct interfaces and was limited solely to a single visual and audio feed at a time. She idly wondered just how technologically backwards this locality was before her attention was redirected.

Winston began to speak. ”Is this what you’re after? You’ve come all the way to Earth... for a television?”

The cybernetic avian ignored his comment. He had no further information to provide, and she had decided how she was going to deal with him. She motioned towards the door with her improvised weapon.

“Lock the entrance.”

Agent Winston nervously complied, getting out a key and fumbling with the lock. He looked into the corner of his vision-- the alien was still close to him. But he had to at least try to stop the monstrosity. His hand went to his gun, but before he could draw the pistol Kriok had bludgeoned him with her own weapon, sending him sprawling into unconsciousness.

After positioning a chair as a make-shift barricade, Kriok turned her attention to Winston. She picked up his pistol, examining the synthetic polymers of its exterior. She still had some basic equipment she wanted to fabricate, and quickly set off to gathering materials.

Sweeping clean a table, she placed an assortment of items-- the pistol, a microwave oven, and an assortment of cutlery and kitchen utensils-- onto the temporary workspace. The ends of her fabricator arm began to extend and disentangle themselves, forming a wire-frame enclosure around her stock of materials. She closed her robotic eyes, losing herself in thought as the fabricator ran its automated sub-routines of disassembling and re-assembling the materials she had provided.

Her thoughts invariably drifted to the fact that she was in a fight to the death.

The possibility of death seemed much more frightening now. Psychologically, she had no reason to fear death-- if her body was destroyed, her mind could just be re-uploaded into a new body. For her, there was no link between mind and body: her own body was comparatively temporary, especially compared to some of the ones she had occupied in the past. She had died before-- her duties in frontier engineering often involved work in mining, and despite some degree of improvement in safety, accidents were unavoidable. She had become accustomed to the possibility of a tool mishap or a micro-meteorite impact pulverizing a robotic chassis. It would be an expensive set-back, but it was still something that could be recovered from. She had even come to grips with a permanent demise.

But not like this. Kriok didn’t want to die like this. She didn’t want the multi-verse, that cheering mass of countless onlookers, to witness her demise. She didn’t want the death of her civilization to be celebrated, the fact that she was the last of her kind to be used as a selling point for so much merchandise.

The fabrication process had finished. Kriok looked down at what she had made-- another four javelins for her current weapon, some length of synthetic rope, and a simple load-bearing thigh pack. She stashed the rope in her new container, strapping it on and moving towards loading the additional spikes. She went back to thought as she pushed each bolt in.

She wasn’t going to cooperate and play along with this death-match, she was certain of that much. There had to be a way out somehow, if not from the arena she was in then she could at least cheat death-- she already had, in a way, just by virtue of her cybernetic consciousness. She wasn’t sure if the other contestants shared her same vision-- she could ignore them and pursue her own work, however. And if she was to die, she would make sure there was no spectacle, no revelry and celebration accompanying her death.

There was a pounding on the door. Kriok turned to look-- Agent Winston had lied, they had already discovered Manderley’s body. Kriok needed to escape, she didn’t want to test herself against an uncertain enemy. She turned on the television, flipping to a random channel.

Agent Winston awoke to see Kriok leap through a television screen, the channel switching to an empty static once she had disappeared. The door then swung open, two agents aiming their pistols into the now-empty room. One of them helped Winston get up. He straightened his suit.

He was going to pursue that alien. Grabbing one of the agent’s pistols, he changed the channel to something other than
static and leaped in, determined to bring Manderley’s murderer to justice.
Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"Eagles, respond." *beepbeepbeep*

The jazz music had been a nice change of pace from the gaudy PR events her team stacked into slow weeks. Thankfully, she'd been abducted just before she would have arrived at yet another one.

But, damn, that sax was starting to get a bit high pitched for her tastes. If she weren't sitting in a fragile, non-reinforced chair, she'd consider going heavy to muffle it a bit like she did during most of the intro.

Focus, Freefall. What's your next move?

...Drawing a blank. Sure, be that way. You can't stay laid back in this chair, mocking the show forever. You have to try to escape, remember?

Yeah, that was it. Escape. You know what to do. You've been trained for this.

Hell, you've had lessons!


M.E.T.A.L, a 10-foot, hulking, too-smooth golem of silvery liquid steel, was quite the figure. His booming, robotic voice would have been intimidating even out of a toaster; as a whole, his presence often had lesser criminals voiding their bowels with abandon.

At the moment, this imposing image was sabotaged by a square scholar's cap and pointer.

Freefall raised her hand from the school-desk her team brought out for these occasions. "I appreciate the lessons, Met. Really, I do. But this one? How often can I really expect to be 'abducted into a tournament of supers'?"

"Oh, I'd put money on it happening at least once, Free," the Gadgeteer chimed in. "It's happened to Ace. Twice, actually." Smiling and cocky in the most annoying fucking way, like two fast-talking, Counterstrike-playing nerds packed into one short, athletic Vietnamese kid. Maybe the funny sort of annoying, even, like a little brother; so irritating that you don't even mind. He folded his arms and leaned back for effect, though the extra, robotic pair of arms underneath never ceased their adjustments to his four custom plasma pistols. There were workbenches throughout the Eagles' Nest, allowing him to keep up his productive hobby wherever he went.

"Yeah, it's true, Rach'. Wouldn't hurt to pay attention." Oh, that voice. Gadge made laying back a gesture of forced awkwardness compared to their leader, Ace, reclining on the couch with his arms behind his head. Relaxed, but never too relaxed. Eyebrows portraying just enough wry amusement above that cheesy but oddly stylish eye-mask. She hid it pretty well behind a sardonic scowl (she liked to think), but sometimes it was hard not to just stare and- "ADJUST Y0UR C0NCENTRAT10N, UN1T <FREEFALL>. TH1S 1S N0T A T1ME T0 RES1DE 1N STANDBY M0DE."

"Fine, fine. So what are the steps, anyway?"

"Actually, let me handle this, Metal. I'm the guy who introduced it into the curriculum, after all." Ace strode up to the whiteboard – so smooth – and borrowed the pointer Metal had morphed out of his semisolid arm.

"First item," he pointed, as Metal etched said item onto the board with rapid mechanical precision. "If it wasn't voluntary, never trust it. No reward or prestige justifies abducting you without warning, regardless of their excuse. Watch what happens to the participants that lose, and be prepared to overthrow the whole thing if necessary."

"Is that what you did?"

"The first time, no. I won. Of course. Why wouldn't he? Then it turned out to be a ruse to teach a cursed army all our skills and abilities. Had to free the others and kick the organizer to the curb, not to mention eat a lot of crow for being so blind. Didn't make the same mistake the second time around."

"Not that I had to, which brings me to the second point. If they expect you to fight to the death, occasionally or otherwise – a colosseum-type thing, like the second place I was taken – don't be afraid of leading a rebellion, even in the open. They plucked you from your home, and probably did the same for most of the others; if they killed or broke everyone who resisted, they wouldn't have any working fighters at all! Force is all they have to reign you in, and you're all valuable cargo. They can't afford to kill you without an audience and bets."

"Third, form a tight-knit alliance. Get a plan together, and take falls for each other if necessary. If anyone disagrees and would rather take you guys down, just get them out of the way; no need for hostilities, if you can help it. They might even come around the closer you are to succeeding."

"So if someone's being a bastard about it, I can knock them out and just-?" "Language, Rach'. Remember our PR; we're kid friendly twenty-four seven, or we lose public support and advertising deals. That's what paid for your fancy new suit." "Wait, I thought just the R-rated stuff was out. Now I can't even say 'bastard'?"

"If only that were the sole issue, young newcomer~!" Oh, god. The pink bitch. She just glides in through the air with that childish sing-song hum, does a slow, playful somersault off Ace's head and he just looks at that prissy show-off in that shy way he never fucking does with me, and she fucking knows it – oops, the desk was starting to creak, there – and floats gently down with a corny ~flourish~ of magenta sparkles. 'Magenta'. What a stupid hero name.

"You cannot simply solve all your problems by forcing others unconscious! You must acquire the patience to reason, and- goodness, you're not even listening to me, are you?" "Nope. What's the next bullet, Ace?"

"Maggie has a point," - just how could he say 'Maggie' all the time with a straight face, it was unbelievable - "...but let's move on. Point four is not to get worked up over betrayal. Nobody's in their comfort zone, and even the best people might lose their handle on the situation and defect. Try to make sure people can't do too much damage if they betray your allies, but if they do, don't make a big deal out of it. Just focus on escaping with everyone willing, and making it home intact."

"And the fifth point is by far the most important!"

"Well, the fifth one is to take every chance you can to contact us back home. The communicator hidden in your collar is some of Gadge's finest work. Activate it, and we'll know where you are if you're anywhere in the known or unknown universe. If it's compromised, just search for comm stations, magic users, anything you can get your hands on."

"Do not be afraid to pray, reach out with feelings, or even use your favorite personal rituals! Remember, magic is always stronger than you think~<3," she winked. Groan.

"Not like you'll need phony sparkles and stuff with my equipment on your neck!" Magenta rolled her eyes, ~playfully~. "Your communicator has a quantum link with the Nest that uses entanglement to encode and send us vital signs, coor-" ...oh dear lord, hasn't Gadge learned by now that you neither get nor care about all this technical bullshit? " a geiger counter, an MP3 player, I even stuffed in a-" "Gadget." "Oh, uh, heh. Sorry. Long story short, if your communicator gives three beeps, that's the Q-fail. Means either the Nest's been destroyed, or you've been warped to a time or dimension where it doesn't even exist. Otherwise, we can find you anywhere, no problemo."

Freefall snapped her fingers. "Ah, that was it. The Q-fail. Three beeps. Guess we have ourselves a problemo."

She sat down properly, rapping her fingers against a coffee-stained dossier on the desk. "So, let's see... this's a super tournament, so we've got our heroes, villains, and neutrals that'll go either way."

She swiped a pencil from an old coffee cup, larger than the one that'd stained her writing surface. "Alright, so we have some sorta Announcer." She scrawled the word on top of the folder, underlining it twice. "Big bad villain. Beat the shit outta him."

"In terms of contestants, we got that weird-ass Rest Inn that wants people to sleep in it so they can get loved and cuddled. Haha, sure. Wreck the place." She drew lines to the sides and top of the names so far, marking the header 'Villians'. She mighta gotten the 'i' and 'a' mixed up, she thought. Not that she really cared. "You don't enter a Hampton Inn in a death battle 'less it's got some sorta nasty infestation. Least it's flashy and easy to spot."

"Then there was Crack-something, last of her race, so might be a good guy. But cyborgs are kinda usually evil? Not sure with this one, find out later. She's probably a badass either way."

"Shadowy Painter that drives people insane. Obvious villain. Beat him into submission, tie him up."

"Greedy wizard, also obvious villain. Same policy."

"Some wizard Timothy kid and living armor, sweet. Hero. Keep away from the greedy wizard."

"Then... oh boy. That Nozzle jellyfish thing. Probably some fucking lab experiment, grows or shoots poison or mind control. Let's leave it at 'don't touch' for now."

"Then the twisted and horrifying zombie dude. I bet he's friendly! Pfff."

"So..." She stood up and got a top-down perspective on her lopsided list. "Yeah, probably can't beat that announcer just with Harry Potter and the Iron Giant. Gotta try harder to win over Crackbird, even if she turns out nutty, I guess... but then maybe we'll need magic, and I'll have to trust greed wizard? And then what if I need to bribe him or...."

She paused a moment, then loudly flipped the old desk onto its side, barely missing the dozing McMiller. Fuck it. Just play it by ear, things usually work themselves out.

She brought the black and white television crackling to life. Or maybe it was a color one, and the world was just making it gray. Whatever.

News. Flip. Star Trek Wars or some shit. Flip. Zombie flick. Flip. Some... Teletubbies knockoff? Flip.
"Looks like those rookies... didn't make the cut." "Oh, pff. Another shitty CSI knockoff. Make so goddamn many of 'em, one was bound to end up h-whoa..."

The scene had cut away from Lieutenant Gladwell's office to a messy bunch of corpses on the street.

That's a lot more dead bodies than usual. And don't they usually frame away from the... guts and stuff? "Something stinks in this one."

So, uh... how do I get through this thing, anyway? I guess I just need to take my arms and, sorta...

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Celebration continued in the village as Tschichold continued to stew inside the fake-looking cauldron. Unfortunately, for the main ingredient in question, the natives had enough savvy this time to tie up his limbs, ruining any chance of wiggling out of the main course.

Of course, he was not just sitting there, keeping his mouth shut. All this time, Tschichold had been yelling, screaming, and bitching – seeming to fall only on deaf ears. Geez, what was with them? Did the cheap craft store materials clog their ears or something? It was either that or they have selective hearing. At this point, he was willing to try anything. Perhaps, he could be a little nicer? The water was really burning up his thighs and he was pretty sure he had an unsightly rash on his ass –which is terrible.

“I am not exactly the tastiest or the healthiest meat in the world, so can you let me go?” Tschichold pleadingly reasoned. “Pretty please?” He added, smiling nervously.

Tschichold’s eye lit up as the chef seemed to notice. Unfortunately for the artist, this channel, like all other channels, ran on television logic, which could be nonsensical in frigid proportions. Even though the native-actors do speak English, they chose to selectively hear the hapless artist’s sentences in their (made-up) indigenous language.

His plead,
“I am not exactly the tastiest or the healthiest meat in the world, so can you let me go?” had been bastardized to

“Ee amnu exacterth testho’tha hathtee meenath worso canule me’o” which meant

<font color="DarkGreen">“I am a delicious food product shining with fat and full of essential vitamins and nutrients!”

Also coincidentally,

“pretty please” sounds like

“pret’the ease” which in the native language meant </font>

“I’m freaking delicious!”
To the artist’s confusion, the tribal members erupted into a joyous celebration and jumped into an eye-cringing choreography. Tschichold could feel a massive migraine incoming. The tribal “dance” (if it could be called a dance) was ATROCIOUS. That’s it. He was a goner. He was pretty much doomed. Any chance of his survival in this aesthetic hell had gone to pot.

After the awful footwork and music had ended, the natives scurried to the feasting shrine (actually a picnic table covered in butcher paper) and returned with plastic utensils. Some were holding forks. Others were holding spoons. Tschichold wonder how they were going eat him with spoon, but he did not want to know. He shut his eyes and gritted his teeth. He had control. Sure, he was going to die a very embarrassing death,

but that did not mean he was forced to see it!


