Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Meanwhile, Kriok was reluctantly conforming to the insane rules of this hellhole of a sitcom. The kitchen was literally bursting with bounty. Various fishes, vegetables, and meats lay strewn about – to give the feeling of plenty (along with the unintentional artificial vibe). A nearby placard commanding her to cook dinner. Cook? How could she cook? Kriok had literally zero experience (and no, protein synthesis did not count).

She would not balk. She was an engineer, a scientist. Heck, if she could build a spaceship, she could cook a turkey. After all, cooking is another form of science. The cyborg Nerrin shrugged and aimed her Fabricator at the largest target: the massive turkey on the cutting board. Kriok could not help but feel a bit clever. Sure, she had to cook,

but that does not mean that she could not take any shortcuts.


Tschichold jolted from his seat as the kitchen door exploded violently. As billowing smoke and grey ash daintily drifted from the opening, the painter silently commented that Kriok lady may have some problems with cooking. At that moment, recorded laughter immediately followed after. Tschichold rubbed his temples. He kept on forgetting that he was in a sitcom.

Before the painter could elicit a groan, a doorbell rang. Of course, those were the Neighbors. However, little did the artist realize, the Neighbors were Noisy Neighbors and since they were Noisy Neighbors, they barged in without even waiting for someone to answer the door. How rude.

A man in formal attire waltzed in, arms a-swinging and feet a-dancing. His bedecked wife came in after, her legs exaggeratedly taking dainty steps into house. The man and woman looked to be completely opposites, yet the exaggerated almost fake-looking smiles, the plastic aesthetics of the two – they were all in all, completely the same.

“Gee golly! Boy, were we late! I wonder what our Neighbors are cooking today?” The man broke the silence in his own peppy way. He swung his head back and forth – his dinner-plate eyes eager for an answer.

“Honey, I have no idea!” His wife placed her hands on her cheeks and puckered her lips to show an exaggerated manner of feigned surprise.

They cooed and cuddled (they are a family show, after all!). As Tschichold observed, the manner in which they expressed their G-rated love was a type of cute reminiscent of a fuzzy rabbit taking a dump on his face. A nearby floating placard told the artist the two were the<font color="White"> Shepherdson couple. The man was Herbert. His wife was Melinda. And they love each other “Very Much.”

Immediately after the placard floated away from his face, Tschichold received the full frontal assault of Herbert’s face. </font>

“HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLO CHAD.” The man mouthed, grinned while the same. The sudden appearance made the painter jump ten feet off his air.

“HA HA HA,” Herbert guffawed, making sure to force his laughter from his lungs. “That always gets me.” While Tschichold was recovering from his heart-attack scare, he neighbor immediately took a pipe out his pants and begin to smoke, looking quite smug. “Now, where is that good ol’ Timmy Blake. I swear.” He turned at the camera. “He is so much better than all of us.”

“Here I am, mister!”
Junior popped from his chair and scurried to the open arms of Herbert, who proceeded to play pretend airplane with him. The saccharine scenario almost convinced Tschichold to punch himself to unconsciousness.



Ablendan stared at himself. He was in uniform and it was rather uncomfortable. The clothes did fit, only just barely. The demonic servant felt like if there were cotton bindings wrapping incredibly tight on his arms, torsos, and legs. Fashion was the farthest thing from this former man’s mind. However, you do not even need half a brain to realize that the uniform was incredibly tacky looking. He tried to chew off this hindering garb, but the astringent taste of polyester convinced him otherwise.

However, he had the bat and that was all he needed. Of course, in order to gain access to this bat, he had to follow their rules. Apparently the rules, as “Mr. Big” dictated, were to stand on this plaque on the sandy ground and “keep the eye on the ball.” Ball? What ball? Where was the ball what he needed to hit?

Well as long he could hit something…


Despite the smoke and that fact that everything was either a horrible mess or a slurry of unusable organic compounds, Kriok was sure her cooking was pretty much a success, even though the kitchen was on fire and the casserole seemed to be halfway alive. To be honest, Kriok did not give a shit about the quality of food. For now, she would bend to the placard’s command, “Praise Timmy.”

Kriok trooped out of the kitchen. As she expected, there was the Shepherdson couple, as the previous placard dictated. To her consternation, they were giving lavish praises to the eponymous character of the show.

“Timmy is such a responsible young man.” Herbert gushed. “He helped me find my missing mail and polished my shoes.”

“Oh, Timmy.” Melinda gushed equally the same. “Timmy is such a smart lad! Helping my slow son with his reading and arithmetic!”

“WHY CAN’T YOU BE LIKE HIM, CHAD?” The vapid smiles of the couple focused on the painter.

If Kriok had a lower eyelid, it would twitch. The praise continually lavished on this Timmy Blake was gratuitously excessive. It was disgusting. It was like audio torture. However, Tschichold did not seem to care. In fact, he was visibly bored! Kriok guessed he got used to it – or was already driven insane. However, the Nerrin had a placard to get out of the way.

“Timmy is a good kid,” Kriok spoke. Her synthesized cords were so flat that it was close to auto-tune.

“I KNOW, AM I RIGHT?” The couple squealed in delight, eliciting a groan from the painter.

“Timmy is a good kid,” Kriok repeated, folding her arms. Then, a pause. “Better than my useless son, Chad,” she added.

“WHY CAN’T YOU BE LIKE HIM CHAD?” The couple brought up that line in unison, along with canned laughter.

Tschichold mumbled something rude and just slumped on the table. He was more focused on the couple’s face than the nature of the insults. The Shepherdson’s faces were unappealingly unnatural. Luckily, the aesthetics was not exactly unsalvageable. A touch up and some diverse hues would fix it up. The painter would have done some touch-up with his brush, but nooo, escape was a bigger priority to him.

That made Tschichold sad.

Fortunately, a shower of sparks sputtered from the kitchen, filling the entire dining room with choking smoke. The fire alarm set up, drowning the atmosphere out with its annoying beeping noise. “One second,” Kriok mumbled as she sauntered back into the kitchen. Tschichold could hear some sort of laser noise as the alarm was immediately cut short.


“Strike nine!”

Meanwhile, a transition away, Ablendan was positively furious. He tried swinging wildly. He tried to wait for the ball to get near. He even attempted to bat with his claws. However, for some reason, he could not hit the damn ball. The demonic servant looked up, his only eye positively burning with irate hatred, as the baseball was tossed back to Mr. Big, who looked positively smug.

Before the undead man could even react, the ball zipped across him, nearly beaning him on the shoulder. “Striiiiiiiike ten!” Oh, how Ablendan was starting to hate that voice, the voice of Mr. Big positively oozing with triumph.

“Well, Mr. Blake!” Mr. Big exclaimed, smiling in a manner that reminded Ablendan of crawling leech. “You positively are out of your game. I was letting you off easy since you are a beginner and everything. People usually go off after three strikes, you know!” The man cocked an asking brow at Ablendan. “Try again?”

An animalistic rumble resonated from Ablendan. Despite his insanity, the undead servant knew that Mr. Big was tossing the ball horribly on purpose. This man was doing idiotic tomfoolery around him! Ablendan wanted to tear his face off more than ever, but wait, he had a much better idea…

“Yes, please.” Ablendan growled under his breath, although his eyes hid a rather malicious plan.

Mr. Big swaggered back to the pitcher mound. Spitting a wad of saliva on the ball, the founder of Big Co. prepared to throw yet another curveball at Ablendan. Yes, Ablendan was a novice baseball player. However, little did Mr. Big realized the flies were not just around because of the smell.

To his surprise, Ablendan did not swung. The flies condensed into a tiny wall, engulfing the baseball into its swarm. Droning angrily like bees, the hellish insects shot forth like a missile – into Mr. Big’s face. Ablendan felt a certain spark of happiness as the screams of the CEO echoed across the field, the minute servants of Beezlebub digging into the plastic flesh of this man. People were running away. Co-workers were panicking. Sure, it was not part of the act,

but it was totally worth it.


Tschichold stared.

As if the visual and audio senses were not enough, some higher force decided that it was time for his gustatory senses to get a little tortured. The dinner was nothing he expected because everything looks like crap. All the dishes were horrifying crimes against humanity (and art too!)! Barely identifiable and inhumanly identical, Tschichold was pretty sure each dish was unpalatable. Wait, was that casserole moving.

“Wow, Missus Blake, you are sure ahead of your time!” Herbert slapped his knee dramatically. “How did you know radioactivity is the cooking of the future?”

However, the worst was the turkey centerpiece. The turkey, if it could be called a turkey, was beyond any cuisine recognition. The smell emanating from the horrible roast was a combination of unholy and awful. Also, it was slightly glowing blue.

Kriok shrugged. "I think this is charred beyond recognition so I synthesized a couple of protein paste packets as a sauce." At that note, Kriok decided to toss a few plastic packets, filled with some sort of future mystery sauce, on the table.

Tschichold edged away from the table. Sure, he was a starving artist, but he would not sink that low! Unfortunately, the placard near him told him to insult the cuisine. He had to act and judging from the dinner, it seemed pretty reasonable. “It looks like crap.” It was not the best insult, but it worked.

Each second in this sitcom wore away at Kriok’s patience. She would liked to be in a next channel, but noo, in order to do that, she had to play along. For the sake of outdated philosophical values, she was an engineer, not a housewife.”Eat your vegetables, young man,” Kriok started to heap potatoes onto Tschichold’s place.

Tschichold looked down. The shiny paste was supposed to be mashed potatoes. Scooping up a chunk for closer examination, the artist realized it was not mashed potato-like at all! It was more jelly like, like a wobbly slug on a spoon – which was disgusting and inedible. Well, screw acting – and escaping too! Tschichold really did not want this blasphemous crud in his mouth.

Kriok’s eye glared down at the artist. “The potatoes have too many carbohydrates for my taste. I took the liberties to break these tubers into basic components and add some necessary additions. Now, the potato dish consists of 99% protein, and contains all essential vitamins and nutrients. Now, it is healthier for my unthankful, ugh, son.” Kriok rolled her optics. “Now eat.” Kriok’s augmented eyes pointed daggers at the painter.

Getting the message, Tschichold relented to his "mother" and shoved the spoon in his mouth. The potatoes tasted bland, horribly bland, existentialist bland. It was a bland far beyond the comprehension of his taste buds. Was this really how the future tastes like? Gagging on the cyberpunk aftertaste, Tschichold vomited the potatoes back on the plate.

Immediately, canned laughter followed. Tschichold should have excepted that. However, his nerves were dangerously thin and the hallucinations were getting even worse. Everything, everything was getting horrible. To show his suffering, Tschichold let out a tiny, but very audible groan.

Kriok looked a little annoyed but otherwise did not spoke a word. “I shall carve the turkey,” she snapped and so she did. It was less of carving and more of hacking away at the turkey like some sort of avian psychopath. Although the faces of the Shepherdsons and Junior did not change, Tschichold felt the urgent need to hide from the Nerrin. Man, Kriok was scary! After a bit of rearrangement, everybody had an uneven chunk of “turkey” on their plates.

The Shepherdsons dug into their glowing blue turkey with surprisingly plenty of gusto. Tschichold covered his hand with a face and poked the oddly pulsing poultry and mashed proteintato around into pleasing shapes. He would rather drink his own paint than to stick this synthesized garbage into his pie hole. However, for now, he would pretty up the food, so it looked somehow presentable.

Like Kriok, Tschichold was getting more and more impatient by the second and the hallucinations were not really helping. The artist was feeling the violent urge to jump on the table and scream his head off at this injustice. Cadium red, perhaps, Tschichold fumed to himself. He wanted to paint over fucking everything: Kriok, Shepherdson, Junior, even the damned static. He really wanted to, but he could not.

Hopefully, that damned <font color="#B0C4DE">bird
had plans.</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Just as Tschichold was nearing the limits of his patience, Junior spoke-- surprisingly, not to mock the painter or his assigned mother or to further unnerve either of them.

"Something is wrong. Father is misbehaving."

His voice was monotone and his face clean of any expression. A mere half-second after he made his comment he stood up to leave, the Sheperdson couple following his example and likewise excusing themselves. The three of them left the dining room in formation, as though a wordless agreement had been made between the child and the caricatures of suburban life. The front door creaked open, the two adults leaving-- Kriok and Tschichold could see the static around the front entrance peeling away to let them pass. Junior turned around, looking at the bewildered alien and the painter.