In the dark void of space, emptiness stretched infinite. Not a single thing in sight – no dust, no particles, no stars. It was startlingly, almost clear. The crippling realization was there. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing was happening.


It has been a couple of minutes and no amount of bodily harm or sudden unconsciousness had crept up to him. Was this how death, especially of the embarrassing flavor felt like? Fear seized his heart, but the he felt the burning need to know. Tentatively, Tschichold decided to open one eye, wondering what the abyss that was forthcoming for him to be like.

To his surprise, there was no abyss. There was no darkness. In fact, everything was the way before, just as artistically horrible and poorly productive. Sure, he was still in aesthetic hell, but he was alive, dammit, alive! He could never been this happier in his meaningless existence – especially since the burning had receded down to his knees.

Wait, was it? Tschichold checked again. Yes, apparently, the soup that supposedly cooked him had went down a couple of levels. The painter was confused as why they drank the soup instead of eating him. Television logic? Regardless, he should be glad they were stupid enough to drink the multi-colored soup instead of taking a chunk out of any extremities he had out.

Obviously, the tribal members were under the immediate influence of their so-called meal, considering they actually ingested the artist’s psychoactive paints orally. They were groaning and moaning from the toxicity, but mostly from the headache-inducing hallucinations thanks to their overdose.

<font color="DarkGreen">“Oh boy, this stew is elephants!”
Then, the native wheezed, made retching sounds, and collapsed.

Tschichold was somewhat jubilant at this happy accident – somewhat, because the native were clearly high off their rocker. Despite what they had done to him, he really needed someone who was somewhat motor-functional to cut away at his binds.

A native staggered to him, the bottom half of his paper mask stained dark with stomach contents. Without nary a pause, he forced his face onto the artist’s.

“I hate my job.” The native whispered.

“Come again?” Tschichold raised an unseen eyebrow in surprise. The painter knew the jungle was clearly fake-looking (and horrible-looking to boot), but he arbitrarily assumed the aesthetic was part of this craft-store hellhole.

“I hate my job.” He screamed and before the painter could interrupt, blurted out. “I am a thespian. I went to acting school. I worked my ass off to pay for my tuition, my student loans, my DREAMS.” His voice began to quaver in indignant sorrow. “And what is my supposed dream job? This. THIS. Playing some goddamn native extra in some movie with shitty-o-vision. WHERE DID MY LIFE GO.


“The director is a complete ASSHOLE.” He spat the last word with such malice that it made Tschichold’s eye twitch a little. “He thinks he is the next Alfred Hitchcock. The next David Lynch. But really? Really? He’s more like, Ed Wood. NO, like Tommy Wiseau. You know, what? He’s a shit. A fucking prick. Fuck his work. Fuck his face. You know what?” The delirious native turned to the skies.

And ad nauseum. The painter was shocked at the amount of swear words pouring from the native-actor’s mouth. He could sit back and listen, but escape was an important thing on his mind. “Can you let me go then?” Tschichold nudged the question forth.

“SURE THING.” The actor slurred, taking a genuine knife out of his pocket. “I AM IN CONTROL OF MY OWN LIFE. I AM MYSELF. THE DIRECTOR CANNOT HANDLE ME, HANDLE MY ACTING GRACE.”

With a quick hack and slash, Tschichold’s bonds were free. It was not that hard really, considering the rope was incredibly cheap and shoddy. Looking rather smug (and stoned), the native screamed, waggling his knife to the cosmos. “I QUIT THIS JOB. YOU HEAR ME? WATCH OUT WORLD, LLOYD’S GONNA QUIT.” Then, Lloyd ran away, slammed into an oddly two-dimensional tree, and immediately fell unconscious.</font>


Tschichold carefully tried not to step on the prone bodies. He should be glad he was alive and in one piece and he was. Tschichold did not like this place for the obvious reason. He was definitely sure of this next goal: find a way out of this place.

He was not exactly keen on going into the forest again, considering a possibility of a CGI monster or an enlarged toy dinosaur eating him up like a human-shaped licorice. He was not taking any chances of threats to his existence, especially embarrassing threats. Perhaps he could search the village for any clues?

So far, his luck was not helping. He was turning up junk, like a plastic skull (made in China) or a tropical-looking plant (price tag still on), but still, he kept going. If this poor-productive place followed the plot (if there was a plot, he grumbled), perhaps he could find a way out, probably a temple with a giant television screen or something. Tschichold did not know. He just wanted out.

Lo and behold, in front of him, there was the most eldtrich architecture he could possibly imagine. The gaudiest, the most depraved-looking cobbled together model in the collective universe. Any concrete expression of this wretched prop was impossible. In a way, this was horrible, too horrible to be real – so perverse, it was inhumanly beautiful.

Tschichold shuddered.

Of course, when he went inside, he was in for a surprise.

The artist’s jaw slightly slacked as he saw what was inside. There was his oil-painting kit, leaning on the poorly-pasted wallpaper. However, there was also a television set, a real television set. In the secluded tribal village of cannibals, their culture isolated in the jungle, there was a freaking real television set in one of the huts - truly the most baffling anachronism of the ages.

He could try to logic why a television set was incongruously was in this place. What this some sort of absurdist movement? Was this environment made for ironic purposes? Why everything did not make any goddamn sense? He could stay and wonder, bask in this ugly beauty. However, the natives could recover any time and his escape route was just in front of him. What was he waiting for? Clutching his paint kit, Tschichold ran

And jumped into the set.

The scientists were completely soaked, yet, their eyes continued to goggle at the spectacle the two intruders had caused. Steve Chip carefully wiped his glasses, making sure to show astonishment in his gestures and actions. The jellyfish was biologically fascinating, defying all known nature. However, there were these <font color="#808080">two fine specimens, actually one. The other one was a boring old human. “Good lord!” Chip gasped as he decided to check out the unusual species of floating indeterminable bills.</font>

Change fluttered around in mild annoyance as the camera zoomed towards him. As the embodiment of transactions fruitlessly attempted to escape the eyes of the unseen audience, the omnipresent Narrator continued. “Mother Nature had given the researchers of Fjorn Lief’s laboratory a surprising serendipity, a biological miracle between the fine thread of living and non-living. This may look like a wad of mere bills, but really –"

A string of expletives interrupted the balmy atmosphere of the nature documentary, as Tschichold shot through the screen of the television and on to the floor with a heavy splash. The painter laid still, face flat -bubbles of garbled anger formed around his head as his paints diluted in the spilled water.

An awkward silence passed and was broken as Steve decided to go forth and prod the prone figure. Without even a hint of astonishment, the Narrator continued its monotone documentary. “Ah, Nature had done it again, another miracle with these laboratories! Here we have a very unusual species, probably of reptilian lineage despite its humanoid figure. Steve Chip observes the pigmented liquids it naturally sloughs off…”
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

The only thing that mattered was the evidence. Clint Gladwell knew this somewhere deep in his middle-aged bones, and it was backed up by reality. The LAPD couldn’t just point fingers. It had to have solid evidence that added up to one thing – this man or woman shot or stabbed or did drugs or trafficked children. This person was scum and had to be put away.

Right now, though, at 1AM in the morning, this evidence wasn’t adding up for him.

It was mostly blood and bodies. Three bodies, to be exact, lying near the squad car they had driven in life. They had been cut open like a knife through butter. It wasn’t pretty. Genre wavered as it tried to cope with keeping the violence family friendly, and then asserted itself. Lieutenant Gladwell was a world certified badass, a dogged pursuer of justice and friend to all children. A few spools of intestines wouldn’t even faze him.

Clint ran a hand through his scruffy yet somehow stylish blond hair and walked towards the scene, being careful not to step in the blood. This suit was hell to dry-clean.

“What have we got?” he snapped at Detective Jake Teall, their bodies man. The mousy-faced man wasn’t even bothering to do his routine. On the contrary, he looked quite pale.

“World’s biggest butcher shop, boss,” he replied.

“Hell of a selection. I’d hate to see this guy’s back room.”

“Back room nothing. This guy’s going public.”

This sort of banter was normal. Genre demanded that nobody in a crime scene investigation said anything of worth.

“Any survivors,” Gladwell managed, after a few more minutes of that sort of thing.

“One. He’s in LA General. Babbling something about a dude in medieval armour kidnapping a kid.”

Clint took out his sunglasses. Even though it was night.

“So you might say this was a…”

He slipped them on and stood at just the right angle, so they caught the light.

“…knight-time murder.”



Tim and Alaster had found the rest of the city.

It was so bright! How could something at night be so bright? There were so many lights everywhere, in blue and green and red and colours Tim didn’t even have names for! And they weren’t torches! They were something else! Maybe it was magic! And the people! They were everywhere and they dressed funny! Especially the women! You could see their legs! That was apparently rude, but Tim was eight and only had a vague idea about this. The wizards didn’t talk much about women for some reason. Oh well.

And everyone seemed really happy for some reason. Maybe it was a party! And there were things, like carriages, but they moved without horses! And the music didn’t sound like music, it sounded like an earthquake! It felt like one too! He could feel it in his ribs when he went near the places with music! And, and the ground was funny, and there were signs everywhere, and he could see how tall the buildings were now, and wow, they were HUGE! And the smell was weird, like the place was kinda lived-in but not in a bad way, and, and…

Tim was baffled and amazed by everything. He tried to get into some places, with flashy lights and loud music, but there had been people standing next to the door who said he was too young. One or two had told him to go home.

Well, one had said, “Why don’t you go home to your mom?”

That had hurt.

But it didn’t matter, because everything was so new! It was big and strange and kinda scary, too. But at least they were safe though.

Alaster had no such culture shock issues. It was focused on their initial objective – to find a television. But there seemed to be few things that matched a description around here. It was also aware of people giving it and the boy strange looks, and whilst it did not have the capability to feel uncomfortable or threatened, it knew that being in the open would draw attention. There would probably be a television nearby. Find it, and find a different world.

The question of what to do if it found a competitor occurred to it.

Never kill. The boy had asked it one day what its purpose was. It had answered honestly, because lying was an unknowable concept to it. It was created to protect him. To defend him from harm. To kill, if necessary. But the boy had been insistent. Never kill. Killing humans was Bad. Alaster didn’t understand what Bad was, but Bad was to be avoided. Killing, even to defend the boy, was to be avoided if possible.

It had killed the policemen because they had attacked him and the boy. Somewhere, in its memory crystal, that fact didn’t sit right.

It was probably nothing. Just a tuning issue.

“Hey, Alaster! Are these tele-thingies?”

They were outside a shop of some sort. It had a glass front. That was another thing! There was lots of glass. Tim thought glass was expensive, so maybe all these people were rich. He didn’t know. Anyway, on the other side of the glass were lots of box-things, and they had pictures on them. Moving pictures! That wasn’t too weird. Tim had used the scrying glass before.

Right now, it was showing… something. Tim’s eyes widened as he recognised people. People from the arena! The other wizard with the money elemental (Tim knew about elementals, but that was taught to senior wizards), the blobby thing and the drippy lizard person were all on the floor of a room someplace. Everyone looked very confused. But how had they got there? Was that how televisions worked? This was what they needed, right?

The third question was answered, along with maybe the first, by
Freefall flopping out of the front of a large plasma screen inside the store.


The superheroine pushed herself upwards, making a mental note to lighten up before travelling like that, and met
a pair of pointy shoes. On top of those shoes was the rest of Timothy.

“Oh. You’re the lady from the arena! Hi!”


Alaster perked up at the sound of sirens.

The sword was still bloody. The golem would never find the time to clean it at this rate. But the boy’s safety came first.

“Pass the can-opener,” muttered Lieutenant Gladwell as he performed a perfect power-slide across a city intersection, coming into view of the suit of armour that matched the descriptions. Hell of a sword he had, though.

“Maybe he could carve Thanksgiving turkey in his cell when I-”

Alaster also had a hell of a throwing arm.

The black four-by-four that Clint loved so much, unable to cope with four foot of magical steel embedded in its front, screamed, skewed sideways, tipped over and rolled for a considerable distance before slowly grinding to a halt, leaving a lot of sparks, a hubcab and a few unidentified bits in its wake.

Alaster nodded, stepped up to the stricken vehicle and slid the Vorpal blade out of its temporary home, before turning and clanking back into the electronics store.

Gladwell, meanwhile, groaned and shook his head. This sort of thing almost never happened. Sometimes, when things were Serious, cars got flipped and blew up, but it never usually happened to him. He’d been shot a lot, but they were all fake deaths to lure gang members in or something. Too badass to die, or something.

Thankfully, the other sirens were closing in. He didn’t need the backup as such, but it was nice to know they were there.

He finished kicking out the window, rolled himself from underneath his cruiser, and rose, straightening his sunglasses as the car began to catch fire.


“Sorry, miss. Alaster does that sometimes.”

Alaster didn’t offer its own wit, scooping up Timothy and striding out of the store’s back door before Freefall could intervene. Tim managed to wave at her before they vanished from sight.
Originally posted on MSPA by WaveOfBabies.


The sound of claws digging into wood indicated to Ablendan that his leap of faith was a success. He looked down, a sea of grey underneath him, rising up and thrashing in a thirst to get a piece of him. For a brief while, the instinct to just let go passed through Ablendan's head. No pain these horrid creatures could put him through would be anywhere near as bad as the horrors Beelzebub forced him through on a daily basis.

However, this thought was quickly overwhelmed by another thought: the thought to feed. It had been at least a week, these sick bastards at the deathmatch seeming to catch him at his most ravenous for the sake of their entertainment. Not that Ablendan minded the deathmatch too much, anyway. It was kill or be killed, and both of those fields happened to meet his mutual interests. He dug his claws out of the wooden walls of the house he had leaped onto and scrambled to the roof, preparing to break open a hole.


Father Pedro and Richard Silas continued thinning the herds, clenching their shotguns tightly. However, eventually a loud sound began to trouble them. THUD. THUD.

"The Hell is that?" Richard snarled, aiming his gun all around. Father Pedro covered his flank, making sure there were no zombies breaking into the house. Little did they know, there was something much worse than a zombie after them. The banging noise continued, until eventually it stopped with a loud crack. Some chips of roof tiling fell down, but nothing too major.

"Is that . . . roof tiling?" asked Father Pedro, looking confused. "Mios dios, those things must have gotten on the roof somehow. But . . . how?" Humorously enough, even big tough Max looked nervous at this announcement, as all four survivors began to aim their guns at the roof.

After the brief pause, the banging noise continued. It sounded harder than last time, as if the roof could crack at any minute. It creaked and groaned, eventually shattering under the force of the creature on top slamming with all of the force he could muster. In a panic the four survivors fired, hoping to hit their mark as their vision was clouded in a plume of sawdust, smoke, and the occasional burst of static.

For a while, all was still. That is, of course, until the haggard figure of Ablendan Blake stood, bloody bile leaking from a few bullet holes. The flies of Beelzebub quickly plugged the wounds, the creaking of bones heard as Ablendan looked around. The survivors, horrified, backed up as they hastily reloaded their guns. Ablendan eyed the fresh bandages of Max, his hunger growing, as the pathetically small remains of his humanity urged him to mouth one word. "Run."

If only the survivors took his advice. A split second after his warning Ablendan charged, running on all fours for extra speed as he tackled Max like a furious linebacker. In a brutal movement his bandaged stomach was torn into by long, jagged claws, the other survivors shouting in indignant fury. Katie seemed the most angered of all, grabbing a hot poker from the house's fireplace and rushing right at Ablendan. <font color="#ff00ff">"You'll pay for that, you . . . you . . . MONSTER!"
she screamed, as she prepared to spear Ablendan right in the head.

The flies did not take too kindly to this. Buzzing furiously, some of them rushed Katie, biting her with mandibles that burned like Hell's flame. She shrieked as she tried to swat them off, but slowly more began to overwhelm her despite her frantic efforts. Father Pedro and Silas tried to take aim at Ablendan, but it seemed a living wall of flies guarded the demonic servant at all times.</font>

Richard could barely believe what he was seeing. He trembled with fear, his aim wild and unsteady, and weak sobs could be heard coming from him. Normal zombies he could handle. They were slow, stupid, and died when you shot them. But this beast, who didn't even seem like he belonged? He was just something else. His resolve was slowly shattering, and he seemed like he would break ranks and run at any second.

On the other hand, Father Pedro remained calm. He was the most experienced zombie hunter of the group by far and had seen things that would make even Max break into tears. In his youth he had taken on the worst infestations, such as the El Paso Zombie Orphanage incident. But his time as the hero was gone: now he was the old mentor figure, and there was one job every old mentor had to fulfill. He put a hand on Richard's shoulder and assured him, "It isn't too late, nino. Aim for the head, they all fall like that."

Richard weakly nodded, as Father Pedro lifted Katie's fallen hot poker and his own shotgun. "Yo te destierro al infierno de donde saliste!" he shouted as he ran, the flies swarming him as he frantically swung and shot at them. His struggling was much more successful than Katie's, which had devolved into weakly crawling and pleading for help, and more flies began to swarm onto him to try and put the old preacher down. This left enough of a gap in the thick swarm cloud to leave Ablendan's head barely visible. Quivering with fear, he lifted his shotgun and pressed the trigger, closing his eyes. BANG.

Ablendan collapsed, right onto the bled-out corpse of Max. A gunshot wound, full of pus and bile, was visible through the hole shot in Ablendan's hood. The flies immediately flew off of Katie and Father Pedro, the former weakly standing. She ran to Richard's side, hugging him, as the two bowed their heads in sorrow at the sight of their deceased friends. Katie, her spirit shattered by this night, buried her head into Richard's shoulder and began to cry. "Its over," commented Richard, shaking his head sadly. "But at what cost?" This would be the point where the credits roll in any other movie, ending the cliche tale of these cliche survivors. In this case, however, a horrible cracking noise was heard.

Ablendan stood, blood leaking from his gunshot wound, as he dizzily eyed the duo. His claws were reddened with fresh blood, as his mouth spread into a crazed smile. He had killed twice, and until he could properly feed he was in a frenzy of bloodlust. He hunched over for a second before pouncing at the two, eyes crazed and fangs beared. The moans of zombies punctuated the frenzy of ripping and tearing heard from inside the house.


A satisfied Ablendan sat, licking his claws clean as he eyed the cleanly-picked skeletons sitting around him. The female had tasted the best, but beggars couldn't be choosers. And with a four-dish buffet being torn down in minutes, Ablendan was actually in a surprisingly good mood. He let out a content sigh as he stood, noticing the television. The screen was at first nothing but static, but soon began to shift from program to program.

Ablendan looked at the television, curious. He had never seen anything like it in his time, and was too busy gnawing the bars of his cage to pay attention to any announcer-given explanations. He walked up and touched it with a finger, and much to his surprise it passed right through. He jumped back with surprise, before shaking his head and steeling his resolve. Taking a few steps back, he rushed the TV and dove right into its screen.


Another mess of black and white. The persistent lack of color in both his previous setting and new setting was the first thing Ablendan noticed. But this area seemed a lot more pleasant than the last, and contained none of that annoying black film grain. As Ablendan looked down, he noticed with much curiosity that his tattered robe was replaced by a business suit. He also had a briefcase in his hands. Discarding the briefcase but not bothering with the suit, he slowly walked forward until he bumped into a door.

Door? What the hell was going on? His hunger sated for now, animal-like curiosity took over as he ripped the door off of its hinges with his massive claws. A cue card was painted on the wall, and with much confusion in his voice he slowly sounded it out. "Hi, honey, I'm home?"

Mortals were so strange.

Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.


Agent Winston fell face first onto the ground, following his leap through the television. He looked around quickly-- he was in an police office of some kind, judging from the police officers further away. Anywhere else, the fall would exacerbate the injuries from his recent concussion, but for now that injury was practically unnoticeable. The narrative of this channel didn’t need Winston spending a week recovering from an injury, not when there was an unresolved plot-line to tie together. He stood up, looking at a few of the LAPD officers gathered around him.

“Gentlemen, I trust you know what this is.” Winston brandished an FBI badge, immediately distracting the assembled policemen from the fact that he had just fallen out of a television. Winston continued to speak.

“Yes, gentlemen, I’m afraid this is now a federal case. Hopefully I won’t have to involve myself too heavily, but an agent was lost in the line of duty, and as such the government will need to make sure we get to the heart of the matter. Now, I trust I have your cooperation?”

For a few seconds, the assorted officers remained still, trying to comprehend what had just happened. This case had gone federal. A kidnapper in medieval armor had transitioned from a comparatively simple triple homicide case to a matter of national security. The assorted officers quickly double-timed their work. Agent Winston settled for getting a mug of coffee. As the coffee machine worked, he was approached by a technician-- one of the countless technological masters of the strange and confusing realms of the Internet.

“Sir, I was told to report to you about the case...” His words awkwardly trailed off, as though he wasn’t certain just how to end this sentence.

“Yes. Talk to me, uh...”

“Jenkins, sir. I operate the mainframes we use in our investigatory work.”

Agent Winston took this mockery of the past ten years of personal computer development completely seriously. “Alright, Jenkins, show me what’s going on.”

“Well sir,” Jenkins walked over to a conspicuously over-sized monitor, pulling up some horribly-designed but aesthetically impressive applications, “we’ve got a program designed to monitor criminal activity over the Internet. Ever since this homicide case came up, we’ve been, uh, getting a lot of weird activity. Here, take a look at this.” Jenkins pulled up a large, high-resolution map of Los Angeles, splotched with red and white marks.

“What am I looking at here, Jenkins?”

“See those red splotches?” Winston nodded in response. “Those are criminal IP addresses-- usually they’re using thirty-two bit IPP240 encryption protocols, so we can’t get a solid read on them, but we can ping them to get a more accurate location. Now, this is the map as of ten minutes ago.”

Jenkins loaded another image. Los Angeles was inundated with red-- the satellite image of the city looked as though an artist from above had poured buckets of red paint down from the heavens. Winston gasped.

“Yeah, this can’t be a coincidence. None of our usual software can track this activity, there’s just too much for our servers to handle. Even after the latest round of upgrades, we still didn’t have the bandwidth to manage this.”

“Is there anything else we can go off? Bank account numbers, usernames, something?” Agent Winston probably knew less about what he was talking about than the ostensible specialist, but he couldn’t help but be caught in the moment.

“Actually, hang on...” Jenkins pulled up another application. “Here we go. Ever since this case started we’ve seen a new username come up on a lot of IRC channels--
Machinebird.” His attention turned to the federal agent, whose eyes had widened in shock. “Uh, sir, are you alright?”

Agent Winston started to put things together. This alien, only moments after she had left, had somehow managed to cut her way through the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department. “How dangerous is this thing...” He muttered to himself.

“Sir?” Jenkins expectantly gazed at Agent Winston.

“Jenkins, can you isolate that IP address? Work your magic? I don’t know who you were after before this went federal, but let me assure you-- this Machinebird is the real mastermind, I can assure you that.”

“Sir, uh...” He began to trail off before he caught Winston’s stern gaze. “I’d have to make a PHP database just to decrypt it, and even then they’ve got to be cycling through at least a hundred IP addresses, not to mention proxies...”

Winston brought himself closer to Jenkins, looking at him eye to eye. “Jenkins.”


Innocent lives are depending on you. We need to find Machinebird. Have I made myself clear?” Jenkins gulped before nodding an assent.

“Good. Keep me posted, I’m going to be on the streets. You’re doing good work, Jenkins-- don’t let us down.”

And with that, Agent Winston left, leaving Jenkins to sort through the convoluted mystery of the Internet that this channel offered.

”Sweetie, what are you doing?”

Ablendan Blake experimentally read aloud the new cue that had been painted onto another wall. He had just entered the kitchen, having passed through a thoroughly trashed living room. He felt the light touch of fabric against his foot, and looked down to see a torn up apron and floral print dress. He heard a loud clatter and turned his attention to the kitchen’s inhabitant.

His apparent wife-- at least, the spouse this channel had assigned to him-- was a feathered humanoid, with noticeable metal protrusions throughout her body. One of her arms seemed to be completely covered in metal, and was clumsily grasping at a metal box, rotating it to see it from a variety of angles. She moved the object to her other arm, using her metallic hand to crush and pull away the metal exterior, the hand functioning similarly to an over-sized can-opener. It was only as she tossed the now-useless covering that she noticed Ablendan had entered.

“Honey, shouldn’t you be--” Ablendan began to speak, his voice hoarse from years of dis-use.

Kriok interrupted. ”Don’t bother with the prompts. The cue I’m supposed to be reading is telling me how I can explain this disaster, and something else about how glad I am to see you’ve returned from the office safely. Neither of those lines of conversation fit my current priorities; no doubt you have your own goals to pursue.”

Ablendan was taking aback by her response-- part of him expected her to not even respond but just launch an attack on him, as so many others had. Part of him hoped that she would-- his hunger had been sated, and he couldn’t draw forth those reservoirs of animalistic fury that came with starvation. She could defeat him and bring him that final rest he so desired. However, as long as she remained neutral, he could indulge his curiosity. He began to speak, un-used to the sound of his own voice.

“Who.. are you?”

The avian scowled at the question. This was, after all, the contestant described as a horrific abomination. Even with the business suit, he was still unsettling. She wasn’t interested in maintaining particularly close contact with him-- if anything, she would enjoy redirecting him to another channel and allowing her to pursue her work in private. She calculated a response before beginning again.

“I am another one of the abducted. You no doubt recall the time spent in a cage, presented before that teeming crowd. I was there as well.”

Ablendan tilted his head. While he did recall his moment trapped in the cages, along with mentions of a death-match, he was far too absorbed in his own hunger to notice any other abducted. He experienced a few moments of insight-- who had he missed as he remained unsatisfied and distracted by his hunger? How many other abducted were there? Were they as interesting specimens as himself and this avian?

Could they bring him the finality he wanted? If not, would they serve his hunger? Would their final moments--

His private moment of solace was interrupted by Kriok leaving the kitchen. A cue card appeared on the wall, apparently a prompt to tell Kriok that she forgot to finish cooking the roast. He examined the oven, looking for the food mentioned. The oven remained empty-- clearly, the household had has veered incalculably far from the pre-planned routine of this idyllic domestic comedy.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ablendan could almost see the sky flicker and cringe in irritation.

He entered to see the dining room table covered in a variety of objects-- an assortment of metallic objects and tools, wood pieces taken from the garage, pieces of jewelry, the toaster she had wrecked, light-bulbs-- the variety of items was impressive.

“What are you... doing?” Ablendan asked, his raspy voice painful for both speaker and listener.

“Building.” Kriok’s reply was terse as she picked up each item, examining it and analyzing its composition, before setting it down once again.

“Building... what?”

Kriok nearly began to say that she was constructing a high-density capacitor array to power some of her more complicated tools, but she caught herself before she continued. Even if though he likely lacked any comprehension of science, it wasn’t necessary for him to learn just what she was working on.

She noticed a prompt behind him. She tried her best to smile at her assigned spouse before beginning.

Sweetie, don’t you need to pick up Junior from baseball practice? After all, us women-folk can’t be trusted behind the wheels of an automobile.”

The disgust in her words was almost palpable.

Ablendan Blake had no interest in children, but he did pick up on some of the sarcasm lacing Kriok’s words. He was satiated enough to be willing to drop the issue. He quietly backed away, exiting through the broken-down door. He looked out into the expanse of grey-scale suburbia.

For an animalistic killer such as him, there was no better hunting reserve. When the hunger once again overcame him, he would truly feast.

Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

A Serbian-born American was imprisoned for falsifying his citizenship. He was released on parole, but broke it and escaped to Europe, where he hid out in Sweden. However, eventually his paper trail was traced and he was held under the Swedish courts, preparing extradition back to America. Luckily he convinced the court to send him back to Serbia instead, where he held proper citizenship. Upon arriving in Serbia, he said to his family who had come to welcome him back to safety:

"Well, I guess I've been re-Serb'd!"

Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.


Aaron looked up at the camera, then wildly around – but there were no gray nothingnesses about. In fact, everything seemed relatively normal, though after Barry Barnes’ Shopping Network nightmare, a multicolored polar bear in a tutu performing Swan Lake would have seemed normal. Here, walls surrounded the room on all four sides, there was a ceiling and a floor, that while wet, was clearly not a stage. On the other hand, there was still a camera weaving about, balanced neatly on the shoulder of a scientist-looking type – specifically, the type that did very little actual science, opting instead to gad about with cameras to talk to the people who did. It paid well, at least, and Aaron could respect that. He found himself somewhat ignored, ironically the most normal thing in the room to have entered in the past few minutes, and so settled for just letting his eyes play about the scene before him.