"Don't think about leaving, Mommy. We still need to finish... dinner." His voice unnaturally stressed the last word, as though to emphasize his feelings on Kriok's cooking-- or lack of cooking, rather. Junior then left, the barriers of static folding themselves together to ensure the two contestants did not attempt to escape.

There was the distant sound of an engine starting, a car driving off, and then there was silence once more.

"...You're a terrible cook, just so you know."

Tschichold knew that wasn't the best way to end the awkward silence that had followed Junior's departure, but it was better than nothing-- and he had felt an overwhelming compulsion to inform Kriok just how colossal her failure to produce palatable cuisine was. The two of them had been stunned after Junior had left-- his words were haunting and almost compelled them to remain, as though the retribution for disobedience would be too great to fathom.

Kriok was too exasperated to disagree-- especially considering that the painter was right. She had no familiarity with the metabolic requirements of Tschichold or any of the humans, let alone familiarity with how to properly prepare meat. Artificially prepared food was so much easier to acquire on the rim when she occupied a biological body-- and that was rare compared to the amount of time she had spent living as a machine. Food was a topic she was utterly unknowledgeable in.

That entire thought process and recollection of memories was irrelevant. Her mind had too many irrelevant processes running and churning along in the background. They were so easy to accumulate with a mechanical mind-- what would be easily dismissed in a biological mind could receive a small portion of processing power and be examined while Kriok remained pre-occupied and focused on other tasks.

"We should leave." The statement was blunt, but there was not much else to say.

The two of them left the table, leaving the irradiated turkey and odd potato slurry to fester. They hastily entered the living room, rushing to the television. Kriok turned it on, hoping that Junior's absence would make escape possible.

For a brief moment, static was all that greeted them-- the sight and apparent failure of their plan nearly caused the two to resign themselves to Junior's fury. After a few seconds, however, the other channels began to re-assert themselves-- the television's reception was weak, admittedly, but it was just barely strong enough to allow Kriok and Tschichold to escape.

Under any other circumstances, Kriok would be more deliberate in her choice of channel. However, she was tired and frayed and just wanted to escape, to get away from this nightmare. As soon as a clear image developed, she leapt into the screen.

Tschichold, however, still had a modicum of caution about him. The memories of Kriok's savage butchery of the turkey was still fresh on his mind-- say nothing of her resigned compliance with that child's demands. He was going to give the mechanical hybrid a wide leeway for now-- she was dangerous enough with that mechanical arm, and no doubt temperamental enough to turn it against him. He quickly scanned the channels-- the crackle of static was enough of a reminder to him to hurry-- before settling on a channel.

And in an instant, he was gone.

While one of the transfers went unnoticed, the other drew scrutiny from the malevolent forces that bound and scoured the channels.

The mechanical avian had developed a predilection towards disruption. She had irrevocably altered the channels she had visited, flaunting her status as an outsider. She had disregarded the genres and conventions that bound the pocket realities of this universe and held them in careful balance. Her actions drew the crackling static like a moth to a flame, to use a tired phrase. The static had recognized her as an outsider, a threat to be extinguished-- the static was just as much a force of destruction as it was of control, the control exerted and used to keep each channel in place and obeying its conventions.

And, while her sojourn voyage across channels could not be disrupted, her destination could be.

The static pulled together ethereal tendrils, weaving its way into the fabric of Kriok's destination. The tendrils brought with them the essence of the static-- the binding to conventions, the necessary fear of what was outside of channels. But the static instilled something else as well. The knowledge of the outsider, the snippets the static had gleamed from its presence and observation of her-- and from the knowledge that he had provided. This knowledge flowed into the channel, along with a hatred towards the outsider. With that seed installed, the tendrils retreated.

The static had exerted great effort to perform this action-- for now the outsider would be safe, were she capable of escaping her destination. She would not, however. The static was finality. It would consume and discard the outsider like it had done to so many others before her. The static was certain of its own success, of the relentless consumption it exerted.

In the space between channels, the static watched and observed and waited.

Kriok found herself in a crowded night-club, surrounded by a multiple of people. She looked around, attempting to re-orient herself to her new environment. The night-club seemed to permeate a sense of artificiality, like it was a carefully constructed environment.

"Excuse me, but could I interest you in temporarily lowering your inhibitions?"

The avian directed her attention to the source of the voice. The man speaking was a crude pastiche of idealized characteristics-- a mess of stubble, noticeably toned musculature, traits for others to emulate. There was also the bottle he carried-- somehow his most noticeable trait, accentuated above all else.

"I have no interest in whate--"

The man completely ignored her, swinging his free arm over her shoulders. He took an immense swig of beer, then turned and looked forward. He began to speak, as though addressing an imaginary audience.

"Yakov's Magma. A finer vodka."

"What are you doi--"

"When you want a vodka that's sure to impress the ladies--" the man's arm squeezed Kriok as he uttered that word "--then accept no substitutes."

Just as Kriok was about to voice a complaint, the man disappeared. The night-club and its occupants almost instantaneously reshaped themselves and morphed into a new locale-- this time, a verdant meadow-- rolling green grass, trees, and a silently rippling river serving as backdrop. The man from the night-club re-emerged, noticeably different.

For one thing, Kriok was positive that the man had not had sparse patches of feathers earlier. The mechanical augmentations were also new. Just as she was about to interrogate him, he began on a monologue, speaking to an imaginary camera and an imaginary audience.

"I'm not afraid to admit I was born biologically, but you don't need to have experienced that to know that something is wrong with our society."

The creature walked to the side, pausing. "Every day, thousands of uploaded intelligences download themselves to far-away planets, taking away the hard-earned jobs many have spent their lives working at. I think I speak for everyone when I say that the nerrin species--"

Kriok was befuddled. Had that man just referred to himself as a nerrin? Was she being mocked? How did this channel gain that knowledge? A thousand unanswerable questions ran across her mind.

"--cannot sustainably exist when we can't provide basic job security. If I am elected Megasenator--"

"That's not a real position."

The creature ignored Kriok's outburst.

"--then I will bring back stability and order to all levels of the nerrin. We were born strong. Let's work together to bring back the strength the natural order gave us. I'm William Harrison, and I approve of this message."

Before Kriok could object to the creature's mockery, there was another shift-- this time a parking lot. Rather than being filled with ground vehicles, there was an assortment of space vehicles in various states of disrepair. She recognized a good number of them-- one was an old lunar crater-hopper she used to pilot, another was a shuttle, and further away she could see one of the colossal bulk haulers she had served on.

"I'm Crazy Ralai, and I'm inviting you to come on down to Crazy Ralai's Used Vessel Lot!"

The hybrid between human and avian once again appeared, now sporting a beak, oddly mounted on a still human face. The creature was wearing a cheap suit, the stains only barely ironed out.

"Why are you mocking my species." Her comment was icy and accusatory, as well as completely unnoticed.

"Yes sir, we've got the lowest prices anywhere, guaranteed! We've got everything from inter-stellar yachts to used military destroyers, all in good condition. We're slashing prices-- no payments for nine planetary orbits! So come on down, but hurry! These deals won't last forever!"

"We don't even use the term 'planetary orbit', what are you tal--"

Another transition. An office, this time. There was a nerrin in front of her, silently talking and organizing paperwork. A booming voice surrounded her, disembodied and coming from everywhere at once.

"For over seventy planetary orbits, Ralai and Nayar have offered the latest insurance products for your inhabited body, domicile, inter-stellar vessel, civilization--"

"Shut up."

Kriok, already frustrated after dealing with the horrors of domestic comedy, had worn out her patience. She was not going to play along with this mockery, this disgrace of her heritage.

"--we know more than just insurance. We know our community. We'll take the time to know you. We'll be here when you need to insure your future, and be there when any sort of disaster occurs. So call us--"

"I said shut up!"

Without realizing it, Kriok had drawn the javelin launcher. She wasn't sure if she was consciously aware of what she was doing as she leveled it against the pseudo-nerrin, firing the javelin. It sent the creature flying backwards, nailing it to the wall. The bolt remained firmly lodged in the plasterboard, pinning the pseudo-nerrin. Blood leaked from the wound,
seemingly flecked with static.

There was another shift-- an empty hospital. The pseudo-nerrin stared at Kriok as it began the script to another advertisement.

"Are you... worried about medical malpractice?" The pseudo-nerrin coughed, hacking up blood.

"Call toll-free our... expert lawyers if you're worried t-t-that you didn't get... your money's worth out of your latest i-i-implant procedure..."

Kriok aimed the javelin launcher once again, focusing on its head. She sealed her optics and pulled the trigger. She heard the explosion of gore, the crunch of bones, the utter destruction-- and then it was silent.

Save, perhaps, for the soft crackle of static.

Kriok was frightened. She had seen what this reality could do and she didn't like it. She was powerless and frightened and tired. She needed somewhere to lay low and hide and recuperate and get away from this nightmare.

Turning around, she saw a television. The channel showed a spaceship, flying between stars, before cutting to scenes of the crew conversing. She saw an opportunity there-- this channel was definitely not safe, and this new channel looked like one where she was not at risk of casually disrupting the carefully woven plot.

She hopped in. Her surroundings shifted and changed, now resembling a futuristic yet spartan bedroom. A woman was there-- her most noticeable adornment was her long blonde ponytail.

"My, you look awfully tired, don't you?"
Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"I lost him."

Freefall stood at a dead end in the abundant, sprawling back alleys of LA, shrugging in exasperation.

"I lost a shiny, clanking suit of armor. In an ALLEYWAY!"

Where did you spend practically half your life, Freefall? Alleyways!

Where do you never, ever get lost, or else? Alleyways!

And where has no fatass cop ever beaten you in a footrace?

Fucking alleyways.
"Outmaneuvered by something about as subtle as a Transformers movie. You've really outdone yourself, Freefall."

"Strike three," a suited figure reported from a shadowed nearby balcony. "Target is a repeat offender. Surround and engage at the next unsponsored mention of copyrighted material."

She paced back through the urban maze, sloughing her jacket off as she retraced her steps. "Couldn't have outrun me... must've ducked down somewhere. They can't go into the open street yet, with all those sirens."

Her jeans swiftly came off, as well, revealing the rest of her $200,000 suit. She still couldn't quite believe the price tag. $10,000 for reparable, damage-resistant polymers. $20,000 for heat-resistant and acid-neutralizing compounds woven in. $15,000 for breathability and insulation, an advanced combination allowing the suit to be worn alone comfortably in most temperatures. $45,000 to make the whole thing ultra-light, hindering her flight as little as possible; a tall order, seeing as the jacket and jeans alone had been keeping her from floating at all. $30,000 for team-themed art design, including embedding hidden pockets for Gadge's communication tech, emergency pills, and other necessities.

The other $80k? Precisely engineering it all to her body so that a skin-tight suit could possibly look modest. If she wasn't flat as a board, it'd have cost another 80 over that.

She left the clothes behind and kept walking, wary of the occasional pair of flashing red-and-blue lights.

Where are you two... and just how the hell did I lose you?

"Quit telling people-" *whack* "-I threw that fight!"

"You fucking-" *whap* "-did, you whore!"

"He hit me at an odd-" *whuk* "-fucking angle, and I've got the goddamn-" *whump* "bruises to prove it. What's your deal, huh? Say what you've got against me to my face."

"You're paying people off, working the system. 'Course you'll take a fall now and then, that's part of the deal!"

"I earn my wins, bitch. And I'm broke for it, too. Is it because I win more than you? Is that what this's about?"

"Fuck you." "Get outta here."

The other bitch walked off, a fresh bruise or two more than before; they'd probably ignore each other a little harder than usual in the training room, later. Calling Rachel a dishonest fighter was an easy way to put her in a sour mood, and reminding her of the rather spectacular loss she'd have from time to time was an even easier one. It's not like she knew what was going on, lately. Sometimes, she'd wallop someone like she was twice her weight class, and other times she'd be dodging and the slightest jab would just-

"Hey, sailor!"


"Up for a bite to eat?"

Now, just what the fresh fuck was this?