Without knowing why, he reached out and pulled the albino-white jellyfish towards him, away from a particularly noxious oily patch seeping from the inky-black young…man?...still face down in the puddle. He examined the jellyfish closely, gingerly touching what he took to be its tentacles, then lifting its bulk with some difficulty -

The bipedal-sentient-with-riches suddenly gave off a sense of surprise as he in turn gave him the sense of thanks-for-aid. He found the bipedal-sentient-with-riches’ mind more open than the others somehow, as if its telepathy with the other sentient-of-riches had widened its receptive channels. Perhaps this receptivity would be of good use-

For the second time, Aaron reeled. The impressions came through the same pathway he associated with Change’s golden voice, except these were less than words, less than voice, and yet more. A clutch of eggs, a sphere of presences, of varying size but of similar-shape, in fact of similar-shape-to-self…self, self-identifier this-male-one-of-no-mother, and Aaron understood.


Automatically, he tried to wrap his head around the jellyfish’s self-identity, around its – no, his – name, the impression of one-who-no-longer-moves of loss, a female and the-prey-too-skilled-to-catch for opportunities lost, a clutch of eggs again – and Aaron verbalized, it was on the tip of his tongue…


More ideas, impressions, pouring into his mind like water, and like water it took on the shape of its container.

“…zo? Nizzo? Is that your name?”

The impression of affirmation! <font color="#099999">The impressions that the bipedal-sentient-with riches seemed to convey properly the sense of his identity, of him, of-

And now, Nizzo, green dollar bills fluttered angrily, you leave my wizard alone.

<font color="#099999">“The researchers of Fjorn Lief’s laboratories are ecstatic to find that the curiously monetarily-formed lifeform is capable of communicating. Steve Chip takes it upon himself to make first contact with the only known specimen of Monetaria liefus, and to record the event on camera.”

Ignoring the Narrator’s cool Brittanic voice, Chip bent down to the floating cash’s level. “Do…you…understand…me?” he intoned, in that patronizing manner one reserves for the infirm and tourists who speak languages with differing alphabets. “Can…you…communicate…with me?”

Change whirled around, fixing the marine biologist with a faceless glare that knocked him, recoiling, butt-first into the water. My apologies for not sparing the time for your ridiculous ‘scientific’ moneymaking charade, but I <i>am currently engaged. However, since your attention is on me, let me firmly disabuse you of some assumptions. I am not the only one of my kind, I am not biologically sensible, and the being you assume to be reptilian in origin and essentially harmless is in fact pumped full of hallucinogenic paint and is in all likelihood sloughing off liquid psilocybin. Now, will you let me take care of my own affairs before poking that camera at me?</i></font>

Aaron watched in horror as the scientists panicked, running every which way like decapitated chickens, while the Narrator continued her calm exposition: “The scientists, upon discovery of the third specimen’s dangers, now analyze the situation in a careful and controlled manner. Note Dr. Lief’s response, whereupon he attempts to exit the room through the wall.”

“Change! What did you have to do that for?”

The Transaction brought itself up to head height, then slightly higher, as if assuming the superior position –Aaron, you are incredibly naïve to think you can just let anything, especially a competitor, in a battle to the death, play around in your mind and leave without consequences.

“NIzzo isn’t like that! He’s harmless!”

Is that a thought you had, or a thought Nizzo had for you?

Aaron flailed uselessly, shaking Nizzo somewhat disorientingly up and down. Then he glimpsed, behind the Transaction, the inky body of the other visitor pull upwards into a standing position, peering at the three of them with an appraising eye.

Tschichold examined the three contestants critically. Change was a colorfully complex green, which was fine enough. But the other two…Nizzo was a blank, unsettling white, but at least it was a uniform color, and at least somewhat suitable. But the wizard’s tattered, too-short grey robe, unwashed in places and too washed in others, places where even the grey had run out of the fabric…no. No no no no no. This would not do. He swiped a paintbrush along his shadowy side – navy blue, perfect – then silently advanced…

Put <i>down the jellyfish or buy it, Aaron.</i>

“But-but Change-”</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by Pick Yer Poison.

Aaron, put that thing down right now! Change had adopted a demanding tone, with just a hint of panic, and it ground on Aaron's nerves.

"Fine!" Aaron tossed Nizzo at Change, who was too stunned to dodge.

Nizzo instinctively wrapped his tentacles tightly around the group-of-thin-things he sensed coming towards him. It felt like he was in a current-that-goes-fast, except that he felt much heavier, and he couldn't swim. A dim memory, just after his own hatching-of-the-egg, surfaced, and he realized dimly that he must be on land somehow.

Hey! Aaron! Get this thing off me! Change swooped up and down, trying to break Nizzo's grip, but to no avail. If anything, it only worsened the situation, as Nizzo panicked even further and wrapped his tentacles tighter around Change. Get offa me, monster...thing!

Aaron was beginning to be a little frightened by the proceedings. What if Nizzo really was dangerous? What if it hurt Change? What if the Transaction was right about it after all?

Nizzo felt a bit overwhelmed with the multitude of thoughts converging on him. This-ambiguous-one-of-art was broadcasting its desire to paint all over Aaron, a concept which Nizzo was not familiar with. Colors were a mystery to him. This-male-one-of-riches was becoming more and more open and broadcasting more and more in his panic, until suddenly Nizzo was confronted with something he had never experienced before - for a single moment, he saw, through Aaron's eyes. Unable to interpret the shapes and colors he was presented with, he fled fearfully from Aaron's mind, the shock of the visual world too much for him to handle. His grip loosened on Change and he fell to the floor, where he wriggled his tentacles weakly in fear and confusion.

Aaron clutched his forehead. Just before Nizzo had fallen off Change, he had felt the strangest link between him and Nizzo - even closer than the one he had with Change. It had only been for a moment, but in that moment, not only had Nizzo been able to see what he saw, he had been able to see what Nizzo "saw" as well.

An unintelligible mass of blurry, frightening, and constantly shifting and warping shapes pieced together from vibrations felt through the air.

Aaron reached down and gingerly picked up Nizzo, who curled his tentacles around his arms lightly. He felt the jellyfish tentatively send him a message - the impression of friendship linked with the impression of a question. He nodded, then remembered Nizzo couldn't see that. Sure, he thought.

Aaron, what the hell do you think you're--LOOK OUT! Tschichold, about to start slathering Aaron with paint, was instead rewarded with a facefull of cash. Normally he wouldn't consider this a bad thing - he was a starving artist, after all - but money be damned, he had ART to complete! Aaron, get to the television. I think we've overstayed our welcome. We can talk about your choice of...companions later.

Aaron nodded his assent and moved over to the television, flicking through the channels. Any preference?

Tchichold managed to throw Change off himself and splashed it with navy blue ink, ruining the value of a lot of the bills composing its form. Change plummeted downwards as his worth dropped, and half hovered, half bounced back towards the television. I don't really care, but please hurry.

Aaron stopped changing channels on the one he happened to be on, which showed a field with some people running around haphazardly on it. This one looks good, let's go! Without hesitating, he scooped up Change from the floor and jumped through the television screen, Tschichold following close behind to correct the art travesty fleeing from him.

"Well, sports fans, looks like another wonderful day for this game of Blipball! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, there isn't a cloud in the sky, and the highly expensive and only mildly irradiated weather machine is doing an excellent job of keeping both the real weather and the real birds away from the stadium!"

"I'll say, Jim. The players are already out on the field running warm-up exercises - they sure look excited about the game to me!"

"Can't argue with you there, Jeff - whoah! The ref's decided to take advantage of the Surprise Start rule! The ball's in play now!"

"Excellent catch by Mike "Fifteen Flipping Hands" Willston! Looks like all that genetic modification paid off after all!"

"True, but was it worth the cost he's had to pay in terms of functional argyle sweaters? Viewers, call the number on your screen now and tell us what you think! We'll have those votes tallied for you later in the program."

"What on earth - did that television sitting on the bench just vomit a homeless man in robes holding a jellyfish?"

"No, that's not just you, I saw it too! I wonder if this means the jellyfish is going to be in play early this game?"

"Whoah, looks like the players have decided so! I hope that robed hobo can stand the blitz of a dozen seasoned Blipball players!"

"What in the name of - am I seeing this right? Jeff, are you seeing this too?"

"Lord in heaven, did a gold brick splotched with navy blue paint just rocket out of that television set and hit one of the Blipball players?"

"I thought I'd forgotten to take my medicine this morning for a minute!"

"Uh, Jim..."

"Whoops! Right. Forgot I'm not supposed to talk about that anymore. Won't happen again."

"Anyway, this is a most interesting turn of events. The ref seems to be coming over to declare an official ruling."



"This is the most illegal thing I have EVER seen! I can't tear my eyes away!"

"Oh my dog, look at all that red paint. LOOK AT IT! THAT'S HI...HID...actually, that looks kind of nice."

"Yeah, the ref looks good in red. I hope this leads to a rule change on ref uniforms - oooo, he's adding orange!"

"I'm with you on that uniform change. That's starting to look like a really nice outfit."

"Whoops, one of the Blipball players just made a grab for the jellyfish! Looks like the game's still in play!"

"Manny Manfred Mandello Manvictor the third, lucky number 13 on the team, never really was one to waste time."

"Ouch! What a hit! I'm hurting just looking at that!"

"Dannivito Rockefeller sure can throw a mean right cyborg fist screw-hook!"

"Actually, I think he's the only man alive who can do that."

"Still looks like it hurt, though."

"Oh, definitely."

"Hah, look at that riot! The fans are even getting in on it! This is undeniably the best part of any Blipball game."

"Looks like the newcomers are leaving through their teleportal again. Too bad they're taking the jellyfish with them, but it's not really needed now that the fight's already started."

"Speaking of fights, you want to get in on this? It's moving too fast for us to comment on anyway."

"Why bother going all the way down there when I can just swing right now?"

"Put 'em up, you son of a BLEEP!"

"Oof! Suck on this, you piece of BLEEP!"

"Augh! You sly BLEEP! That was pretty underhanded!"

"Only the best from - ugh! - me! But YOU'RE fighting like a little BLEEP!"

This went on until both commentators were thoroughly unconscious.

Aaron found himself staring face down at some kind of carpeting. He rolled over slightly as he looked around him, feeling slightly queasy. "I don't think I like sports anymore."

Tchichold, on the other hand, found himself on the floor of a messy room crowded by easels with absolutely horrid pieces of art on them. A cue card on the wall next to the door said, "KEEP IT DOWN! I'M BUSY SUFFERING FOR MY ART!"
[Image: zjQ0y.gif][Image: vcGGy.gif]
Originally posted on MSPA by WaveOfBabies.

Ablendan continued heading outside, somewhat puzzled by this strange greyscale world. Everything looked so similar to the zombie world, but at the same time infinitely different. For a while, his brain looped back to the other contestants. So far he had only seen one, the mechanical bird. Too distant to be a help, too mechanical to be a good meal, and seemed more like a builder than an executioner. Useless to him. But she was the only other one trapped in this sitcom world, so if shit went down temporarily working with her couldn't be a bad option.

His introspection continued as he looked at some of the weird inventions on display. Like a pole full of letters, or a "mailbox." Were couriers not good enough anymore? He leafed through the mailbox, wondering why half of the letters seemed to be addressed to some guy named Bill, before dismissing it as garbage and knocking it over. A strange key rolled out, golden in color and not looking like any key he had seen. Shrugging, Ablendan put it in his new suit pocket. How useful! Then, suddenly, he felt a slam to the head.

[Image: HEYNEIGHBOR.png]

"Hey, neighbor!" cheered the voice of an odd man. He looked human, but very clearly wasn't. His skin seemed almost plastic and rigid, his hair was a shade so bright, and presumably blond as well, that Ablendan had to avert his eyes when looking at him, and his teeth were impossibly flawless. He waved as he stepped forward, picking up the football. "Sorry 'bout that, neighbor-ooni," he apologized in a grating voice, as ghostly laughter was heard. "The kid's coming back from Harvard, and I was tossing the old pigskin around to practice for a game with him."

Ablendan Blake was not amused.

"Say, you look like death warmed over," commented the man. "Need any help? I AM a doctor, you know." Ablendan clenched his fists with annoyance at the smug tone of superiority in this strange superman's voice as he continued to ramble about his accomplishments. What was he going to say next, that he owns a massive tract of land with more serfs than members of the King's army? He slowly zoned out, thinking about how satisfying shutting this freakish human up with a slash to the jugular would be, only for the sound of the door flying open to snap him out of his trance.

"Honey, are you STILL tossing around that silly football?" asked a woman in a nearly see-through nightgown. She looked exactly as blonde and plastic as the man, and if they weren't supposed to be a married couple you could almost mistake them for siblings. She was large-chested, and judging from the disembodied audience's non-verbal "oohs" and "aahs" the camera was probably focusing on this fact. "Why don't you come inside, so we can continue . . . talking"

"Hold on, Sharon," commented the neighbor, motioning for his wife to leave. "I'm meeting the new neighbor, Mr. Blake." Ablendan was taken aback by how this man seemed to know his name, and scowled at the thought. With each word this man said, Ablendan slowly started to hate him more and more. Eventually, though, he had an idea.

"Neighbor," he creaked out, cringing a little at the sound of his own voice. It reminded him briefly of a time when he was more human . . . oh, how far he had fallen. He looked around before his eyes settled on a large attachment to his house, conveniently labeled "GARAGE." "Want to see the new garage? I have . . . things to show you."
Any normal man would not have been so easily lured, but sitcom characters are always easy to fool when hijinks would end up occurring as a result. Only in this case, it was a very bloody set of hijinks. "Of course, Mr. Blake!" the man replied, flashing his perfect smile for the last time as he headed into the garage.


Kriok tried to work. She really did. But when one kept hearing slams and thuds from the garage, it was very easy to get distracted. After the fifth set of loud slams and bangs, she swore to herself and walked out to the garage to try and see what the hell all the commotion of. Sure enough, Flyboy over there was slamming some guys head into a wall repeatedly, letting out delighted, gravelly chuckles with each slam.