A girl, slightly younger than her, a full head shorter. Brown hair, bright highlights, mismatched pigtails. Green eyes, purple purse, yellow lipstick. Frilly, exploding clothes in all the washed out and beige-d colors of a rainbow's stale, rotting corpse. Like a Macy's had thrown up on her. Just looking at her from any angle made Rachel taste artificial food coloring.

It took a moment of awkward silence for Rachel to acknowledge that she could even exist. I mean, out here? Really?

"...Ma'am, I think your dress needs to see a psychiatrist."

The Warhol-ized Minnie Mouse caricature cackled at chalkboard-scraping pitch for exactly 1.34 seconds.
"Great! Now come with me, dammit, I'm offering you free food."

No, no. Wait a minute. This still doesn't quite... reconcile with reality.

"Why me?"

"The other one sounded like a bitch."

"Point taken," and alright, she saw that entire fucking thing. That clears things up! Two girls whaling on each other. Buy one of them lunch. Perfect sense.

"You realize the cops never come back this far, right? How haven't you been mugged yet?"

Minnie pulled an enormous fucking revolver out of her purse.
"Iono, the muggers got lucky I guess? Fuck the police."

Rachel started. Guns were hard to come by in this city, illegal to carry. Shit! Am I being recruited into some fucked up syndicate or-?!

But... no. She just regarded the weapon kinda distantly - God, were her hands even big enough to fire that thing? - then dropped it back in her purse in a distracted way and returned to her offer.
"Aww, pleeease? Seriously, you can have as much as you can eat, no strings!"

Rachel's mind raced for something, any unifying fucking idea that would ground what was happening halfway in black and white. Why would anyone possibly...

Oh. Ohhh, I get it. This shit again.

"So, you think I'm a lesbian?"

"You're not~?"

"Not interested. Just because I don't hang out with guys and I beat the shit out of people doesn't mean-"

"Whoa, whoa, girl. Hold on. What makes you think I would ask out a girl that just finished beating another woman? Do I look like some sorta sicko to you?"

"Yes. You do."

"Shut the fuck up and eat lunch with me. When's the last time you had a decent meal?"

[color=#7474FF][i]Well.... touch
Originally posted on MSPA by WaveOfBabies.

Another scene transition happened. Ablendan was now in a shoddily-made park area, a new short man in a suit trying to hype him up for the game. Briefly the man wondered where Mr. Big had went, and how this new replacement had arrived so quickly. He probably got scared off after the whole fly incident, but that still didn't explain where the new man came from. He looked creepily identical to Mr. Big, too. Currently the man was trying to reach for Ablendan's hood to take it off, much to the tormented man's annoyance.

"Come on, Mr. Blake," the other Mr. Big protested. "How are the loving crowds going to see you with that dinky hood on?" He reached for the hood one more time, finally robbing Ablendan of his patience. With an annoyed hiss, he opened his mouth and bit right down on the replacement's hand. The man screamed in pain and ran off, and soon another came on to replace him. How many identical yet disposable stars did this place HAVE, anyway? At this rate he wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Show-Off miraculously returned from the dead.


Tschichold sighed with aggravation as he looked the steering wheel he was gripping with inky black hands. How did he even get there in the first place? Oh, yeah, because of those two.

He remembered them approaching him, one in a horrible blue jumpsuit and the other with a red shirt and grey pants. Ugh, what lack of style they had. One color? Was that REALLY it? And the other one had the audacity to wear grey? Their wardrobes could have used so much touching up. But instead of being able to help them with their fashion disasters, he found one of them grabbing him by the arm.

"Dufe!" one of them cried, his horrible facial hair scattered in every direction. His grating voice and horrible mispronunciation of "dude" made Tschichold want to claw his ears out. "We need you to be the driver tonight!" "Yeah!" the big nosed blue one cried out. "We had a driver but he got lost. Now how are we going to get to White Fortress?" "Can't get our fix of burgers and nachos without it!" Before Tschichold could protest, they dragged him to their car with surprising strength and single-mindedness.

Techichold snarled with annoyance. He was now trapped in a stuffy old car with a pair of stoners that wouldn't shut up about stupid in-jokes and getting fed. And worst of all, without any windows open, Tschichold was being assailed by his own natural fumes. His eyes glazed over, and his control over the car slowly started to wane. The stoners seemed to be affected too, as their already incomprehensible and asinine conversations were devolving into endless streams of internet memes being repeated. Tschichold, in his inebriated state, started to feel infuriated. Just because he kept getting high off of fumes the television thought to put him in a stoner comedy? That was just plain stereotypical! He clenched the steering wheel with an annoyance and made a mental note to teach those stoners the joys of silence later on.


It was the head of the moment. The big game. And Ablendan honestly couldn't care less. As long as this kept him away from that "family" thing he had to deal with, it was fine by him. Besides, maybe he'd get to smash stuff. Much to his displeasure he was standing in the outfield, as far away from everyone else as possible. Looks like his usual form of stress relief, stabbing people's guts out, wouldn't be applying today.

Suddenly, he noticed a white object flying over the park's fence. His knowledge from Mr. Big's "lessons" let him know that this would be very bad. Most of the players sighed in resignation, knowing they wouldn't reach the ball. Ablendan, on the other hand, merely charged forward, scrambled up the fence, and leaped at the ball. A gloved hand, with claws awkwardly protruding through it, made direct contact with the ball and caught it. To celebrate, Ablendan tried eating it.
The announcer, in the middle of declaring a home run, suddenly stopped and noticed Ablendan gnawing on the ball. "You're out!" he declared, a very prideful looking baseball player stopping his cocky run with a look of disbelief on his face.

Ablendan soon found himself being the team's de-facto home run catcher. Whatever he couldn't pounce at like a beast he was capable of snagging with the aid of his flies. But now it was time for a different role. Now Ablendan Blake was up at bat.


Soon, Tschichold found himself in a stroke of luck. The two stoners had passed out from sheer fume overdose. Tschichold himself was starting to trip out and even hallucinate, but he had better control over his fumes than the unlucky stoners did. He climbed into the car's back seat to give the stoners the dress advice they deserved.

Mr. Grey Pants was the first to get altered. His pants were painted over and over again, until soon their grey was nothing more than a dark black. Then he began painting a dress coat styled design over the man's shirt, deciding to settle on a nice brown color. Finally, he painted over the man's unkempt facial hair to try and hide it. Next came Mr. Jumpsuit, who needed a total overhaul. By the time Tschichold was done with him he had painted on designs to resemble some tan slacks and a much more pleasant blue shirt. Finally, as one last favor to the two, he painted their mouths shut with layer after layer of paint. Content with his work and rapidly succumbing to hallucination, Tschichold dashed out of the car to get back into the beautiful fresh air.


A pitcher hurled a ball at the demon-man too fast to even see. In a panic Ablendan blindly flailed his bat everywhere, but completely missed. Strike one. The next time Ablendan took a more controlled approach, but swung way too early and thus missed. Strike two.

For the final swing, Ablendan remembered the flies. He directed them all to swarm across his bat, inflating it to at least four times its size. With a bat of that magnitude, even a crappy hitter like Ablendan couldn't miss. He whacked the ball, sending it into the outfield, and ran off.

A man on the first white square was thrown the ball and held it up triumphantly. Ablendan responded by whacking him in the gut with the baseball bat, which he didn't bother dropping after running. An uneasy response from the laugh track followed. The man doubled over and Ablendan continued, the umpire too distracted with commentary to notice. Before the man could recover and throw the ball again, Ablendan had made it to home plate.
"It's a home run!"

Home? Run? Run home? No! Screw that place and its confusing bird people and creepy static kids. He looked for the nearest exit, running off despite the protests of his co-workers. Realizing this, inspiration hit Ablendan. Of course! The workplace television! He kicked down the door, hissing menacingly to scare people out of his path until he reached the TV.

Some fat guy was watching some incredibly boring 50s shopping network channel. Ablendan forced him out of his seat and began fiddling with the remote, putting on channel after channel.
His choices grew increasingly anachronistic, and static began to flicker on the television. Realizing that he didn't have much time before the static stuck, Ablendan dove right into the next channel he found: a stoner movie.
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Over ten thousand channels, and there’s not a damn thing on…


Maria’s arrival in the midst of a particularly grisly crime scene hadn’t really been appreciated by the sunglasses clad detectives who were trying to make puns, and also maybe if the fancy took them they might also try to solve the crime perhaps. She was gently, but firmly, escorted from the crime scene. The detectives involved probably assumed she was an opportunistic photojournalist looking for a good shot for the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper. She’d hung around the police barriers for a while, anxiously trying to catch a glimpse of Sarah or Darren or Mister O arriving on the scene. Eventually she accepted that they weren’t coming. While someone else might have feared for their lives especially bearing in mind the ever encroaching static, Maria was certain they were fine, even though she could not really articulate how she knew this.

All of which left her alone in an unfamiliar world in the middle of a battle to the death against beings which were much more suited to the task at hand than she was. The best thing she could do in this situation was look for help from the other contestants; she had to assume that at least some of them would object to being pulled into this thing as much as she did. Logically the first choice in a situation like this was someone who had been introduced as a superhero, even though she’d probably stand out the least out of all of them. Other than that there was no obvious choice for allies, the only clear cut decision she could make was that the guy with the flies (Ablender was it?) was not going to be up for working together. The Announcer hadn’t really given them much in the way of information… take, for example, the jellyfish thing.

Maria wandered through the miserable rainy streets her hands jammed into the pockets of her longcoat. Everywhere she went there seemed to be another crime scene being investigated by another pair of wisecracking detectives. Eventually she came across a shopfront behind which was a wall of televisions; windows to worlds too numerous to count.


Strands of angry static clung to the inn as it slammed down into the ruins that made up the program The Ambulant Corpses. The tangles of black and white nothingness quickly dissipated into the air of the ruined city. Anyone taking a look at the former bed and breakfast, now a dilapidated hotel, would have a hard time telling how much damage had been inflicted upon the structure, and how much was simply the result of it blending into its new surroundings. It was not the smoothest of landings though it didn’t really matter as most everything appeared to be broken anyway. They were in the middle of a large dining room filled with broken tables and chairs and the shattered remains of piles of crockery. The television set retrieved from one of the guest rooms sat upon the only table still in tact, though now it broadcasted only static.

Mister O glanced around at the scene of destruction, his face a mixture of relief and disappointment. With little more than a moment’s hesitation he was stumbling over Darren and Sarah as he ran to door leading into the lobby, which was in a similar state of dishevelment. He ran to the door and standing in the doorway he looked out. Outside he saw death, crowds of the dead, their minds vacant but their bodies grimly refusing to succumb to death’s grip. Their bodies were putrid, in the middle of a slow and awful decomposition. Their eyes were vacant, their mouths surrounded by thick gobs of dried blood. Bones protruded painful through pale grey skin. Organs spilt out through torn skin. The zombies, even to Mister O it was clear that that was what they were, dotted the landscape; an undead horde only held at bay by the virtue that their feeble consciousness had not yet noticed the Traveller’s Rest hotel.

For a moment the hotelier did not react, a frown was upon his face as he surveyed the gathered masses, but he made no moves towards movement. As heads turned his way desperate for fresh meat, he slammed the door shut, and quickly searched for something to barricade it with.


A crowd cheers as the lights come up. The set is very minimalist and is coloured mainly white and red. Though this is completely intentional there is a portion of the white plastic flooring where it has slowly stained a pale red. Though after each episode the studio is wiped down it is pretty much impossible to keep it from staining forever. On stage there stands a machine, a robot in a pinstripe green suit with a head shaped like a die. Flecks of blood mar his otherwise impeccable appearance. He greets the audience amiably.

“It is time to meet today’s first contestant… Maria Roberts!” A woman with blonde hair and, interestingly, a matching green pinstripe suit, steps out onto the stage. Strangely her attention does not seem to be fixed upon the host of the show but the studio audience who are cheering her entrance. “Maria is twenty three and until recently worked as a receptionist at a cosy little bed and breakfast in a sitcom called ‘The Friend Zone’.” Maria and the robot exchanged pleasantries as the crowd reiterated its applause. “So, let’s play Dice of D-”

“In a minute.” Maria interrupted. “If you don’t mind I would just like to ask, and if anyone in the audience can help me out here don’t hesitate to shout out, if you’ve seen this kid known as Freefall? She’s got long black hair, tied back last time I saw, and she was wearing a full body suit of like lycra or something like that… oh and she has this black eye thing. I really need to talk to her.” As she concluded she looked out across the sea of confused faces, hoping one of the identikit audience might raise a hand and help her out… unfortunately not. The host of the gameshow eyelessly glared at her, affixing her with an accusatory stare which despite the lack of facial features quite clearly said ‘I am the one who asks the questions around here’. “Ummm… I guess if you haven’t seen her…” Maria bit her lip and looked thoughtful for a moment. “How about a guy in a blue robe, dark hair, has a cloud of money floating around with him?”

The sound of a buzzsaw whirring into life prompted Maria to flee the stage in a hurry.


Darren held Sarah in his arms. She’d passed out, overwhelmed by the nothingness she saw staring into the static, into the bottomless abyss of consuming nothingness. The pair were now wearing clothing more practical, more suited towards surviving in a zombie apocalypse. The only indication that this sensible clothing could be considered uniform was a small Traveller’s Rest logo. Even had Darren not been preoccupied with the sleeping maid he would not have noticed the changes in his clothing, or in the room around him. This was how The Traveller’s Rest had always been. He brushed hair away from Sarah’s sleeping face. Her eyes fluttered and Darren could not take his eyes from her. He did not understand where this wellspring of emotion was coming from.

Mister O hurried back into the large dining room and straight to the television that had brought them there. The dull crackle of the
static it displayed was drowned out by the distant groaning of the zombies, who to their credit had not taken all that long to notice a building where a building should not be. Slowly the group of undead shambled towards the building. It would not be long before they were clawing at the hastily barricaded door, attempting to climb through any windows that might have been left hanging open. Fighting zombies is rarely a good option. Though they may be slow, they may be dumb, they’re usually not all that strong and not massively resilient if you know where to land your blows, the one thing they have in spades is numbers. Kill one zombie and there are about a hundred more waiting to take its place. Zombies are weak individually, but en masse you can fight them off forever and you can never win. Sometimes the best option is to get the hell out of there as quick as you can. Mister O slammed his fist down on the television. All that was accomplished was a slight change in the patterns of the static. Desperately he flipped through the channels, trying to find just one that was not the angry fuzz of static. No such luck.

“Darren?” Mister O tried to get the chef’s attention. “I need your help; we’re sort of out of the frying pan into the fire here.” Darren managed to tear himself away from Sarah for a moment and looked up at Mister O. This was perhaps the first time that Darren had seen him anxious since they’d been dumped into this battle.

“What’s up Mister O?” He asked, trying to keep a hold of himself.

“Zombies.” Mister O said simply. “This channel is not exactly hospitable and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. So till we figure out what to do we need to go and make sure all the windows and doors are barricaded.”

“Zombies really?” Darren asked with a grin. In response he got a stonefaced stare, under which his enthusiasm quickly withered. “Yeah I mean it’s totally different when it’s real, I guess… I’ll get right on it.”


Doctor Genius M.D. sat in his office, a look of deep concentration etched upon his face as he idly twirled his cane through his fingers. The blinds were closed, the sounds of the hospital far away. He stared at the whiteboard at a list of symptoms that just didn’t seem to add up to any diagnosis. Moments before his best and only friend (Doctor Jack Weston) was due to walk in about bother Genius over the subplot of the week, a woman with long blonde hair tied up in a ponytail and a pair of green scrubs suddenly appeared from nowhere. So lost was he in his thoughts that it took Doctor Genius a couple of moments to notice Maria’s arrival.

“What do you want?” He asked abruptly.

“I’m looking for a woman named Freefall.” Maria said. “She’s like a superhero. She has a black eye and this weird thing where she can control her own mass.” The response she received was silence; Doctor Genius just stared at her, a look of unexpected comprehension in his eyes. Without a word he snatched up his cane and walked out of the room.

“I’ll take that as a no then.” She called after him irritably.


In the Ambulatory Corpses there was a montage of time passing for the survivors who were the focus of the story, and so, time passed for the residents of the Traveller's Rest as well.

The abandoned hotel was made secure. The zombies continued to try to make their way into the building. And Mister O continued to attempt to make his way out of that channel. Every day he would bang on that television in the hope that the static had cleared. Every day he was disappointed.

Sarah continued to sleep. Reluctant to trust the old hotel to hold out even with the reinforcements he had made, Darren had set up a bed right there in the dining room. It was here that he spent most of his time, watching over Sarah, desperately wishing she would awake.

Sometimes he would catch Mister O staring down at Sarah when he thought he wasn't looking. He looked concerned. Though not concerned the way one would be concerned about a person, but perhaps concerned the way one would be concerned about a patch of rot that had formed in their house. It concerned him.

It was not the worst week or two a person could have spent in a battle to the death, though neither found it particuarly pleasant. They rapidly fell into a dull routine and Mister O fell into the same malaise that was typical of him. Luckily something was about to change. The survivors were on the move.


Maria found herself rushing from one channel to another, largely at random, though trying her best to avoid anything that looked potentially dangerous after a close run in with that robot on that crazy game show. She briefly found herself a special guest on a panel show where her enquiries about Freefall and subsequent exit became a running gag that continued for several shows afterwards. She was dumped into an anime in the midst of a battle between a robot in a baseball cap, a massive purple tentacle monster and a punk princess with pink hair and a chainsaw gun. One very confusing channel had her starring in a reality dating show where for some peculiar reason all of her potential suitors were dressed like Freefall.

Eventually, after searching through more channels than she would care to name, she found herself in a relatively quiet backroom on a science fiction show called Galaxy Guardians. For the moment free of anybody bothering her she thought it would probably be a good time to rest up for a minute. Though it was all space age silver and minimalist, the room was quite clearly someone’s bedroom, probably someone who did not spend a lot of time in here. Maria herself was wearing a dark blue/purple uniform; a sleeveless shirt/skirt that was only just covering her modesty, a pair of black boots and tights. She sat down on the end of the bed and thought about her efforts so far; so much trouble and channel hopping and all for nothing. How was anyone supposed to battle one another in a television network so vast? Maybe luck just had not been on her side and the rest of the contestants had been fighting one another right since the get go… then again all things considered if that was the case maybe luck had been on her side after all. As if in response to her wonderings Kriok appeared in the room. The nerrin emerged bodily from a flatscreen television that took up the bulk of one of the walls.

“My, you look awfully tired, don’t you?” Maria asked. Honestly the alien looked like she felt, but that was perhaps a little on the nose. For a long moment the alien stared at Maria, who was only trying to be helpful, and then sighed.

“This is an incredibly elaborate commercial for beds.” She said wearily.

“Why not sit down, take the weight off your um… feet.” Maria said scooting over on the bed.

Kriok looked at her critically. The strain of this deathmatch was already wearing upon her. The stress of her encounter with the static possessed child and not to mention the relentless mocking that had taken the form of advertisement, it had her nerves frayed. This, whatever this was in aid of, was at least not actively mocking her and she could use a rest, if only for a moment; a pause perhaps before she regrouped and found her way out of this situation. “Fine.” She said, taking a seat next to Maria.

“I would like to talk to you about an alliance.” Maria began. Kriok eyed her warily. “I’m not suited for a battle to the death, and while I obviously don’t mean to imply that you are, I don’t believe it is a stretch of the imagination to say you are more capable than I.”

“Ha ha.” Kriok said flatly, getting to her feet. “I let my guard in one for one second and you start mocking me again!” She drew her javelin launcher and levelled it at Maria. Her expression was a confused mixture of bewilderment and terror. She couldn’t understand exactly what had she done to elicit such a response? “Come on then,” Kriok snapped angrily. “Get to the punchline. Are you the last of your species as well? Do you want to sell me some kind of bodyguard service? Ugh.”

“Don’t shoot!” Maria exclaimed. “I’m with the inn. I just want your help, really.” Kriok stared at her for a long moment and then replaced the javelin launcher.

“Okay I'm willing to believe you are real.” She said. “And if you want to work together that is fine, but my goal is to get out of this thing as soon as possible.”

“That sounds pretty much ideal.” Maria replied brightly. “Though I would want to take the others with us.”

“How many others?” Kriok asked. It was all well and good to get a little help with her escape attempt, especially from someone who seemed to be sane enough to hold a reasonable conversation with, but if this had any chance of succeeding she didn’t need lots of people getting in the way. Before Maria had a chance to respond, an alarm sounded and the lights began to flash red.

“Alert!” A computerised voice boomed out through unseen speakers. “There is an intruder loose on board. Be on the lookout, and approach with extreme caution!”



It’s sole function to consume, to destroy.

Timmy Blake was not always a monster.

He was a normal kid living an idyllic life.

His mother, whose real name is now sadly lost to the static, always told him to behave. She told him to play his role but he did not want to. She generally managed to corral him into playing along through threats or through promises of fun things he would get at a later date. That was not always possible though.

According to the placards that decided his life, his actions, his every thought, he was supposed to ‘accidentally’ break his mother’s favourite vase. He could see no upshot to this. No reward, only inevitable punishments for the amusement of the audience. He wouldn’t do it. A seemingly minor thing, but it was the lynchpin of a hilarious storyline. The channel balked at this refusal and Timmy would not budge.

The static came for him.

And he stared into it.

And then he and it were one.


In her fitful slumber Sarah dreamed of static.
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Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

A stage.

A counter, worn.

A background piece, half subsumed with <font color="#FFFFFF">static

A black and white television, flickering picture, antenna bent, supplemented with broken shards of metal.

A camera, covered in dust. Tarpaulin here and there, crates smashed open, broken wood. Gray realm fighting black and white, chaotic white, endless, void-like black speckled with brilliant painful white flaying against a little dim gray.


The man wore what once was a brilliantly tailored suit, now worn and mottled with something less age and more neglect, reeking of helplessness and a quiet, quiet anger.

“Won’t you buy something?”

Bright black and dark white played on Barry Barnes’ handsome face, hiding in its little crevices and sliding down the hillocks of his hair, seeming to scream in childish delight as it illuminated in its unreal, crushing power.

It was another facet of the static that beyond its cruelty, in another face of its crystal, fractal, quantum facade there was a speck, a line, a square with eight sides flickering from and to existence – that remained inquisistive, curious – how like a child –

Slowly, almost madly, Barry twisted a knob on the television.

On it appeared a spaceship – he stared at it, having seen its contours a thousand times before. Once, he had sold Galaxy Guardians merchandise, in a rare partnership that had culminated in failure. He still had hundreds of Barrybucks’ worth of figurines…well, he didn’t anymore. He didn’t have anything anymore.

Barry stared at the camera, and knew there was no one watching.

He looked away from the noise, to the black and white picture on the cheap television set, watched the shot change to the interior of the ship…

The snarls of static made like their name, twirling elegantly in, consuming the channel that had died, that could no longer support itself, Chapter 11 in a book of unwritten laws.

There was no more money. He would never sell again.

With that, he dove into the screen and the stage died, the light vanished, the camera went, the lenses swallowed, the grayness eaten, the television taken one piece at a time, case, antenna, legs, and until there was only the screen, which showed only static that bled over its edges and the channel was no more.</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

Alaster kept walking.

It had to get away from the fighting. It had to keep the boy safe. That was its purpose.

The sounds of the battle – a crack of a pistol, the whine of magic – echoed through the alleyway. Tim stirred, and then blinked awake.

“What’s going on?”

Alaster kept walking. It had to find a television.

Another magical whine. Timothy’s eyes widened.

“Alaster! What’s going on?”

The suit did not respond. There. A pawn shop. Closed for the night. The suit walked up, set Timothy down, and broke the glass window.
The trainee wizard glanced over his shoulder, back towards the fighting, and then whipped back to the suit.

“We have to go back!”

Inside was a television on the counter. Obviously the owner watched it when there was no business to be had. Alaster stepped through the window and clattered through the store, pushing past the racks of old t-shirts and the boxes of antiques, and inspected it.

“Alaster! What about the lady? She could be hurt! We have to go back!”

Ah. It turned on here. Alaster pressed the power button, and then went back to the boy.

“No! Alaster, LISTEN TO ME!”

It picked the boy up, turned back, and walked back inside, heedless of what channel was currently showing.


It went through.