Maybe at another time Kriok would have been disgusted. But she was sick of this sitcom already, and all she regarded Ablendan's latest kill as was a distraction. She sighed, annoyed, as she stormed back into the kitchen. Every door was shut behind her to help block out noise, as Kriok slowly began to get back to work. "Remind me not to piss him off," she sarcastically quipped, voice deadpan. However, as noise continued to seep into the kitchen despite her best efforts, a thought did cross her head. This guy seemed to have a lot of brute force behind him, and all he seemed to need was something to kill every now and again. Maybe if she dangled the proper carrot in front of him he'd make himself useful.


Finally, Mr. Perfect had stopped struggling, but much to Ablendan's displeasure he made a horrible meal. The meat tasted like plastic, and when the flesh-eater tried to taste his organs he found them withered away from the abuse of many substances. Even the brain was comically tiny. Looks like Mr. Perfect wasn't so perfect after all. As Ablendan haphazardly shoved the skeleton into a garbage can, a burst of static seeming to form as he did this, Ablendan decided to check out just what a garage was anyway.

Most of it seemed rather pointless. Novelty store items, mounted fish, and random pieces of junk littered the garage. But one thing in particular confused Ablendan the most. As he looked around the room he noticed what appeared to be a horseless carriage, sitting inert in the middle of the room. "Useless," he grumbled as he looked at what we would know is an automobile, wondering how it would even run if it didn't have a horse attached. He looked at the door, puzzled by it. How did people get a fresh breath of air with that annoying glass in the way. In a move only Ablendan would consider sane, he punched through the glass with his bare hands. Much better.

Despite Ablendan's continued efforts to ignore it, though, the mysteries of the car enticed him. He opened the door, nearly swinging it off of its hinges from the sheer power of its grip, as he sat down in the driver's seat. Apparently carriages of the future had a fifth wheel, which was inside of the carriage. Ablendan's confusion only grew as he looked at the various functions and buttons that he had no idea how to use. He was a caveman witnessing a UFO, and no effort he made to push the car into working succeeded. He tried slamming, banging, slamming and banging at the same time, and even threatening the car with grumbled swears. But no matter what, it refused to budge.

Then Ablendan noticed the keyhole in the ignition. Using the wonderful gift of short-term memory, he checked his pockets and produced the key he had taken from the mailbox earlier. He knew about keys opening doors, but keys opening carriages? The very idea confounded him. But with no better options, all Ablendan could think to do was insert the key into the ignition. Slowly, he began to turn it . . .

Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

The dining room was old fashioned. The furniture was all dark wood, and the walls were papered with pastel colours and floral print. There was a vase of pale blue flowers in perpetual bloom upon the mantle. It looked as though it had been designed to be as inoffensive as possible. There were upon the wall a couple of framed photographs of the staff of the Traveller’s Rest. The day that Darren had surprised Mister O with a birthday cake; an event that had been made all the more surprising by the fact that they had had to guess at his birthday. The way Mister O had rolled his eyes had indicated they weren’t even close but they’d all sat down and enjoyed the cake anyway. Maria was staring at this photograph wondering what had happened to the Mister O that she had known. Deep down she knew that this was not the right question though. Mister O was the same as ever, it was just he was the same as ever in the face of a situation that should have altered his behaviour at least somewhat. Darren was sat down at the dining room table, while Sarah was pacing back and forth around the room.

“So…” Darren reluctantly broke the contemplative silence, “does anybody want to talk about what is going on with Mister O?” There was a long moment of awkward silence following this enquiry.

“Not really.” Maria said eventually. “He’s made it pretty clear he doesn’t want to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, so put him to one side for now. There are more pressing matters to be dealing with.” There was a murmur of agreement from the others.

“Did you see some of those guys?” Sarah asked. “I mean we are up against superheroes and wizards and that thing with all the flies…” She paused at looked at her co-workers in disbelief. “How are we supposed to compete against them? We just work in a bed and breakfast. Why were we even picked for this competition?”

“I hate to bring up something that was specifically sidelined, but what if it’s to do with Mister O?” Darren asked. “You saw what I saw right? That light coming from the cracks in his door. That isn’t right. That isn’t natural.” There was a moment of thought, as the three of them tried to parse their mental image of the cheery manager and something that could do that. “What if it’s him? What if it’s his fault we are here?”

“I just can’t see it… Mister O secretly a monster?” Sarah said. “Even if you aren’t thinking of it in terms of this is the same Mister O we’ve known for years… some kind of creature… running a bed and breakfast?” After a second she affixed Darren with a gaze that suggested that the question was not simply rhetorical and he shot back a shrug.

“I don’t know what is going on any more than you do.” He admitted. “But there has to be some reason we are here…?”

“Just forget it.” Maria said dismissively, as she sat down opposite Darren. “I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to know, but we’re here now and we can either sit around moping and trying to figure out the big picture and eventually get killed the moment that guy with all the flies decides to seek us out, or we can get out there and do something about it.”


Imagine for a second you are watching your favourite sitcom. You are watching the impossibly attractive actors banter inconsequentially with one another. It is not the least substantial thing you could be watching, there is some reality television thing on the other channel, perhaps it is The Multiverse’s Got Talent, or something equally moronic. Imagine if halfway through the latest episode, whatever hijinks are going on are suddenly curtailed as the characters are replaced with what appear to be alternate versions of them who work at a bed and breakfast. Imagine that you are perceiving this out of any context wherein this may make sense. They stop making jokes. They stop talking about things which are relevant to your interests. Imagine how long you would continue to watch this baffling situation, and now with the aid of the context imagine what consequences that will have for anyone on that show as millions of viewers all go through the exact same thought process.

Darren Liston’s geeky apartment had been the setting for many unforgettably hilarious scenes. It was crafted to be the very epitome of geekiness. The walls were plastered with pictures of video game characters, scantily clad ladies biting their lips for some reason and of course some of them were pictures of the characters from his favourite TV shows. One poster showed a scene of Clint Gladwell with his sunglasses on and his arms folded; silhouetted against the setting sun. Another featured Agent Manderlay and Agent Winston and the slogan ‘the truth is around here somewhere’. The main living room itself was pretty sparsely furnished; a lava lamp here, a beanbag chair there, a massive HD LCD TV, which was broadcasting static. It crackled harshly as it poured from the television and into the room, consuming everything in its path, leaving nothing but more of itself. The same was true of Sarah Ashton’s apartment, the bar where they sometimes went to have a drink with friends, that one restaurant that all their dates seemed to take place in… One by one the sets were destroyed, consumed by the static.


Mister O flung the door of his office open so loud that it would have been heard in adjacent buildings, had they actually been occupied. He rushed halfway down the stairs and then hesitated for a second before turning around and rushing back up them. He carefully closed the door of his room with a click, and in no less of a rush than he was the first time, he rushed downstairs to the dining room. Sarah, Maria and Darren all looked up at him expectantly as he entered. In truth there was likely nothing he could have said in that moment that would have appeased them completely.

“Okay we have a problem.” He said.

“Finally!” Maria said, with a smile and a sigh of relief. “We were just brainstorming what we could do about that.”

“Not that.” Mister O said dismissively. “See we’ve violated the fundamental rules of this reality.” There was a confused pause at this point as the staff of the Traveller’s Rest looked from one another as if to indicate that their manager had lost it completely.

“We have?” Sarah asked.

“Yes.” Mister O said, glancing from her to Darren. “Though I don’t particularly want to go into exactly what has happened, I think it is important we get out of here as soon as possible.”

“I…” Maria hesitated. “I can work with that.” She said.

“The announcer guy said we get from one place to another by hopping through a TV.” Darren said. A cursory glance around told him what he already knew, they hadn’t a television down here. “Do…” he hesitated. “Do we have televisions in the rooms?” Sarah’s brow creased at the question, trying to access a memory that she should have but which was unaccountably missing.

“Yes!” Mister O said quickly. “But don’t trouble yourselves. I’ll go and get it and bring it down.” As Mister O dashed upstairs to fetch what was apparently the only working TV in the building, Sarah was drawn to the window. As she stared out into the street she could see the steadily encroaching
static. Someone else might have described it as like a snowstorm. They might have attempted to illustrate the static by describing the furious crackling associated with it. Those descriptions are accurate enough. They describe what it looks like and what it sounds like. They do not describe what it is. It is corruption. It is the threat that parents use to keep their children in line, to prevent them from trying to break genre, to dissuade them from trying to escape to another channel. To encounter the static is to encounter death itself, and as all people must one day die, each channel must one day be consumed by the static. It is relentless. It is finality. There is no reasoning with the static. There are no arguments to be made against it. It will destroy you and everyone you have ever loved and there is nothing you can do about it. It tugged at something at the back of Sarah’s mind, something that could not be covered up entirely. Sarah collapsed.

“Here we are.” Mister O dumped the television on the dining room table, and quickly plugged it in. Darren dashed over to Sarah’s side; compelled by some instinct he held her close, as the static drowned the world out.

The television clicked on, showing some bodies in the street with cops in sunglasses examining them. Maria jumped through without hesitation. One minute she was there next to Mister O, the next she was on the screen, waving him through and confusing the police officers that insisted that this was a crime scene and civilians shouldn’t be here, destroying their evidence. She was escorted out of shot of the cameras within a second or two, as the detectives continued their corny script as though nothing had happened in the meantime.

Mister O made no move to enter the television. He glanced at the windows, the
static was pressing against them. In this channel The Traveller’s Rest was all that was left. An entire world gone, just this one foreign body remaining, somehow temporarily holding itself against the static. He balled his hand into a fist, and slammed it down upon the television. It had no discernible effect. Mister O’s face was screwed up into a scowl. He slammed his fist down again; a flicker, not in the picture but the static surrounding them. A third slam and the inn was somewhere else entirely.
[Image: XM5sGnt.png][Image: oD2Q6os.png][Image: 6SlFOCz.png][Image: fXUWhDZ.png][Image: C53uhZF.png][Image: BvZArpd.png][Image: lam0slf.png][Image: JmQq9We.png][Image: TGjrdJF.png][Image: zwqYyze.png][Image: OMnWsrl.png]
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

The roar of the engine ignited something primal in Ablendan. While it was a comparatively weak car, and to anyone acquainted to the automobiles of the period it would be seen as lacking, for Ablendan it was an impressive howl. He began experimenting with the controls once again-- many of them still did nothing. Until his foot found the gas pedal.

The abomination suddenly found himself pushed back into his seat as the horseless carriage screamed forward, faster than any of the carriages he had ridden before his descent. Ablendan frantically attempted to reorient the vehicle to try and avoid colliding with the row of grey-scale houses in front of him. Taking his foot off the pedal only seemed to cause the carriage to drift along-- eventually winding down to a stop, but not stopping soon enough for him. His foot found another pedal that brought the carriage to a screeching halt.

He went back to the wheel, twisting it left and right. As his foot slipped off of the brake, he found he could turn the vehicle with the wheel. The mechanisms involved in this contraption seemed absurdly complicated, and he would have much rather preferred a carriage, but he would have to settle for this.

Ablendan turned the car so it was at least roughly parallel to the road. The mechanical bird had mentioned someone named Junior when she told him to leave. There was little doubt in his mind that this request was facetious, but he saw little else to do for now-- consuming that last person had left him with a sour appetite. He wasn’t sure where Junior was, but he could not be that hard to locate. He stepped on the accelerator, speeding along the road in hopes of finding his assigned son.

Now that Ablendan was gone, Kriok could finally work on developing her escape plan. She was going to escape-- she knew that much-- but her plans had not been established past that.

She was faced with an engineering problem beyond what she had been used to or ever expected. She was stuck in a pocket universe and needed to escape-- something she had a theoretical means for. However, there was no way to transfer this concept to something practical. Constructing an inter-stellar drive would provide a means to punch a hole through whatever boundaries this universe had, but it just wasn’t feasible-- the power requirements, the complicated construction set-up, and the fact that she did not have the blue-prints for an inter-stellar drive. The last problem was perhaps the largest problem.

And even then, there were other concerns. She was being watched by universes of viewers. A keen-eyed viewer-- or the managers of this death-match, no doubt they had their minds on their merchandise-- could note her escape attempt in progress and stop it before it even progressed to a feasible point. Even if they didn’t intervene directly, they did have the power to pluck her away from her home universe-- what was stopping them from doing it again?

Kriok did not like her prospects. She was far from the most experienced combatant, and her odds of escaping seemed extraordinarily slim. Countless years of mining and engineering had prepared her for a variety of situations, but not for this.

She focused on the capacitor array she was making. The capacitor was finished, but it wasn’t a complete power cell. Kriok grabbed a few more items off of her work-space, adding them to the fabricator arm’s construction area. The automated routines of the tool began once again, working towards completing the power cell. The avian entranced herself in the beauty of the tool’s operation, the energy coursing along the tool as it re-arranged matter.

Tschichold could not stand the affront of these paintings-- even in black and white, he could just barely barely perceive the hideous combinations of colors. Under any other circumstances, he would re-paint them, but the sheer revolt they induced was too much to bear. The artist stormed out, determined to find out just what else there was to correct.

Not surprisingly, the artist found there was quite a bit to fix. The walls were a repulsive off-white-- the artist felt certain that whoever had constructed this household had chosen this specific shade of off-white solely to elicit his disgust. He cupped one of his hands, a small pool of orange-- that was the color he was thinking of, but it was hard to tell in this channel-- paint forming within the make-shift container. He dipped a brush in the paint and began running it across the wall, painting a pattern. He would need to re-decorate more thoroughly, but for now this simple pattern would have to do. As he ran his brush across the hallway, he saw the cybernetic avian from the battle's introduction.

While her biological components were fine-- he could almost discern the mixture of scarlet, yellow, and blue feathers-- the robotic parts she had would not do in their current state. The unpainted metals and plastics were functional, admittedly, but they were far from aesthetic. They needed to match the rest of her body. His hand became coated in a rich red paint. It was just as he was preparing to paint over her arm that she noticed his presence.

”What are you doing?” Her words were less of a question and more of an accusation of wrong-doing.

Tschichold didn’t care for her tone-- she needed to look perfect, and as long as her arm remained as it currently was he could only barely stand her sight. “Shh, I am improving your appearance. Hold still.” He began to run over the sections of metal casing with his brush, blending them with the rest of her body.

”You are interfering. Cease at once.”

”And you’ll be interfering if you keep moving, so stop.”