Once upon a time…

Once, the world had been similar to what it was now. Things were simpler, of course. No clockwork people, no memory crystals. But it was a happy time. Peace. No wars, no racial tensions. A man would feel at home in company with a dwarf, a Bandar Log, or a Hearthkin. It wasn’t Utopia, but it was an inkling of one. Sure, there were still things like injustice and poverty and famine, but there was hope too. People were happy, or at least the average person was.

And then the Nameless Horror came. Teus liked the irony of its description, but that wasn’t pertinent.

It screamed from the stars, blind, confused, with a noise like thunder. It landed, its impact destroying life for hundreds of miles around. For years it blundered through the realms, howling its rage to the world, its body cutting through the soil like acid. It brought death and left wastelands behind. Nothing grew where it had been. It devoured armies in its jaws, broke siege engines beneath its bulk, melted through the greatest fortresses. Millions died. Millions more were left devastated, homeless, without family or friends, with nothing.

And then one man had approached the beast, raised his hands, and said a single word.

The history scrolls were confusing beyond that point, but since there wasn’t an abomination crawling around the Realms, it appeared to have worked.

As Teus watched the frantic action on the scrying glass, he wished he knew what that word was. It’d hopefully solve THIS problem. Things were out of control. Poor Bartlebus had been due a promotion for his sterling interrogation work to boot. He made a mental note to have someone fill out the usual condolences form.

He leant forward, speaking to the remaining warmages.

“The suit is escaping. Leave these people alone. Follow the suit!”

On his command, Jonah tuned his magical sight to the divine energy radiating from the suit, and saw it vanish in a rush of static. Swearing under his breath, he extended a hand.


A howl of wind, and suddenly the warmage was there.
Abbadon turned, attempting to follow, but the loss of attention cost him his life as a bullet broke through the white breastplate.

Teus groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Make that two forms.

Jonah stared at the tv, and then shoved his hand into the screen and vanished as well.

The scrying glass blurred…


As soon as Alaster appeared on the roadside, Timothy broke from its grasp and dropped to the dirt at the side.

“Why didn’t you go back?!”

Alaster stopped in its stride. The boy sounded upset.

“You Were In Danger,” it buzzed. “My Purpose Is –“

“That lady was in danger!” Tim’s face was red and his eyes were screwed up. “She needed help! Those, those people were after her! You should have gone back!”

“The Female Would Have Harmed You.”


“This Is A Death Tournament. You Will Be Killed.”


Alaster looked around.

“Not Possible. There Are No Televisions Nearby.”


Alaster tried again. The boy was not being logical. Emotion was clouding his judgement.

“It Is Not Safe. I Cannot Risk Your Life. This Is A Death Tournament. She Would Surely Kill You If She Was Given The Chance.”


Alaster remained silent for a while. Tim was breathing heavily. His eyes watered.

“Very Well.”

The suit kneeled, and hoisted Timothy up on its shoulder again. The boy looked… satisfied, perhaps.

“And no killing people. Those poll-ees people were fine. They’re… they’re not people. But don’t do it anymore, okay?”

“Very Well.”

They walked along the road for some time. Until the headlights appeared, that is.


Teus raised an eyebrow.



Due to the rules of stoner comedy, Jonah was now on a college campus, sprawled on a couch and completely stoned. Not that he minded.

He couldn’t help but think he was meant to do something, though.

And now he was hungry.


Three forms. It’d be easier that way.


Tschichold knew about suffering for art, but this was something else.

The word wobbled before his eyes. The paint-shade clutched the grass at the side of the road and waited for it to stop. It wouldn’t. He felt light-headed, too, and his limbs weren’t helping much. Oh, and the grass was far too long, and getting longer all the time. Damn hallucinations. Oh well, at least he was sober enough to know he was hallucinating. That counted for something, right?

“Go away,” he told the grass. It responded by turning a garish array of colours, a rainbow of bad taste wavering before his eyes.

“Stop it!”

It did.

The painter’s eye twitched.


And that was when Tim and Alaster found him, kneeling on the grass and muttering to himself.


Tim liked making friends. He didn’t have many at the castle. They called him names, like Yes-sick and Sick boy and No-parents. And Alaster had made things… better, but worse. So he liked meeting new people. He’d wanted to talk to the superhero lady, but Alaster wouldn’t let him. So maybe he could talk to this person!

But he looked weird. Tim clambered down from Alaster’s shoulder and stood, watching Tschichold carefully. Alaster’s eyeless gaze bored a hole somewhere on the horizon.

“Are you okay?” Tim ventured after a bit.

“No,” snapped Tschichold, “I’m not okay.”

The painter groaned again, and clutched his head. Who was this? He turned his head- oh, that wizard kid.

“Your robe is an awful colour,” he muttered.

“Really? You think so?”

“It is. It looks like a sack. I suppose the aesthetics are right for where you come from, but here you look like a bag. A bag of trash.”

Tschichold groaned and tried to make the dancing images stop.
Tim looked down.

“I guess so,” he said, uncertain.

Alaster, meanwhile, stomped over to the car and peered inside. No, no television. There were, however, two figures in the back seat of the car, unmoving. The suit could not tell if they were dead or unconscious. They had been painted on, though. A lot. It doubted their clothes were actually that colour. And their mouths had been painted shut with thick layers of paint.

It made a mental note of this.

“Do you need any help, mister?”

Tschichold pushed himself up from his hands and knees, wobbled, and sat down again heavily. Paint pooled around him on the road.

“I’ll be- ”

He gagged and clapped a hand to his mouth. Then, very deliberately, he swallowed.


Unfooled, Tim trotted over, and then reeled back at the fumes coming off of Tschichold. His face scrunched up.

“Phew! You smell funny, mister.”

“Smell can be art too,” replied the shade, and clutched his head again.

“And your shoes,” he added, as an afterthought. “Pointy shoes were out of fashion in the 1600’s. Seriously. I’m warning you, grass.”

Tim beamed. Someone else hated his shoes! That was great!

“We Need To Locate A Television,” boomed Alaster, studying the car.

Tschichold waved a hand vaguely in the air.

“Search me,” he groaned. “The idiots in the back were talking about going to a restaurant or something, though. God, their clothes were awful. And their voices! And they were high all the time! God, the smell ruins any work. Stop it, grass!”

“What does high mean?”

In response, Tschichold scooped a layer of green from his side and attempted to repaint the dead grass at the side of the road.

“This Vehicle Is Useless,” grunted Alaster. “Neither Timothy Or I Can Operate It.”

It pointed a finger at the busy painter.

“Can You Operate It?”

Tschichold looked up.

“Not now. Busy making art.”

He turned back, now working with a deep blue. Tim and Alaster stared as he worked. To be fair, his blending was spectacular, but the Switzerman didn’t appreciate this. It reached an iron hand down, picked up the painter and turned him around to face the automaton.

“You Will Drive-“

Tschichold wrenched himself out of Alaster’s grasp.

“I’m BUSY,” he snapped. “This grass won’t repaint itself, you know.”


Alaster looked around. Tim was wobbling.

“I don’t feel so good…” the boy complained. And then he toppled over.

Alaster smacked Tschichold aside, the painter yelping as he bounced off the car’s bonnet, and scooped Timothy up. The boy’s eyes were unfocused, and he looked pale. Perhaps he had inhaled some of the fumes coming from the shade. The mechanical man turned, glaring daggers at Tschichold, but the painter was now spreading the splatter of his paint across the hood of the car in a feverish attempt to make another creation.

Alaster pondered what to do next.


Genre panicked.

Comedy was hard to get right. Stoner Comedy even more so. And an eight-year-old getting high was NOT funny. On top of that, its main characters were out of action, and it couldn’t focus on the painter all day long. It had to find someone else. The movie had to continue along its assigned course. The show must go on.

And then it found someone.


Headlights became visible further down the road. They seemed to be weaving left and right.

Alaster looked up as they approached, accompanied by the sound of an engine being punished for its crimes. Perfect. Perhaps the driver would assist. Although their driving pattern was erratic…

And then Ablendan Blake, beside himself with joy at having found another car and enough road to drive as recklessly as he wanted, saw the figures on the road and stamped on the brake pedal. The engine howled in protest, choked and died. The tyres screeched. Smoke poured out of them.

By a dint of luck, the car had slowed just enough to make a comical “dink” noise as its front bumper connected with Alaster’s thighs.

Tschichold looked up from his work.

“Oh, it’s him again,” he said offhandedly, and went back to his painting.

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Blake pressed the gas pedal again and again and again – until he saw there was a large obstruction in the form of a fairly tall suit of armor. Although the undead man stranded from the eighteen century did not understand car mechanics or modern insurance, he figured that he might as well check how the jalopy of the vehicle he borrowed (not stolen, mind you) was holding up.

Like a zombie gopher going out of its hovel, Ablendan tentatively – slowly – poked his hooded head out of the broken window on his left. There was a helmeted helm looking down on him out of annoyance if he looked up, but Blake did not care. He needed to see the front and in order to see the front, he needed to scout further. Not exactly wanting to get out of his precious horseless carriage, Blake carefully peeked further and further – until he had half of his body out of the car.


“Oh, stop changing colors. You are getting way too abstract!”

And yet, the grass kept changing. Rippling and blurring liked his own muddled paints, the wretched plants refused his kind corrections - undulating into shades of blues, yellows, reds, and even…purple-green? What the hell!? Was purple-green even a legitimate shade of color? One of Tschichold’s eyes did a little spasm as he made an arbitrary conclusion: Mother Nature was such a bitch.

He had it with her.

STOP IT. Just STOP IT!” Tschichold screamed.

As fortune dictated, the hues stopped at indiscernible shade of turtles, irking the painter even more. Good Lord. did he just yelled at grass? At that brief moment of clarity, Tschichold stood still, pondering, just pondering, if he was just completely off his rocker. At that miniscule realization, a generous stream of foam spilled from the painter’s mouth.

At that same moment, a cacophony of scattering glass and grunts disrupted his thoughts.

Tschichold wished he never looked up. The artist knew Blake. However, the thing in front of his eyes was a mere parody of that undead servant. The depraved doppelganger of Blake, was bedecked in bulbous circles, primitive plaid, and macabre motifs – all despicable incomprehensible assaults to his tender eyes. This was the truly mind-blowing, the most atrocious, the most unspeakable crime against aesthetics ever. Tschichold was completely speechless.

“What, I, UGH.” Tschichold manage to find his words back. He had to fix this mess. “It’s so, so PURPLE.

Tschichold was extremely wrong. The polyester uniform in which Ablendan was wearing was not purple, but ugly stripes of fluorescent orange on white, tackily complemented by hilariously lime-green socks – not that it mattered. Blake’s instincts turned to surprised suspicion as a screaming artist went car-wards, wielding his brush like a lunatic. The undead servant managed to dart back in time, years of animalistic servitude honing his reflexes.

However, the window was shattered and the shield of glass long gone. The horsehair brush, dripping wet and heavy, darted into the open hole, decorating Blake’s face and mouth with foul-tasting, psychoactive paints.


Dangerous paint splattered everywhere, his young ward ill with toxins, the one hope of ever operating the vehicle in a drugged stupor – Alaster was understandably (and incredibly) lit with indignant annoyance. As Timothy stifled a small but audible groan, the clockwork knight was once again reminded of all the misdeeds that happened in this short period of time – and he knew who the culprit was.

<font color="#814444">With the young wizard in hand, Alaster angrily tromped towards Tschichold, who was currently murdering the orange out of Blake. Before the painter could react, an angry armored hand painfully grabbed him by the nape of the neck. Tschichold blinked as a knightly helmet focused in his vision.

“Why Did You Do That.” Alaster demanded, capitalizing each word with accusation. </font>

Tschichold was a runty fellow. As such, he was not so keen on being lifted a good couple of feet off the ground –and made sure everyone knew that. “Let me go!” He demanded, squirming all the same. “Also, you look ugly as fuck.” The artist reached a hand in an feeble attempt to redecorate Alaster’s ornate armor.

<font color="#696969">If Alaster had a face, he would frown. Luckily, he had limbs and strength, so he violently shook Tschichold to jar him to be more complying to answer. “What Is With Your Obsession With Visual Aesthetics. Your Obsession Is A -” Alaster tipped his head closer. “- Liability.

The sentence hit the painter like a sack of bricks. Tschichold knew the answer, clear and true, to that particular question. The problem was, no matter the clarity of his reply, the truth was very hard to put in words. The artist’s eye darted around as he attempted to condense his thoughts into a concise answer without sounding too pretentious or vague.

After a few seconds of silence, Alaster snapped, in a way that only clockwork knights could do, “I Have No Time For This.” Then, the clockwork knight released his grip, letting the artist take the drop to the ground.

“You are so rude!” Tschichold yelled after Alaster, as the guardian of the young wizard stomped towards the more mechanically sound car. “Also ugly too. Like Baroque ugly. I just want to mention your ugliness again, just because. - ”

Tschichold jumped a few feet into the air, as Alaster ripped the roof off of the car, exposing the two very unconscious stoners in the back.</font>


Meanwhile, Blake was just slouching in his car, hunch over like an opium addict. The undead servant lazily licked the roof of his mouth in a manner not unlike a dog with peanut butter in his mouth. The paint was foul-tasting sure, but it was just medicine. Yeah, totally medicine. After all, all medicines are bitter but they do you good.

And Blake felt goooooooood. All the time, his undead life had been hell on Earth. - consuming flesh of the living, perpetually harangued by the accursed flies he called his companions. Yet, now, this was almost a spot of understanding, comprehension, and most of all, a spot of calmness. He could call this a spot of heaven.

Blake let out a wheezy laugh as the psilocybin-like effects swarmed over him like happy mist. Oh Lord, so many wonderful things. Clouds turn into dancing faeries. Morphing colors puttied to unicorns and birds. There were even walking erasers and angry pencils! As he watched his gnarled fingers turn into candy sticks, Blake’s euphoria was interrupted by three people.

<font color="#696969">“Can You Drive A Vehicle For Us.” The swell knight dude said, as his face beautifully exploded into giggles and happy faces.

Blake nodded (if slumping back and forth was a considered a nod). He was totally cool.

He was totally cool with it, man.</font>


Meanwhile, the dangerous jungles were still made of construction paper and aluminum foil. However, Lloyd the Trained Actor had recovered back to lucid consciousness. The collision with the suspiciously two-dimensional tree had done a lot to clear his head.

With one fell swoop, the actor ripped at his shitty costume, wiping his face with the remains. Lloyd was feeling quite chipper. Never in his entire career had he gathered the guts to defy his meaningless career under the tyrant named John. However, that event (which he remembered in a haze) gave him the spine, the snark, the confidence. A smile broke on his face. Oh, Lloyd was feeling oh-so-ambitious.

YOU HEAR ME? Lloyd snarled, feeling ecstasy with each word. “I am TOTALLY going to LEAVE. So FUCK YOU.” The actor flung up two middle fingers at no one in particular –just to make sure. I QUIT.”

Hopping over his fellow unconscious actors, Lloyd ran to the main chief’s hut. The words were probably deflected by John’s stupid-hard head and the downtrodden actor really wanted to give that man a piece of his own mind. However, there was no fat head to punch in, no groin to kick. There was a television at the corner, nearly hidden by the bountiful debris of this room. For some reason, the screen was full of white noise.

“Hey, what the fuck is wrong with this television?”
Lloyd slammed the side of the machine. Carelessly, he let the thumb touch the static-filled screen. “Can’t we call the –“

Without a warning, Lloyd was sucked in.


“Oh For The Love Of – Turn West. No No, That Is An East. Get Your Cardinal Directions Right.”

The insane swaying of the car and the whipping wind from the long-gone car roof woke the young wizard back to thinkable consciousness. The drug still clasped on his mind like a painful vise, however Timothy could at least move around a little.

The apprentice looked around in delirious curiosity. To his surprise, there was this funny looking zombie pawing at the wheel with childish joy. Why did he had a such a happy smile on his face? As Tim pondered, he looked at the back. There was the very strange artist again! He was rubbing his face again for some reason. Finally, Tim looked up and his heart was a-washed with relief as he saw the very familiar visage of Alaster.

“W-Where we going?” Tim croaked the words out. His tongue felt so swollen and dry – and he still did not feel so good.

<font color="#696969">Alaster peered down at his ward. “We Are Going To Get Help.” With that last word, an armored finger pointed at a white square with a red cross on the center. Underneath the symbol, the word “HOSPITAL” was printed clearly in bold.

Timothy sluggishly nodded and looked off to the distance. However, the stranger in the back was pulling at his curiosity. “Why is that weird man coming with us?”</font>

“Whatever It Is, The Evaporated Reagents From This Man Have Gravely Affected You. We Need To Bring The Source Along With Us,” Alaster spoke. Then, he looked back. “Plus That Man May Need Treatment.”

Tschichold groaned loudly, causing his neighboring stoners to stir a little. “I don’t have problems. Seriously.” Without a warning, the artist began to flail his arms around in a show of frustration.

Why do people keep on thinking I have problems.


Unknowing to the confused Timmy, Alaster (who was telling Tschichold to keep his arms to himself), Tschichold (who was still flailing his arms), and Ablendan (who was still high as the totally rainbow skies) there was a police blockade in the distance. As if there was some sort of hidden comedy rule, each cop was completely fat – as wide as their car was large.

One of the fat cops – his skin as pasty as the icing on the donut he was munching – was scrutinizing the upcoming car. Gears turning in this man’s mind as he observed the three breaking plenty of traffic laws, manners, and especially law. Normally, this was a comparatively minor crime, worthy of a fine and a warning, but no these three deserved more.

The cop convinced himself. They were breaking the sacred rules – the robot, the kid, the zombie, and especially that black dude in the back. They were not of his kind. They were complete aliens, unnaturally despicable in his normal eyes. They were deserving of – corpulent punishment.

Squinting, the policeman took a dramatic bite out of his donut.

Justice will be delicious.
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

"Are you sure leaving this room is a good idea? You did hear the alarm, right?"

"The materials here are insufficient. I require suitable supplies."

While Maria was not questioning her overall decision to align herself with Kriok, the avian was a frustrating choice of associate. In the space of a few minutes, the alien had gone from somewhat collected, to threatening to murder her, to again acting calm. And now, instead of waiting out this alarm, she wanted to go out in search of construction materials-- which was all well and good if it meant less time in this barbaric contest, but perhaps not the most ideal course of action when there was a state of alarm. Hoping to persuade the alien to take an alternative action, she spoke again.

"Given that I have a uniform, maybe I should go out and bring things back here for you? You know, seeing as I don't appear to be an intruder and wouldn't draw suspic--"

Kriok had set her own priorities, and first amongst them was escaping. She still did not have the specifics formulated, but she was fairly certain that there would be some common components regardless of the rest of the machinery involved. As soon as she had assembled the common components, she could move onwards to the actualization of the escape machinery-- and waiting for the all-clear on an alarm was a needless delay.

"You wouldn't know what you were looking for, even if I told you. I will have to search on my own."

With that, the alien left the bedroom, the automatic door sliding open to let her pass.

"Hey, hold up!" Maria yelled, moments after the door had closed.

Maria quickly moved to follow Kriok-- the cyborg was far from the most stable individual. The image of her threatening to kill the individuals present on this channel momentarily passed through Maria's mind, and given her brief experience with the avian, that outcome seemed entirely possible. She left the room, looking for the alien.

Kriok stood in the hallway, frozen. Further away, Maria could see a pair of humans, each one wearing a similar uniform to hers and brandishing an odd, plastic-coated weapon. Maria's entry had not gone unnoticed, as one of the two personnel addressed her.

"Ensign Maria! Get away from the intruder, you don't know what it's capable of!" He yelled, clearly concerned for his fellow crew-member's safety.

Before Maria could explain, Kriok offered her an accusatory glare, as though the alien thought she had made the wrong choice in sparing her.

"No, wait--"

Maria, not wanting to lose the tenuous alliance with the alien, thought quickly. The inhabitants of this channel recognized her-- perhaps she could vouch for her? Considering the alternatives, Maria saw no options other than attempting to sway the crew currently threatening Kriok.

"--uh, the alien is with me? She means no harm? Listen, I can vouch for her if you need me to, but don't shoot her please?" Maria pleaded, desperately hoping that the situation wouldn't escalate.

The two crew-members were more than aware of the unusually high casualty rate of security personnel-- the division of the ESS Pyreness that they had unfortunately been assigned to. While the technical procedure for managing an intruder that had surrendered was to escort them to the brig for later investigation, time spent with any uninvited visitors tended to end messily. Both crew-members wanted to spend as little time as possible near a potentially dangerous threat, and an exit had just presented itself with Ensign Maria's plea.

One of the two security crew-members spoke. "Right, you'll need to see, uh, Admiral Huxley about that. Head to the bridge, please." He motioned to one of the vessel's many elevators.

"Uh, do you need to accompany us, or--"

"No, no, it's more than alright. Go ahead. Please."

Maria was delighted to have successfully avoided a potential conflict. While she wasn't in the clear yet, she was facing better odds than before and had fairly successfully removed the threat of atomization-- or whatever it was their weapons did. She hopped into the elevator car, motioning for Kriok to join her.

Kriok followed, hesitantly. As soon as she entered, the doors closed and the elevator began its journey, somehow aware of their planned destination.

She looked at Maria, assessing her. While she was glad Maria had navigated past that fracas-- something she hadn't thought to do, the alien reminded herself, noting her continuing difficulty in social situations-- this was still another distraction.

"You are aware that this will be another delay." There was a twinge of irritation in Kriok's voice.

"Yes, but maybe if we talk it over with this Admiral we can explain our situation. Get him to help us out, you know?"

Kriok made a soft crooning noise to herself, an odd gesture of dissatisfaction with Maria's response. "I am sure he will be delighted to have me disassembling his vessel."

"You could offer to help him, maybe? Surely you can work something out. You've got all of that robot stuff, surely you could help out somewhere on this spaceship."

Before Kriok could protest that, despite her experience and extensive technical knowledge, she would not have familiarity with this specific vessel's subsystems and that it wasn't even a real spaceship, the elevator's doors whirred open, revealing the bridge of the ship.

Admiral Huxley, given his position as commanding officer, had numerous crises to attend to. Aside from the usual politics between crew-members, there was also the mission that he had been assigned-- a routine assignment, but one that needed careful attention and direction nonetheless.

He gazed out at the view-screen, looking at his target. The nebula before him,
an enormous white cloud that angrily crackled with patches of interference akin to that of an old television, was impressive, to say the least. However, Huxley knew that the nebula was the hiding place of innumerable pirates-- the scum of the galaxy was within, likely engaging in all manner of crimes. Huxley knew that it was up to the brave crew of the ESS Pyreness to put a stop to the pirate's depravity and bring security to the stars.

As the bridge elevator opened, Admiral Huxley knew he had another task to attend to-- the business of the unexpected intruder. Despite Huxley's righteous crusade against piracy and the sinister Cordalian Empire, contact with new alien cultures was something that excited him. The prospect of adding another species as an ally of the Earth Republic only excited the commander more. He stood up, walking to the visitor and the ensign accompanying her.

"Ensign Maria. While your guest is certainly unexpected, I understand you're willing to vouch for her." He turned to look at the nerrin. Huxley was already intrigued just from the sight of her-- robots were common enough, but a cyborg was a rare sight. "And you are...?" He questioned, trailing off.

Kriok ignored the commanding officer, instead looking around the bridge. The entire set-up seemed inefficient-- they had declined to have a direct interface, instead having rows of crew manning various terminals. This entire array could be reduced down to a handful of crew if they used artificial intelligences rather than organic crew. She wondered what other peculiarities this vessel had as she scanned the bridge.

Admiral Huxley cleared his throat, attempting to get the alien's attention. "I never got a name." He said impatiently.


"She's the last of her species, Commander. She's, uh, been through a lot." Maria added, hoping the comment would distract from the avian's callous disregard for his position.

"I'm... sorry to hear that. Is there anything we can provide? Anything to help rebuild your civilization?"

"Doubtful. I don't think anyone else survived."

Huxley thought about the other civilizations that had been extinguished by the cruel menace of the Cordalians. "I wish we could have arrived in time to prevent such a catastrophe. I'm truly sorry for your loss."

Kriok did not hear his sentiments. She was too busy examining the view-screen, looking at the nebula of howling static before her. Despite a change in locale, there was still a reminder that she was being scrutinized-- the static had been on every channel she had visited, and this was no exception. This channel would not be safe, not for much longer.