Kriok briefly considered grabbing her javelin launcher from its container and launching a spike into Tschichold’s knee, but she noted that such an action would be a disproportionate retribution for a slight as minor as distracting her from her work. She settled for letting the painter continue his brush-work, and privately hoped the other abducted were not as murderous or frustrating as those she had already met.

Unfortunately, just as she was getting used to the painter, an old distraction returned.

Ablendan entered the dining room to see the mechanical bird and what he assumed was another contestant-- a shadowy figure, painting over the avian’s metallic arm. The avian approximated a scowl, something difficult to do, considering both her robotic eyes and relative inflexibility of a beak in expressing emotion.

”I thought my expectations were clear.” There was more than a significant hint of disappointment in her voice.

”You told me... to pick up Junior. I did.”

”That did not mean I expected you to return.” There was more than a significant hint of disappointment in her voice. She hadn’t outright told Ablendan that she did not want him to return, but she had hoped that the implicit meaning of her words was understood-- which seemed to not be the case.

”I only did... what I was--”

”Mommy’s not following the script.”

Kriok turned to look for the source of the voice. It was then that she saw Junior. His eyes were completely blank-- there was nothing there except for crackling clouds of static.

”Mommy’s supposed to sew and cook and clean. Mommy’s supposed to wear dresses and aprons and pearls. Mommy’s supposed to love Daddy. Mommy’s supposed to admonish Chad for indulging in that sickening art habit.”

“Mommy’s not doing any of these things,” Junior stared at Kriok-- his presence somehow amplified and intimidating, despite his small stature. “and Mommy’s going to be here for a long time if she doesn’t learn to behave.”

Kriok was not interested in any of this. She had her own set of priorities, none of which coincided with what the juvenile had said. She grabbed the completed power cell off of her workspace and edged her way past the assorted individuals. She made her way to the living room television, turning it on. She wasn’t in the mood to tolerate continued distractions such as this.

The television’s response was the crackle of static and a howling snow-storm of black-and-white flecks. The cyborg turned to look at Junior.

Junior smiled back at Kriok, ever-so-slightly unnerving the avian.

“Maybe Mommy should start to listen.”

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Even the animalistic undead servant of Beelzebub realized that Junior was pretty much bad business. As he averted his one good eye away from the eye-scouring static of the child, gears in Ablendan’s head were turning. Delving deep into his instincts, Blake decided it would be prudent to place as much distance between him and Junior. Considering that the creepy kid was apparently focusing all his attention on Kriok, the current plan seemed to be a good idea.

As Junior advanced, Ablendan sidled away as quietly as he possibly could (especially with those damn flies). The confrontation was none of his business and he was glad about that considering his plate was full of problems. Keeping his wary eye on the two, the former man reached a tentative clawed hand towards the entrance.

It was blocked.

Ablendan turned around. The main entrance was just as door-less as usual, but for some reason, he could not leave! There was some invisible wall to his goal, as if the channel needed to add more insult to his injury. The demonic servant looked up in confusion as the edges of the entrance were burning away into static, almost reminiscent of a paper to a flame. In time too short to be a second, the door was a wall of white noise, an impregnable monolith to his escape.

<font color="white">“Daddy isn’t supposed to leave right now,” giggled a cruel but familiar voice. Ablendan turned around and saw Junior staring, smiling – his lips pursed into a distorted smile. The child began to advance towards him. The noise of static growing louder and louder.

“Now would you act your part.” </font>


At the sheer swing of Junior’s character, Tschichold was immediately terrified to the point to clinging on a very annoyed Kriok, who was not so keen on a shadowy octopus clinging on with all four of his limbs. Regardless, the ephemeral fear had melted away in a short moment.

For to his horror, Tschichold realized that he had ruined his own artwork! The artist stumbled onto the ground as he realized the atrocity he had caused. The expert brushwork he had meticulously dabbed over the oh-so-ugly metal parts. All that effort wasted. All that detail, muddied up by additional paints. Everything was RUINED, RUINED FOREVER.

In his horror, Tschichold pulled at his own hair. This was DEFINITELY NOT HIS FAULT. No sir! Not his fault. Why would he ruin his own work? Well, not in his own pretense. Clearly, someone forced him to ruin his own work. The ladybird was clearly not the culprit (how could a canvas paint itself anyway). The business-zombie was too far away. Who could be the criminal?

That’s it! There was this twerp, maybe nine, ten, or eleven years old. TSCHICHOLD DID NOT KNOW (especially considering he was a poor judge of age). Regardless, there was this nine, ten, or eleven years old kid who SCARED HIM, and therefore RUINED HIS STYLE. Everything was that damn brat’s fault. EVERYTHING. At that moment, his horror had spontaneously combusted into fiery indignant rage. That kid needed to be punished.

Of course, he could not be too heavy-handed. He was a bona-fide artist. Logically, he had to give the most artsy punishment possible. What was the most artsy punishment, anyway? Tschichold thought for while and luckily decided the artiest course of action:

he decided to spit on Junior.


Junior felt something wet hitting him on his sleeve. As the static child raised his arm up, his suspicions were correct. It was that damn artist. Junior’s face screwed up into intense annoyance. Yet another actor acting out of character again. In hindsight, he should had picked his performers more carefully and not just willy-nilly grab up whatever thing the television barfed out next. However, the list of dramatis personae was huge and people were hard to come by.

However, the show must go on.


Kriok was somewhat perturbed at the cascade of actions. As Junior advanced towards them, Kriok turned around, focusing her augmented eyes on Tschichold. “Why did you do that?” She asked.

<font color="#814444">Tschichold immediately fired an irritable answer under his breath. “He was ruining my style.”

Kriok’s eyebrow-equivalents (that is, if she had any) arched into question-marks. “Honestly?”

“YES. Didn’t you see?” Tschichold glared back in self-righteous annoyance.

Kriok rubbed her temples with her free hand. First there was this undead zombie who was supposed to be her husband. Then, there was this belligerent brat that was supposed to be her kid. Finally, there was this crazy artist was supposed to be her other kid. They are starting to be annoying, just a little.

This family loony bin was grating on her artificial nerves. She needed to be just alone. Of course, annoyance was around the corner just as a white placard decided to drift in her view. “You are grounded, young man! [to Chad]”, the written words demanded of her.

<span style="background-color:black;"> Kriok swung around and lo behold, there was Junior. His eyes were completely normal, but you did not need augmentation to feel the controlling malice from that child. “Well, mommy?” the words oozing from Junior were positively disgusting.

“Mommy needs a little drink,” Kriok mumbled. It was not the best excuse, but she really wanted to be left alone.

“But Chaddy needs a little control.” The placard began to nudge at her beak.

Kriok had positively enough. She tossed the placard out of her face and faced the kid. “You know, it isn’t ‘Chad’ who needs control. Maybe, you are the one who needs control. After all, what did Chad do wrong? Nothing! And what have YOU done? Subjugate us, control us and trap us.” Kriok’s eyes flickered downwards.

“You are grounded, young man.”</span></font>


Junior’s lips quavered at the sheer paradox that beheld him. The Mother was acting out of character again and yet, it was part of the script! The two matched as well as water and oil mixed. This was illogical, no IMPOSSIBLE. The static child’s face twisted into a downwards crescent, then suddenly bounded back into a terrible, scheming smile.

“Okay mommy!”Junior chirped in a falsetto sing-song manner. “I’ll be in my room, waiting out my punishment!” Then, he tipped his head close. “FOR NOW.” The shockingly flanged voice made Kriok almost jump out of her feathers (and her metal parts too).

Giggling, Junior skipped into his room, making sure to sidle across the linoleum floor with his cute socks. Before entering, he made sure to show a very nice (note: horrifying) smile to Mommy. After all, he was a very good boy.

Giving himself a nice congratulatory chortle, Junior closed the door. After a snap of the lock, all was silence.


Tschichold’s jaw slacked in surprise all the windows spontaneously blew up at the same time. Immediately, the broken glass floated up and dissolved into static, which was used to fill the space in the frames. The painter checked all the doors, all the windows, all the televisions. Everything, it seems, every way of exit had been replaced by static, even the air vents had been filled with that wretched white noise!

Tschichold moved his arms around in frustration. The static, the static was so, so not aesthetically pleasing. How was this even possible? He had to paint over it. The painter went to the front window, ruining the sofa in the process. Tschichold thoughtfully chewed on the tip of his brush. How would he fill this ugly space?

After a while, he decided to fill his canvas with a nice sunrise.


Ignorant of the events behind him, Ablendan continued to scratch fruitlessly at the impregnable noise that blocked his freedom. This was going onto massive levels of frustrating! The demonic servant let out a desperate whine, drowned out by the hum of flesh-eating flies that chose him as their companion.

Just when he was about the give up, the static gave way! Ablendan drew back a hand in surprise. It was true! The noise crumbled away at his claws like wet sand at a beach. Surprised and relieved, Ablendan continued to dig at the white noise, tunneling through just as a grub would do through decaying flesh. Ablendan was cautious, unsure of the prospects in front of him,

but his instincts were fraying with anticipation!

Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"Wait, hey, wait up, kid-"

Freefall's rush to the door as it closed shut its last few inches was interrupted by a pair of bullets impacting its metal frame, near the handle.


She turned, meeting Lieutenant Gladwell's eyes and the shades in front of it. Not a moment afterwards, his cruiser loudly morphed into a fireball, blasting in the glass of the storefront in a sea of orange light. Gladwell remained impervious to the shockwave, standing stock-still in the doorframe with his handgun aimed at Freefall's brow.

She withdrew her arms from their protective stance
in front of her eyes, and passively lifted them into the air.

"You're under arrest."

Now, technically, Freefall knew what to do.

Technically, she knew she should give a few lines about the "Heroes and Hero Groups" laws of 2036 - sorry, the
<HER0ES AND HER0 GR0UPS LAWS 0F 2036>, citing their most recent provisions on properly asserting limited authority in foreign environments and alternate realities. Lines that Ace and Metal had forcibly drilled into her over and over again for just such an occasion.

Then, still technically, she would have to respond to his likely unabated threats of force by yelling at him about the lives he's putting at risk until she had a chance to run off and continue heroing without him pursuing quite as hard, ensuring that both parties were put in the lowest possible amount of danger without jeopardizing her current mission of "don't lose the kid and his dangerous suit of armor".

But also, technically, kid and suit could be gone in some obscure fucking direction long before she was done with all that. Also, technically, this was a cheesy TV protagonist so there was technically no way to be sure how much it could help, or if he technically even had any authority at all.

Realistically, Freefall was fed up with dealing with annoying TV characters, and wasn't really thinking clearly after having spent an unusually long minute or two sailing through some sort of
fuzzy static in-between, and did she mention she was somehow already sick of being bossed around by walking stereotypes that probably weren't even real?

So, realistically, Gladwell only managed to get out,
"You have 'till the count of five to-" before she was ripping the metal door off its hinges to lob at him broadside.

The Lieutenant ducked, but was nevertheless met head-on with a large metal rectangle flying at incapacitating speeds. Freefall was never that good with cops.

Prying a flattened bullet of Gladwell's off the side of her suit as she walked out the back, Freefall was expecting to encounter another scenario she was never that good with: diplomacy. But instead, she ran into yet another she apparently wasn't good with at all: freshly dead, bleeding, severed bodies.

Most hero/villain encounters were surprisingly non-lethal. Or, at worst, only near-lethal. Both culture and the system encouraged would-be evil-doers among supers to avoid blatant murder; if you avoided that, punishments were light, and you'd probably amass a fanbase - fame, not just infamy - that would help you secure valuable contracts, info, and tech. Companies would intentionally place their cutting-edge R&D teams and valuable storage in hotspots frequented by supercrime, overseen by superheroes. It was like an enormous advertisement that said "HEY", to the public, "Our shit is so awesome we need superheroes guarding it!" And every well-insured theft (successful or thwarted) and scientific disaster merely increased this fame, attracting the best and brightest to their ranks, consumers to their products, and investors to their stock. Add in well-paid crimefighters like Freefall, and you had a gaudy, sanitized financial ferris-wheel.

This? It wasn't any of those things. This was half of a cop laying face down on the pavement under a streetlight, still coughing up his last bloody gasps, his other half six feet away and barely connected by spiraling entrails that had just finished shitting themselves. She'd seen some truly nasty injuries in her life, but never the fresh insides of a human being. That much blood, you even smelled it if you looked away and-

Covering her mouth and backpedaling, she suddenly felt and heard the sickening squish of a young, female rookie's left lung coming under her heel, where the light was dimmer. Maybe she should have worn shoes instead of sticking with the suit beyond the pants and jacket.

A flicker of
static among the bodies and a loud clang in the distance finally shook her back to what she was supposed to be doing. Snap out of it. Get moving. Suck it up.

Alaster slowly advanced on the last member of the hostile force that had ambushed their escape route, calling themselves the 'backup'. It pleaded for mercy, stating that it was 'close to retirement' and other irrelevant arguments. No matter. These men were clearly a threat to the boy, and required immobilization.

The man admittedly had a point: there was no need to kill him. Timothy was hiding safely behind a nearby dumpster, so lethal force could be omitted for this threat.

Dismemberment was the logical option. The man would no longer be capable of menacing Timothy minus his weapon arms.

Alaster separated the threat's left limb from his shoulder in a smooth, gentle sword swipe. His scream of agony was expected.

But the sudden, loud
bang against the dumpster wasn't. Alaster turned its head, clockwork cameras beholding a much more important threat.

Now that her fist had everyone's attention, Freefall glared at the young wizard cowering and whimpering behind her improvised gavel, pointing an accusatory finger at the suit of armor.

"Stop that thing from killing people before I turn it into a heap of scrap metal."

-- "What do you mean we won't be starting sales? If not now, then when?" --

Ace delivered another kick or two to his punching bag, taking his time before responding to the business partner in his training room's vidscreen. "Yeah, I thought about it... and it's just not gonna work out. You might want to put your talents to work somewhere else."

-- "But... that doesn't make any sense! You spent three hundred thousand dollars on my patent and rights to the 3D Eagles home toy-printing system! It was going to spread your merchandise twice as far, cheapen availability, promote customization and resale... I was supposed to have a cut of every unit sold! What do you mean it won't work?!" --

"Yeah, sorry." Ace threw another punch or two at his equipment. Appearance and attitude is quite important when interfacing with clients. "We crunched the numbers, and it would just take away too many sales from our main toy partner. Don't want to lose those fat margins; I hope you understand."

-- "What... no, that was the whole point! You could undercut them with your own merchandise! They offered to buy the rights from me just to keep it off the market. I believe in this toy system! If I didn't want them produced, I'd have just given in and sold it to-" --

Ace faced the screen now, smirking viciously. The haggard entrepreneur on the other end went white as the truth dawned on him.

-- "You... you bought it off me... just to..." --

"One point three million, Mister Coleman. You shouldn't have turned it down when they offered. We'll make more reinvesting the cool million-worth of turnover back into our own business than we would with your product."

-- "You bastard! This was my life for the past three-" -- "I don't think we have anything left to discuss. Goodbye, Mister Coleman. Vidscreen, end call." -- *blip* --

"Pretty cruel, Ace."

He turned to find Freefall leaning against the doorway.
"Oh, uh, yeah... heh, I get kinda carried away when it comes to business." Ace managed the finances and PR of the team nigh-singlehandedly. As a hero, he was a brave team leader, but as a businessman he was positively ruthless. Fabricating trust, nurturing it, breaking it brilliantly and profitably... some Japanese firm had gone so far as to brand him a 'contract demon'.

He'd always get a bit embarrassed when his teammates caught this side of him. It was cute.

"So, training time?"

"Ah! Sorry, I'd lost track of the clock. Let's get started."

Ace walked across his training room, taking a blunt training sword from one of the weapon racks.

"...Swords? Can't I just go heavy and block these things?"

"Rachel, if someone's going to fight a superhero with a sword, do you think they'd use a normal one?"

"...Good point."

Freefall uncrossed her arms, striding over to face her training opponent.

"If you want to check, use the environment. Swing something at them or wait for them to hit something, see if it's an ordinary sword. Then you can probably block it if you go heavy, though your suit wouldn't hold up as well as you. But either way..."

Ace raised the sword to point at her, dramatically. "The best policy is not to get hit at all. Watch their sword-arm. Get in close, disable it as fast as you can."

"So... just how well can you use that thing, anyway?"

Ace flourished the sword like a foil, then assumed a calculated-looking stance.
"I learned to use a sword before I knew how to use my fists."

"...I can't."

Alaster advanced on Freefall. "What do you mean you can't?!"

"I can't!"

"Then I will!"

Alaster's advance paused jerkily, then exploded into a rush. Freefall tore a thick metal downspout from a nearby wall, swinging it hard at the suit's head as it reached her. Alaster's movements remained unchanged excepting his sword-arm, which repositioned the vorpal blade to guard the blow; the pipe was severed clean by its edge with nary a motion from Alaster. She had about enough time to think 'Oh fu-' before the suit's unhalted charge bowled her to the ground.

Alaster slowed, halted, then turned to face the fallen girl and bring its sword up. Freefall delivered a hard sweep to its legs, sending it swiftly crashing to the ground in the exact same position it'd held while standing.

She quickly rose up and leapt for Alaster's vulnerable right sword-arm.
Alaster took a cue from her, suddenly spinning from the ground legs-first in breakdance-reminiscent fashion; even a substantially dense Freefall wasn't enough to stay standing in the face of such raw force, flying to the ground just as Alaster's predecided movement sent its sword flying through the space her head was just in. Clever bastard!

Leaping back near the dumpster, she quickly tore off one of its metal half-lids and sent it at the suit frisbee-style.
Only reacting at the last moment, Alaster sent its sword instantly up through the projectile, the resulting halves clattering harmlessly off the sides of its armor. Sharp damn sword. But... Freefall'd taken the opportunity to sprint up close to the automaton, shoving her left arm up against its sword-arm as her right fist slammed into its stomach.

Timothy winced at the sound of his caretaker receiving its first dent.

Alaster's blade-arm was pinned too strongly for its clockwork to overcome. It attempted to level a strong, straight blow to its opponent with its free arm, but was stiffly blocked and began to receive retribution tenfold.


Painful metal crunches echoed through the alleyway as Alaster's assailant marred its previously flawless armor with craters. A particularly vicious blow hit the jaw of its suit, blocking a tooth of some neck-driving clockwork. The automaton's normally rhythmic operation sounds were now tarnished by a broken *whirr-tick, whirr-tick, whirr-tick*...


Freefall leapt back as Alaster rotated the sword-handle within its right palm, sending the blade dangerously close to her body. Then she noticed Tim had leapt out behind her from the dumpster, holding his palms up in the armor's direction.


Or at least that's what it sounded like. He might have been expressing his love for Country music, or mispronouncing a rather vile slur at her. Regardless, his hands glowed a dark emerald, sending a shimmering spherical barrier of a similar color around the suit. Alaster abandoned his stance, placing the tip of its sword in the ground and assuming a statuesque position within the shield.

Freefall turned in relief, stepping towards the struggling young wizard. "Thank you, finally. Now is there a way to reprogram armor here to keep him from murdering everyone in sight, or-"

She noticed just in time that the glowing hands he'd struggled with were abruptly fading.

Diving forward to dodge a sudden blade swung at her back, she scooped up Tim backwards by the waist in one arm and started running the hell away.


"Five seconds."


"You couldn't hold him for five seconds."

"I said I was sorry!"

"You are the worst wizard I have ever met."


Freefall glanced back at the kid - and Alaster, beginning his pursuit - to notice that her prior statement apparently had him tearing up.

...dammit, you suck with kids, Freefall.

"Just kidding," she recovered. "I've never met any wizards."

Lieutenant Gladwell rose, not even rubbing his bruised head.

The TV shows in this odd, fragile pocket universe had long evolved past the need for writers. But if they were to still use them, Gladwell would be unambiguously considered "poorly written".

The vision behind this show painted Clint Gladwell as an unconquerable badass. Nobody called out his behavior or snark. If they did, they were always clearly wrong, intimidated down by his practiced, quiet-yet-gravelly voice. Nobody stood for long against Clint Gladwell. Any fight scene - no matter how ridiculously stacked against him - would result in his eventual complete victory, even if he had to kill a dozen members of some sort of Latin mafia to save a child or such.

In short, he wasn't a vulnerable protagonist, like a more skilled show might portray a supposed 'badass'. He was invulnerable. Impossibly skilled, untouchable by the consequences of his actions.

And he
always got his man. Or in this case, his girl.

Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

Aaron. Change lay flat on the ground, now an array of purple plasticized notes, some slightly splashed with paint. Aaron, get up!

Groaning, Aaron pulled himself to his feet – then staggered backwards with the weight of Nizzo on his back, tentacles wrapped tightly around him. “The hell?”

<font color="#CDAD00">If a low-flying bundle of bills could give off an aura of smugness, Change did. Yes, the telepathic jellyfish has decided to wrap itself on you like a backpack full of bad debt. Oh! Only marginally related: Aaron, have you ever read “The Puppet Masters”? Robert Heinlein? Well, heartell it’s a good read. Worth every pen-

“Oh, I say!” A voice rang out among the milling humanity that the trio were slowly realizing was all around them. A gentleman, swarthed in a frock coat and top hat, pushed through the dispersing crowd and parked his bulk solidly in front of them. Behind him followed three cameramen and their bored expressions, each lens focused on one of the three contestants. “I say, that is simply a spiffing pet – the most unusual jellyfish I’ve seen this time round!” The man stuck out a shovel-sized hand. “James Hyphenated-Surname, the host of Pet TeleCentral – the sensational domestication documentation!”

Aaron shook the host’s hand, briefly losing his own in the process, and surreptitiously tried to rub life back into his digits as the cameras turned to focus on Hyphenated-Surname’s examination of Nizzo – “Doesn’t he need water?”

The male-of-honour gave a thought that accorded with Nizzo’s own thoughts: the impression of requirement, or necessity, linked with the impression of water. Though the male-of-honour didn’t seem quite as receptive as this-male-one-of-riches, Nizzo sent an impression in return – the impression of water linked with an impression of home, of familiarity, of safety, of one-who-continues-to-move.

“I just had the oddest feeling, Mr…I’m sorry, I never caught your name at all, how silly of me-”

“Abstract. …Aaron Abstract.”

Pardon my saying, that’s not a common name at all, is it? But anyhow! I simply got the queerest feeling – like this poor chap here needs water somehow! Perhaps it feels more …comfortable, that’s the word, in the water, perhaps?”

Drained by the effort, Nizzo sagged slightly. He was beginning to feel the sense of long-travelling – in fact a sign of his extended removal from the water. To his satisfaction, though, he felt an increasing sense of accord in the male-with-honour’s thoughts-

Change felt it too, and Nizzo’s satisfaction to boot. Somewhere deep in his monetary soul, something wanted to hiss, and maybe claw.

It wasn’t like him at all. And unpredictable actions risked consumer confidence, which was why Transactions usually reined in their emotions, preferring the safety of fiscal responsibility.

One by one, though, Change had let cracks open in his icy façade. He’d grown fond of Aaron, and he justified, backed up that fondness with solid trust. He’d become emotionally invested in Aaron, and he expected returns on his investment.

But now, he wasn’t, and he’d not come across this emotion before. What was he feeling, that burned like a lead weight in the pit of his little golden soul?

“Let’s get you in a tank, shall we?” The filming troupe traipsed their way across the richly decorated hall. Aaron took in his surroundings as they walked – here and there were cages and tables, upon which would stand some kind of exotic bird or fish or cat, and around which a crowd would mill before dispersing to examine the next domesticated curiosity. It was, effectively, a large, televised pet show. At one point Aaron caught a glimpse of a squid wrapped around what appeared to be a tree branch before being harried on. They made their way to the carefully placed Branded Supplies Shop™, in the center of the hall - the cameras made a brief sweep across the logos adorning its signs, walls, floor, and every piece of merchandise, then settled on a very handsome engraved-glass fish tank, with the Bechtel logo prominent in the markings. It was also shaped like a tank. With treads.

From a shadow in an unviewed corner, a suited figure wove itself from the gray. It was bland. It was not photogenic, nor retouched, nor particularly distinguished at all. Its face was partially obscured with a pair of mirrored lenses, and it sported a small communicator plugged into its right ear – though the apparition’s masters hardly required such a device for mere communicating. It was, like most of the figure’s appearance, for show.

It spoke, and in that moment it became more than an it.

“Unit dispatched, Copyright Central. Intellectual property violated: brand name Bechtel.”

The figure, an enforcer of the Copyright Police, stepped into the hall. He mingled, and proceeded onwards…

Aaron. Why on earth did you buy this? Change was being a tank-shaped tank. He wasn’t liking it. You can’t carry it. Its own landspeed, Hermes knows why they made it motorized, is close to what you, with legs, might achieve by walking extremely and pointlessly slowly, and to stuff the last penny in the piggy bank, I’m holding Nizzo. The treads on the glass tank briefly locked, making a sound halfway reminiscent of a ironic snort and a frustrated sigh. I have Nizzo. Inside me. Why does this feel like some form of innuendo?

Aaron just sighed. Events were just flying by, almost too fast for him to catch – he didn’t want this power play on top of everything else…then he felt Nizzo reaching out to him again, underneath the stream of Change’s complaints. He reached back, almost feeling a clandestine thrill at ignoring Change – he would be so mad if he caught him-

The world was much clearer! Nizzo sent this-male-one-of-riches an impression of gratitude, intending it to be a simple message – but then he felt him bring his attention from his companion (who was confusingly only until recently still a group-of-thin-things, but now its thoughts seemed to come from all around) to him. Their minds grew close once more, dancing around each other for fun, half-searching for the link they’d shared before -

Aaron! I understand that you are somewhat partial to playing the innocuous telepathic receptacle for Nizzo’s enjoyment…as I am currently serving as its physical receptacle…but perhaps we should try and relocate – perhaps to search for some of the other contestants? The artist, perhaps. We still need to have a few words.</font>

Originally posted on MSPA by WaveOfBabies.

Ablendan continued burying through the static like a trooper, his mind giddy with excitement as being released from the house with the bad-tempered bird and the odd painter person. And especially being away from that horrifying looking child, with his oddly perfect features and apparent nature as a cosmic horror. In fact, he was so giddy that he didn't even notice the static clearing away until he had finished barreling through all of it. At this point, though, two thoughts hit him.

The first was that he had just taken that whole "stay away from the big scary static" warning and showed it who was boss, and that made him as prideful as a demonic peacock. The second thought was accompanied by a burning sensation in his hands, as he realized just why that warning was given in the first place. He collapsed to the ground in pain, and flies had to stuff themselves into his mouth as a makeshift gag to stop him from screaming and hissing. Eventually Ablendan righted himself once more, bu he shuddered. He's never burying through that static again.

Still, Junior would probably start whining about "Daddy isn't following the script!" again and would probably end up locking him in a whole prison of static. So like any good predator, Ablendan decided to cover his tracks. He picked up the door, ripped off its hinges but still intact, and shoddily placed it against the hole where it once belonged. It wasn't a perfect fit by far, and in fact Ablendan had the organizational skills of a drunken manatee, but to his addled mind a covered door was a covered door.

The first thing the tormented man did was run right for the garage, where he found a familiar, beautiful sight: the horseless carriage. He hopped into it, inserted the horse-replacing key, and listened to the beautiful sound of its engines firing up. That sound was just as perfect the second time, Ablendan smashing the dashboard with one hand in animalistic delight. Of course, his hands were still quite burned from tunneling, so he quickly winced and pulled his hand away. After a while of just listening to the engine, he slammed his foot on the gas as hard as he could and sped out of the garage.

People driving at peaceful, 50s-accepted speeds found themselves having to swerve away from Ablendan's lunatic driving. Being both from the 1700s and incredibly insane, he had no concept of simple things like common courtesy, road lines, or "there are other people driving you git." He drove down the wrong side of the road half the time, never stopped at stop signs, and even ran over a raccoon or two in his mad pursuit to just drive. Eventually, though, he noticed a large sign and stopped to read it. "BIG Co," he sounded out, still not fully used to his voice.

As soon as he said this, he found himself getting out of his car to get a better look at the sign. The flies buzzed around his head cautiously, prepared to pull him out of harm's way in case he was suddenly ambushed.

"Mr. Blake! I've been expecting you!" Ablendan wheeled around in surprise, nearly tearing the man's face off before deeming him not a threat. It was another horrible tasting plastic person, this one with an exaggerated smile and a suit like the one he was wearing. He was balding and quite short. A horrible meal, and a complete waste of a kill. Ablendan lowered his claw and decided to try and hear what this penguin-suited man had to say.