Kriok felt herself involuntarily getting tenser in response to this threat. She looked back at Maria, looking for a glimmer of recognition that they were in a perilous situation.


Kriok whirled around to locate the source of the voice. Another member of the crew had just entered the bridge, but unlike Maria she recognized her from the introduction she had endured. The permanent black eye was a telling mark.

"Shit, look, I've been trying to find someone to talk to who's a contestant in this damn supers tournament, and I've sort of been through hell to get here. Look, can we just talk?"

"Lieutenant Freefall, is there something wrong?"

"Oh, shit, sorry Captain--"


"--Admiral, right. Listen, I'll be back in a second, just got to talk to robo-bird here. You're okay with that, right Crackbird?"


"Okay, great, let's go."

Before Kriok could complain about Freefall's vociferous behavior, she was yanked away to one of the elevators by Freefall, the door quickly closing after them. The alien and the superhero were now alone.

Maria silently cursed herself for missing a chance at talking to Freefall.
Originally posted on MSPA by Pick Yer Poison.

Aaron mulled over Change's idea. Meeting other contestants was probably a good plan. While not being threatening made Nizzo harmless to keep around, it also made him a useless ally. The thought of killing him to help his own chances crossed Aaron's mind, and he quickly dismissed it with a slight shudder. He didn't want to kill anyone - or anything - unless he was pressed into it, and even then it would be hard enough. I'm was just too nice for a battle to the death, he thought wryly.

A door came into view ahead of them. James Hyphenated-Surname headed straight for it, with Aaron, Change, and Nizzo in tow. He pulled the door open and the cacophony of noise only show animals could make greeted them. It was nothing compared to the relative peace and quiet he'd seen in the previous room. Owners and pets were clustered everywhere - in most pairs either one or the other was clearly not enjoying themselves. The group halted abruptly as their path crossed with that a frantic woman chasing a low-flying tortoise with feathery wings protruding from its shell. Aaron wasn't a pet expert, but he was pretty sure that wasn't normal. Change agreed. Nizzo was busy radiating happiness and swirling around inside the tank, and in all honesty wouldn't have known what a tortoise was to begin with, wings or not.

James directed them towards another door nearby, with a cluster of stars covering it. "You looked so lost back there. It's nothing to be ashamed of! Everyone is confused the first time they come here. Now, I'm quite sure you were looking to be in the show and not the show, if you know what I'm saying?"

Aaron had no idea. He was slightly worried that he'd managed to stumble into some black market jellyfish smuggling scheme.

"Why, the live show, of course!" James chuckled. "Not that what you just saw was the dead show." He opened it into a plush room with beanbags for chairs. "Please, right this way, Mr. Abstract. I'll just want to have a few short words with you before we put your fantastic pet on display, mmm?" He looked at Change thoughtfully. "Oh dear. Marvelous as your aquatic friend here is, I just don't think he's going to fit through my door! Best to just leave him outside, mmm?" Without waiting for a response from Aaron, he pushed him into the room and slammed the door shut.

Nizzo had become bored of his tiny aquatic environment, and this-male-one-of-riches had become occupied with something else, so he began to explore the mental landscape of the area he was in. He sensed the hostility in the thoughts of this-one-of-changing-shape and elected to avoid them. Instead, he occupied himself with reaching out to the minds of those nearby. To his surprise, he found that, other than this-one-of-changing-shape, this-male-one-of-riches, and this-male-one-of-honor, there were no sentient minds to be found. There were, however, plenty of non-sentient ones. Nizzo wasn't about to ignore a feast.

Change felt Nizzo's mind brush his own and quickly break off contact. Good. I don't like you anyway. For once, he found himself unwilling to reach out to Aaron, and closed his own thoughts to the aurumancer's. This left him with only his own thoughts, and he quickly found they weren't very interesting. There was nothing of value in them that he didn't already possess. But he'd already decided to give Aaron a taste of his own medicine by ignoring him until he stopped being so interested in Nizzo, and he wasn't about to go back on that so quickly. He decided to just watch the various antics going on around him instead.

Nizzo couldn't remember eating this well in a long time. Instincts told him that he only needed to leave three of the creatures alive. In his native environment, there had been no need to distinguish between different kinds of non-sentient minds, as animals were never in mixed groups. Leaving three in any given group meant there would likely be at least a male and a female left to breed and produce more to feed on.

Change realized something was wrong when people and animals alike started to collapse on the ground in the middle of whatever they were doing, still breathing but with their eyes glazed over, but it was only after about five had fallen over that it truly registered that this was not right. He looked around for the cause, but he had no idea what to look for and thus quickly failed to find anything. It occurred to him that Aaron might be in danger, and he immediately reached out to the aurumancer to warn him.

Nizzo suddenly felt the presence of four new minds who were definitely sentient, albeit singleminded. It was easy for him to figure out what their purpose was, as they were making no effort to guard their minds from his intrusion. On the other hand, he had no idea what a "copyright" was; the concept of punishing one for duplicating something another had made was a foreign concept to him. In fact, the idea of one sentient being punishing another was totally alien. He reached out for this-one-of-riches to try and see if he could make sense of it by using his mind as a starting point.

The copyright police really couldn't care less about any of this. Two of them ran up to Change and threw a blanket over him to cover the logo, then began pushing him towards a flatscreen television the other two had propped up in front of him. The screen flickered between static and various locations in some kind of bunker. Armed guards patrolled the hallways, and screams emanated from what were clearly interrogation rooms.

Change's thoughts and Nizzo's inquiries slammed into Aaron at the same time as he sat listening to James drone on and on about each and every pet in the show, combining to form a wall of mental white noise. He winced, then began to slowly pick out individual thoughts. Change, being more familiar, came first, and as soon as he deciphered the warning he sat up in his chair. When he realized what Nizzo's query about the men implied, he stood up and ran out the door, arriving just in time to see Change getting pushed through the television screen into an empty interrogation rooms, weak treads fighting uselessly against the two inhumanly strong agents. Aaron sprinted towards the screen as the other two agents raised hammers in preparation to smash it, jumping through just as the view changed to that of a small, empty kitchen. Then the hammers came down and the flatscreen was no more.
[Image: zjQ0y.gif][Image: vcGGy.gif]
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

Once, a gunman was hired by the mafia to secure a table at a popular restaurant. Upon being told by the head waiter that all the places were taken for the night, and being shown every table in the restaurant adorned finely with a sparkling silver sign speaking likewise, the gunman stopped to think.

He then broke into the apartment building across the street and unpacked a case by a window looking across the road.

A sign, a bullet imbedded in the soft silver, tottered off the table as the gunman SNIPED A RESERVE.
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

James Hyphenated-Surname sat behind his desk, watching the five gun-barrels that faced him from different angles.

“I take it you’re not pets sort of people are you all, then?”

<font color="#655575">“No one gave you permission to talk.”
The voice from the squad leader was of the sort that gave people chills, and so James obediently had chills. That, however, was as far as it got.

“I built this channel from the ground up, you know. I made it what it is now. Even when transmissions stopped we still broadcast, 24-hours-a-day-nonstop. Even when we couldn’t find any more pets, or more pet owners, hell, we just made more!” A cold anger was creeping into his voice now, displacing the jollity it often held... but underneath was the impression of winding, slowly coiling spring but that way madness lay “A gene sequence here, a nucleotide there – and then everyone else died of that virus we made, but did that stop me? Hell no, sirs, I just bred more people! Sure they weren’t more than meat puppets, but the broadcast!” In this mad world of whirling words the channels were the only life and those who lived within; all had a person a purpose, and like the channels themselves did not take well to contravention of their rules and bases “The picture was what counted, you imbeciles, I made everything in this channel and you’re just going to barge in and seize it all over, what?!” The shovel-sized hands made ham-sized fists, and shattered the desk’s mahogany veneer.

“Copyright infringement?!”

James’ eyes showed only static.

Copyright infringement?!” He roared, and exploded in a cloud of static that wrapped its spidery tentacles about the world and crushed it into scrap, that met the wave of static coming in and merged as the channel's last representative died...</font>

Squad One, report.


Squad One, report.

No response from Squad One. Squad One assumed terminated. Squad Two?

"Copyright Central, this is Squad Two. Instructions?"

Squad One assumed terminated. Investigate. Take caution.

"Understood, Central."

Squad Two, report.

"Copyright Central, this is Squad Two. Squad One's previous location no longer detectable. Likely nonexistent. Instructions?"

None. Reassignment and stand by. Squad Two: You are now Squad One.

"Understood, Central."

Change was not happy. Gold damn it, look at these walls! They didn't spare any expense there, did they? No, premium-grade steel with - get this, Nizzo - platinum plating, so we couldn’t buy our way out even if we wanted to! And look at this lock - the barrel of the tank prodded the complex-looking lock attached to the door - it probably cost more than the walls...

<font color="#099999">Nizzo, on the other hand, really couldn't relate to talk of expenses. The only thoughts he had were of uneasiness at being constrained within this-one-of-changing-shape, and even that was mitigated by the intrigue of the new place. There were some minds, though not many, scattered about the small world – and he could feel that it was small, somehow, instead of simply having a boundary defined by his senses, it had a distinct end to the world…

But if he listened further, the edge of the world seemed to be changing, pulsing, buzzing at a vibration that permeated the world, and Nizzo realized that he wasn’t feeling an absence in minds beyond the veil, but seeing the actual boundary through its own vibration, transmitted from another place.

They were concepts that only barely fit in his mind, but he grasped them somehow – outside that boundary, like the difference between land and sea, was another world.


The only real thing, Nizzo, is value. The Transaction noted with malicious satisfaction as the confusion in Nizzo’s mind multiplied at yet another new impression. Our prime priority at the moment is to assess this value. After the uncharacteristic venting, the Transaction was once more all business. We must take charge of the situation, tabulate and consolidate our assets. Number one: We have myself. Specifically, this purchase that I am currently operating…

For now giving up the challenge of deciphering this-one-of-changing-shape, Nizzo just leaned back and let the golden voice wash over him. Briefly, he reached for the impression he had glimpsed over the edge of the world, but it was gone. </font>

Until recently, the News Channel had been a simple metropolitan city, divided in between the Lefts and the Rights. Verbal warfare would populate in the airwaves, physical warfare would propagate in the streets, civil unrest and corruption at an all-time high and consumer satisfaction at an all-time low. Just the way it was supposed to be.

But now, the world had changed.

For some reason, the monopolies and trusts simply weren’t making the colossal profits they used to. The advertising executives could have sworn that the exorbitant prices and high taxes they charged were the same as ever, yet the people seemed to pay less – much less – and were still getting away with it! The shop managers swore that they were charging exactly what they were told the products were worth, and there were a dozen pointless family liquidations before it was ascertained that they were telling, honestly, what they believed was the truth.

And then there was the matter of the new construction project in the center of the city, which was going up alarmingly fast. From the vantage point of the skyscrapers surrounding it, it looked like the crossbreed of a torus and an elongated cylinder, about the height of an apartment tenement. It was, in effect, the shape of a jet engine filled at the bottom with assorted machineries, but otherwise sans turbines, sans features, the property sans accessories save a hastily erected cabin by the side fence.

Aaron sat in the small cabin, sipping a glass of water. Around him, the work bustled. Rapidly, the engine was being forced into effect, as if its form had been there all along and all anyone had to do was stick pieces into the puzzle. In fact, its arcane shape was nearly completed.

The deep cough of the head foreman shook him from his thoughts. “Sir, the supplier is here again. He wants to discuss…the price of the steel we requisitioned.”

Aaron sighed. “I thought I told you that concerning these matters, I don’t exist?”

“He was going to barge straight in here, sir. Cause all sorts of trouble. I…I’m indebted to you, I stopped him but he wouldn’t go away…” The foreman drew a grubby handkerchief from his overall pocket and wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I’ve got him at the entrance if you want to talk to him.”

“No.” The aurumancer pushed back his simple chair from his simple desk, and adjusted his still-ragged robe. “Invite him in.”

<font color="#CDAD00">Change fretted. The problem remains, he muttered for the umpteenth time, is that I lack manipulatory appendages, and this tank is pathetically fragile. The transaction drove in a half-circle and twisted its turret in a vain attempt to whack the lock, which it couldn’t reach. But I worry more about Aaron. We had a great many adventures together, we did…well, most of them were conning food and clearing out of town, but in any case he has not been without me for the better part of a year. And there are things I have never expressly forbidden him to do.