"Now, as you probably know-" Ablendan knew nothing this suited person had to say, or even what his name was. But, deciding this to be preferable to his "family," he stuck around and listened. "-the BIG Co. company baseball championship is tonight! We've lost to our rivals from the town over for seven years in a row, but this year things'll finally change! You think you're up to the challenge, Mr. Blake?"

Ablendan was uncomprehending. "Base . . . ball?" he sounded out, confusing palpable in his voice. For some reason, this only seemed to send Mr. Big into uproarious laughter. "Haha! Pretending you don't know America's favorite pastime. What a joker! I'll get a uniform for you from company storage. Do you bat lefty or righty?"

The man, who Ablendan just decided to dub Mr. Big for now, produced an object that made Ablendan's eyes light up with delight. A club, way more polished and well-formed than any he had seen before. Was this the "bat" they were talking about? He snatched it out of Mr. Big's hands, cradling it like it was his own child. Then Ablendan stepped back and took a practice swing with it, slamming the bat hard enough to send it flying out of his hands and into his car. It made a dent, much to his shock.

". . . Wow, what an arm, Mr. Blake!" cheered Mr. Big, patting Ablendan on the back and ignoring the obvious discomfort that resulted. "I have a feeling our luck will turn around this year with you on our team! Now, come along, and lets get that uniform . . . "

Mr. Big walked off, his perfect smile briefly collapsing into a look of disgust once he was "off camera." While trained to never deviate from the script, his ringer smelt of corpses and flies and looked like death warmed over. If not for the thought that the camera could be back on him at any second, he would have just vomited right then and there.

Ablendan, meanwhile, merely shrugged and took his club. Leaving this behind? Not freaking likely. He didn't know what a uniform meant, but if it meant he got to run around and hit things with a club he didn't really mind.


Junior watched his "father" drive off, letting out a low chuckle at his pride. Slowly, the static that he had clawed through began to pull itself back together, in case the other two had any funny business on their minds. "Daddy's a good daddy," he crooned. "He does just what he's supposed to."
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Agent Winston’s outing had been more than successful, and he had returned to the precinct office and requisitioned an empty office. He sat in the awkward, cramped office chair, resting on one hand while his other managed a television remote. He scanned rapidly through the channels available on his newly acquired LeCheapo Television.

"Agent Winston, sir?"

"Yes, Jenkins?" Agent Winston’s attention was captured by the television he was watching, and it did not particularly wish to talk to the awkward, fumbling technician.

"Sir, I started work on the database you requested..."

It was at that moment that Winston found the particular channel he was searching for. His attention was now wholly fixated on the screen. "I’m afraid that won’t be necessary anymore, Jenkins."

"Sir, but I--" Jenkins was quickly interrupted.

"Jenkins, you’re dismissed. Do whatever it is you do in your off-time-- play video games, browse the Internet, whatever nerd stuff it is that you pursue. I believe I’ve found Machinebird, and with any luck can bring this case to a close."

"Er, yes sir."

Winston sat up as Jenkins left, grabbing a phone off of the desk. He dialed the number of one of the officers-- he’d like to hear about this new development, Winston was sure of that.

Just as Clint Gladwell was about to re-engage his pursuit, his phone rang. Gladwell knew that every second he spent not going after these criminals would a second they could use to escape, but it was just as likely that it would bring him closer to finding and dispatching the scum behind these crimes. He drew his phone and unfolded it, his gestures nearly as dramatic as someone pulling out an assault rifle.


"Hello, Officer Gladwell."

Gladwell didn’t like the caller’s tone of voice-- any other time the officer would be content to waffle about and make indefinite clever remarks, but Clint Gladwell had two suspects he needed to pursue. "Who is this?"

"Officer Gladwell, I represent the FBI."

"I didn’t know this case had gone federal."

"Oh, it’s gone more than federal." Winston subconsciously knew the phrase was meaningless, but the show’s logic had muddled with him enough to prevent him from saying anything less meaningless.

"Listen up. I’ve got more dead LAPD officers than we have bodybags at the morgue. If you don’t stop waffling abou--"

"Officer Gladwell. There are a lot of lives at stake here, I understand that. I merely wish to assure you that, provided your full cooperation, you’ll have the backing of the entire Bureau. Is that clear?"

Gladwell smiled. Bringing this perpetrators to justice would be much easier with that kind of resources available. "Crystal."

Winston hung up the phone. He reclined in the chair and once again turned his attention to the television. He was certain that the next re-run of The Timmy Blake Show was going to be more than interesting.

Kriok was not in a particularly pleasant mood. There was no definite way out of the suburban domicile-- the static surrounding it was surprisingly thorough in its coverage. While the demonic servant had managed to escape, she doubted that her current body had the endurance to make it through, say nothing of the painter with her. Escaping the house wasn’t an option, and the channel teleportation was likewise unavailable. Eliminating the juvenile wasn’t an option either-- while it would definitely provide a means of escape, she wasn’t ready to make that moral leap. She paced back and forth, the machinery on her arm twitching and adjusting.

She didn’t want to be here. She had little to nothing to work with-- she was confined and limited and trapped. Trapped and being forced to re-enact the saccharine nightmares of this world. She had no one to trust-- while her temporary companions seemed innocuous enough, barring the fly-surrounded abomination, she had no certainty over their intentions. Maintaining her composure, the focus and drive she had kept, was so difficult when it could all be ended so simply.

Kriok shook her head. She couldn’t stop now. There had to be a way out.

Her mind went back to the demonic servant. He was a creature dominated by base impulses-- he had killed with little to no provocation, and was no doubt capable of doing so again. He was also completely unsupervised-- there was no one there to stop him from murdering his way across the grey-scale landscape, something the child would no doubt be distracted by and forced to direct his attention towards. Kriok thought about this more and immediately began to construct a plan.


The painter was idly redecorating the static barriers when he heard his name. The figure turned to face the alien-- not particularly interested in what she had to say, but at the very minimum willing to listen to her. "Yes?"

"I will require your assistance if we are to escape our predicament."

Tschichold leaned forward, taking an interest in what the avian had to offer. "What are you proposing, here?"

Kriok sighed. Based on his past actions, he wasn't going to like her proposal.

"We... temporarily cooperate with the juvenile's demands."

Tschichold dramatically coughed, doubling over and feigning an over-dramatic choke-hold around his neck, as though an imaginary assailant had assaulted him. Black paint began to seep from him as he created it for an additional flair. It was clear that he was balking at the proposal.

"Surely you can't be serious. Me, work with... that thing? That... philistine?" He wielded the word like it was a sword.

"Do you have an alternative proposal?"

Tschichold fumbled. "Well, uh, no-- but I refuse to work wit--"

"Then escaping will be impossible. We will be indefinitely stuck here." While there was little emotion transferred through her robotic eyes, her unblinking stare at the painter conveyed her frustration well enough.

Tschichold folded his arms, incredulous about her present stance in this affair. "You saw what he did! He ruined the delicate brushwork I had applied and--"

"Yes, and I am making my own sacrifices, for the sake of the outdated social conventions of this pocket universe. Greater sacrifices than having a piece of art ruined. Now, either you assist me in escaping or we remain trapped here."

Tschichold resigned himself to knowing that Kriok was completely unreasonable-- not to mention completely ignorant of just how important art was. Her idle comparison of the destruction of a masterpiece to her own plight like that? A travesty! The painter made a note of this transgression.

"So, what is it that we do, then?"

The two of them then heard a muffled voice.

"Mommy... when's dinner?"

Kriok looked at Tschichold before turning to reply. "You will be notified when dinner is prepared."

"Thank you, Mommy!" His voice, that almost sing-song tone of unnecessary cheerfulness, burned itself into the minds of both Kriok and Tschichold. It wasn't a voice that they would soon forget.

Kriok fumbled, her composure faltering thanks to the child. "Well, uh, that would be our present course of action then. Dinner."

Tschichold nodded. He was equally distraught, but for now anything that offered a promise of escape was reasonable.

Agent Winston turned off the television. Part of him wanted to see a counter-terrorism unit pour through the television, killing the painter and apprehending the alien-- he'd love to her expression as he brought her in. However, the two of them mentioned being trapped, and that was reason enough to wait for them to make a move elsewhere.

But when the time came,
he would strike.
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

She had taken the boy.

Alaster’s feet pounded on the tarmac.

She had taken the boy.

Timothy’s pale face was retreating. Another spurt of speed, ignoring the griiiiiiind of protesting broken clockwork, closed the lost distance.


If this was a death tournament, Alaster would be happy to oblige whoever ran it.


In an alleyway, not far from Alaster’s current location, time and space blinked, scratched their heads, and then politely looked the other way for a bit.

With a crack of displaced air, three black-clad figures, robes billowing, blinked into existence. White porcelain armour, etched with the most powerful protective runes possible, contrasted to the darkness of the rest of the figures. Their faces were hidden in the depths of their hoods. Their mail gloves hissed with power. Also, they were floating six inches off the floor, because if there’s anything a wizard loves to do, it’s show off. Even when no-one is around to appreciate it.

They began to filter through the city with their minds, searching.

Through the magical link from the leader’s eyes, Abbadon Teus watched the proceedings and thought hard.

There were Nine Realms, everyone knew, laid on top of each other like layers of geological strata. They were the basis for magic. That was how it was. You had the Earth Realm, which was the sort of the default one and where humans came from. Then you had the Fire, Wind and Water realms. Dwarves, Elves, Hearthkin, Bandar Log, Merpeople, golems, giants – everything came from those four Realms. They were the easiest to travel between – so easy that is was a common service provided to the people. Those magics were for novices or for wizards who only took the standard course and then went home to make their family life easier or to help on the farm.

The Divine and Demonic Realms were harder to reach. Teus had been to the former once, and had to leave almost immediately. The geometry was awful. The Demonic Realm was cold and lonely and dark, but he’d journeyed there once or twice to seek advice or to subjugate a potential servant. Those magics were… harder. Anyone who mastered Divine or Demonic magic was a professional wizard at least, dedicating their lives to magic. You couldn’t just pick up a book and try and recite spells from them. You’d die, or end up a vegetable.

Life and Death. Life was a canvas of evolution and spontaneity. Teus had been there only once. And never to Death. Nothing lived in the Realm of Death, not truly. But he had mastered that branch anyway, and was one of the few wizards who had. Had to become Mage-President for Life somehow. Very few mastered those, because there were severe ethical issues that Teus had happily ignored on his way to power.

And the last one you had to be careful with. There were myths.

So what was this? What were these realms? What could they be? Teus had doubted that there was nothing beyond the realms at all, but this was… odd. Out of place. The fashions were wrong, the technology was alien and perhaps beyond them. No magic, tellingly. And their weapons were unlike anything Teus had seen before, although it was possible to maybe recreate them with time and study…

Was this place a threat to him?

He looked down at the throng of wizards below him, standing around crystal balls and maps and charts and generally being disorganised.

“Can we focus on the suit again, please?”


“Put me down!”


“Put me down!” Tim’s eyes were wide. “He thinks you’ll hurt me! You HAVE to PUT ME DOWN!”

“Or what, kid? He’ll slice us up!”


Tim watched Freefall’s expression. Her brow was furrowed. Maybe she’d listen.

She slowed, stopped. Behind them, Alaster’s internals ground as it caught up with the two. She turned slowly and let Timothy drop from her arms, raising her hands in surrender and rapidly backing away from the wizard-in-training.


The suit slowed and halted as the boy ran to it. If it was capable of relief, it would have felt a rush of it. It kneeled, something twanging inside its neck as it did so, and scooped Timothy up.

“I though you said you couldn’t stop it.” Freefall’s voice was icy.

“He stops if he thinks I’m okay. That’s what he does.” Timothy looked back at her as he was placed on the suit’s shoulder. “He protects me.”

“Oh, so the suit isn’t a homicidal maniac! Boy, I’m sure glad I was –“

“This Will Be Logged As A Mistake,” Alaster chimed, cutting the super-heroine off. “Repeat The Offence, And You Will Not Live.”

Once again, the suit turned and limped away.

“Hey, wait! I didn’t turn up here for fun! I need your help!”

But Timothy could only call back with “Sorry” as the duo, again, left her behind.


Teus frowned.

“That woman,” he muttered. “What is…”

He leaned forward, speaking at the scrying glass, allowing the magical resonance to carry his words to the retrieval team.

“Spread out. Do not be seen. Assume that the woman is a high-priority threat and eliminate her if the opportunity presents itself. Keep the suit in sight.”

Wordlessly, the black-clad mages complied. That done, Teus leant back in his throne and looked around.

“Archmage Ranu!”

The floppy-hatted wizard from the meeting earlier rushed up. Teus noticed, for the first time, that the man was thin and ridiculously wrinked, as if there was a bit too much skin for the rest of the body. Odd, the details you missed in a meeting.

“Yes, lord?”

Teus regarded the lesser wizard for a moment.

“I’m releasing Archmage Yessic’s notes,” he said eventually. “I grant you permission to read them. We need as much information as possible on the construction of this suit and how to defeat it. But they must be returned at the end of this debacle. I’ll know if they aren’t. Understood?”

Ranu bowed.

“Clearly, my lord.”

Teus watched the wizard scurry away, and then turned back to the scrying glass.

“Change back to the bird creature, please. Its plight amuses me.”

The wizards complied, but not without glances at each other.




“’m tired.”

Alaster looked around. Its damaged components rattled as it did so, but its own welfare was low on the list of priorities. If the boy needed to sleep, he would be able to. But the surroundings weren’t particularly inviting at the moment. Back alleys tended not to be. Plus, the law enforcement would soon arrive, along with the woman (it tried hard not to assign various demeaning tags to her in its memory core) and any other competitors. No, it had to keep moving.

It sheathed the vorpal broadsword. Normal scabbards couldn’t hold a vorpal weapon, but there was one material those metals couldn’t cut through. Thankfully, it was rare, even in the Realms. With its arms now free, it gently plucked Timothy from its shoulder and cradled him, as best as it could. As it did, it stepped into a deep shadow, making sure nothing gleamed or caught the light.

There was a muffled “g’night” from the boy.

“Good Night.”

Timothy’s breathing slowed. Alaster kept watch.

In the distance, sirens sounded.