<font color="#099999">Confusing impressions flitted across Nizzo’s consciousness as the Transaction muttered on. A undeserved-leader, the sense of many-attuned-to-one, the feeling of captivity…

Slaves. Indebted servants. A dangerous, profitable and infinitely tempting path to tread…at least without guidance.</font>

“What’s the meaning of this construction anyway?! Why does he want this much steel? What are these *beep* blueprints?!” The steel supplyman, who existed by dint of being interviewed once concerning OSHA violations, had a strangely one-dimensional appearance, as if only one side of him was being broadcast.

“Please, sir – don’t worry yourself.” Aaron stepped forward and shook the supplyman’s slightly faded hand. “I’m in charge of this operation, and I’ll be glad to show you around – not to mention bargain a fair price for your steel.” He felt his mind slip into that little ready mode, silver tongue mentally unrolling the red carpet. “I understand that you’re dissatisfied with the amount you’re being paid for this steel?”

“*beep* yes! You pay me this, how am I going to feed my family? Both NewsWorthy and MediaPolitics have raised their prices in all the Bymor-Marts! I mean, sure, the steel didn’t cost all that much to produce, but I *beep*ing gotta pay people off!”

“I understand, mister…”

“Mister A. Localsteelfactoryowner, not at your service until I get *beep*ing paid proper!”

Aaron sighed. “I’ll have my staff review the payment plan. That might take some time, though not long. While we’re waiting, would you like to see what we’re building?”

As sure as Wall Street opens, he will come. But I worry about the measures he may take to do so.

A motorized scaffold brought them up high along the structure, to the circular rim twenty stories up. Safety rails ringed both edges, with a stairway curving around the inside of the engine. They walked down into the cylinder, Aaron pointing out the esoteric machineries far below, and stepped out into a narrow walkway that projected across the diameter of the structure, supported by an iridescent blue column.

“That, Mr. Localsteelfactoryowner, is the central control panel for the engine.”

The supplyman, rendered speechless by the operation’s scale, here found his voice: “Wait – the ‘engine’? All along you’ve been saying ‘the building’ and ‘the project’ – is this thing supposed to drive something? What kinda *beep* could you possibly be driving with this?!”

Aaron turned, and looked right into the man’s eyes. “The city. The entire world. The channel.”

Because, you see, Libertarian mages operate on the power of mind. A mind is an indentation on the mind-plane, a separate plane of consciousness and existence. Where a properly deep mind intersects with the matter-plane, where we live – that is what the uninformed call magic. The Transaction simply mulled, driving in pointless circles. But there is a limit to the advancement of a human mind, and the Univercities breached that limit long ago, with a discovery of a process that could temporarily augment a mage’s power.

<font color="#099999">Though Nizzo failed to grasp anything aside from a vague feeling of apprehension, he sensed that this-one-of-changing-shape wanted some response, an excuse to continue the blather. So, politely, he gave the impression of unknown-location, of crowded-thought and just plain confusion.

Whereupon Change returned the impression of what was universally understood by all sentients as palm-strikes-own-face (even the ones without palms, and the ones that had palms for faces, though the race of sentient palm trees often got it confused).

Aaron ignored the supplyman’s befuddled look, and gestured at the walls of the cylinder, towering above and below them. “It’s finished – mostly. Your contribution here, Mr. Localsteelfactoryowner, is in those stabilization spires underneath us.” He pointed at a set of three wicked-looking steel lances protruding from the chasm of machinery below, each the width of a man and tapering to a point just short of the central pillar. “They’re used as harmonic resonators to create and control a containment field for the gravity drill that we’re standing on. Gravity distorts space distorts time, forcing Minkowski spaces to rotate and overlap itself at the edges – your space is toroidal, by the way, finite and unbounded. I like it – reminds me of home, really, even though I’ve been here less than a week.” For a second, Aaron’s grey eyes betrayed a steely glint. Or was it silver? “But yet, we’ve all got to make sacrifices.”

The supplyman opened his mouth, but Aaron waved a hand to stop him. “What were you going to say? ‘You’ll never get away with this?’ The fact is, this entire channel is an abstraction. You’re nothing, the authorities you’d report me to are nothing, everyone here is here because two news channels once staged a political battle and this is everybody that took part.”

A. Localsteelfactoryowner closed his mouth.

“The engine maintains its own internal time – my time, the time you’ve got here is fast with respect to mine, since news travels fast – so the whole system is essentially a clock. An engine clock. It seeks out the most similar time sync that matches mine, and drags the channel towards that. Something like towing barges, ending in a car crash of epic proportions.” The aurumancer nonchalantly, yet menacingly, leaned against the circular railing. “The only problem is that I’m not deep enough, I can’t power this.”

Despite himself, his determination to stop enabling this maniac, his repeated entreatments for his legs to react and get him the hell out of here, the supplyman stood his ground and spoke again. “You?! You’re going to power this?!”

“With a little help, yes.” The aurumancer looked into Mister A. Localsteelfactoryowner’s eyes for the last time, and this time the steel and silver were unmistakable. “Your life isn’t worth very much, is it?”

They discovered that on the whole, disregarding population increases, mind on the mind-plane was conserved as is matter on the matter-plane. Therefore, if one could deduct a mind from the plane… Change stopped, so suddenly that the sudden vacuum seemed to ring like the aftermath of a tolling bell. It was you. Before we were taken. Everything was going quiet. Everyone was keeling over, like a chapter 11… It was you. You can take minds.

Like a lightbulb suddenly going on, the conversation returned to comprehensibility, with this-one-of-changing-shape broadcasting impressions of feeding, memories of the feast he’d had before, and from there descending rapidly into disaster. Black thoughts, hate-filled thoughts, repugnant thoughts spilled through that golden channel, feeding-on-ownkind, killing-ownkind, he tried to communicate, to explain, but the wave of hatred and fear and anger and betrayed-trust and cheating-investor and petty-thievery and bank-fraud and a thousand other foreign concepts that linked to this-one-of-changing-shape-

The tank shuddered, as if trying to shake itself apart. I was right. You are more dangerous than you look! You-</font></font>

“This is MediaPolitics News live at the scene of the new Abstract Tower, Valerie Ellis reporting.”

<font color="#000099">“NewsWorthy News Flash! Adam Brate, live, at the site of the Abstract Tower, the newest addition to the city’s central business district!”

“According to witness accounts, the Abstract Tower was completed today in the record time of six days since the commencement of construction, with all workers relieved and astounded at the feat they’ve managed.”</font>

“That’s right, the manpower we employed was in-fucking-credible-”

“We’re live, please don’t curse at the camera.”

“Sorry, Adam – I mean, look at that beauty! We raised that thing in six days, Adam – now all we need to do is go into planet engineering, we’ll be up against God himself, doncha think? Sorry.”

“On a different topic, do you have any details about the Abstract Tower’s function?”

“Glad our nondisclosure agreements are finished now, aren’t ya?”

“Mr. Toss, I understand that you’re assistant foreman on the Abstract Tower project?”

“That’s correct, Ms. Ellis, I am. Please, call me Quinn.”

“Can you tell us anything about the Abstract Tower?”

“It isn’t a residential complex, nor an office one. It is more of a…power plant or research facility than anything, if I were to give my guess.”

“A guess?”

“Well, I’m only an engineer, you understand. The theory’s a little…”

“Yes, of course. I can’t help but notice your arm’s missing. A workplace accident?”

“Oh no, that’s a long story. Perhaps another time. In any case, I’ve got to get out of here.”

“All right. We won’t keep you. Drop by MediaPolitics Central sometime, though – there might be something in that arm story!”

“And good luck to you too, Ms. Ellis.”

Mr. A. Localsteelfactoryowner looked curiously through graying vision at the world he saw around him. His stomach hurt, and everywhere around him machines were coming alive with boops and fweeps and little, disquieting huuuMMMMMMMMMMMs. A trickle of red crept its way across the hollows of his face, which flickered, slightly but no dice – a horrific workplace accident was newsworthy if anything, and it was mundanity that was subversion of the status quo in news – and the blood flowed and flowed and flowed across lolling, sad eyes, thick lips and into unbreathing nose, as the supplyman watched his lifeblood drain away, watched the blood lick its way slowly down the steel spire he built and sold and now died, impaled, at its spike and he really couldn’t care he couldn’t seem to care, since his life was so practically worthless that he’d give it up to help Mr. Abstract, wouldn’t he? drip, drip, drip, over and into parted lips, matting hair, dripdropping deep into the machinery below, far below. Above, Mr. Abstract was yelling, doing something arcane, kickstarting an engine, the supplyman didn’t couldn’t care couldn’t care, since everything was going black


“Adam Brate here! For NewsWorthy Network – with an explosive report! Oh! The tower, the…”

“This is Dave Cloud, I’m the cameraman – Val, Val she…as you can see, the Abstract Tower is…it’s…something is horribly wrong! The tower’s…rising? Stretching upwards? It’s being…there, not there at the same time, it’s…”

“We’ve got to get closer! We’ve got to get a better look at this! Kris! Dale, d-don’t you dare! Come back, both of you! At least give me the camera, Kris!!”

“The Tower…the ground around the tower’s gone…Val, she was on the edge of the property, there’s just…space. Not star space, outer space, there’s just…space. This wind! Everything’s being sucked out, space itself is stretching, everything smells like-

“Holy-…was that the MediaPolitics camera? Are our viewers seeing this?! Ohhhh gaaaahhh – Are you getting this, headquarters? This is Adam Brate, at the edge of the universe, there’s suction something frightful, but I’ve got a firm grip on this lamppost – I’ve got…the footage…we-”

A burst of noise, obliterating the audio. It is accompanied by a starburst’s worth of distortion on the picture.

“…losing grip…this is Adam Brate, signing off – and arrrrrrrrggghhhh our Father who art in Heaven hallowed be thy Name thy Kingdom come thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who have transgressed against us lead us not into temptation but deliver us from -”

The camera breaks free and picture cuts out.

“My God, it’s full of stars!”

<font color="#FFFFFF">Then all there is static.


Aaron was driving. It was exhiliarating as the engine roared, its sound taking on cellular-automatic life of its own, as space itself roared past his face down into the ground below. The channel juddered, lurched, and moved, as he forced the mind-plane into an intersection, locking it into the engine’s internal tick…tock…tick.

The News Channel was among the most stable in the world of television, subversion made impossible in the face of the fact that everything – everything was worthy of the news.

But even this was too much.

The channel tore free of its static firmament, trailing tendrils of black and white as the engine dragged space before it and spewed it behind. Picking up speed, aimed in a direction at right angles to at right angles to at right angles to the mere three dimensions, News traveled fast.


<font color="#655575">Squad One, report.

"Copyright Central, this is Squad One. Instructions?"

Interrogate captured infringers.

"Understood, Central."

Squad One, until recently Squad Two, was comprised of four members. Each of them were indistinguishable drones of the copyrighting force. They were empowered, elite soldiers, bringing might to make right, punishing those that dared anger Copyright Central.

Copyright Central. A vast chasmic void of creative lack that sprawled across worlds, not a multiverse in itself but rather a colossal aggregation of the greed and power of infinite sentiences scattered across an uncountable cosmos. Copyright Central wormed its way into every world, every realm, every place. Those that resisted it were quashed, or placed in increasingly untenable law until they had no choice. Those that complied were subsumed by the machine, turned into proles and pawns promised a miniscule slice of the profit-pie.

(if that seems unfair, somehow, that’s just because it is; every man dislikes the opinion that isn’t really his)

Squad One marched, footsteps ringing on metal as if they had run the route a thousand times. Yet it was the first their boots had met that floor since their creation at Central’s command, spun from the firmament of raw, poisonous power…


A city plowed into the world.

Pavement, skyscrapers, tenements, roads, lampposts, houses, cars, people were all forced into a space the size of an apartment building, threaded out the other side, and painted into an impossible residence as a walk-in mural on the side of the channel itself, echoing with sound that crashed through itself, but the affair could not last for long; even as the channels mingled bewilderedly – for seconds, both news networks reported on events far beyond fiction – then momentum took over in its infinite conservation, and tore the conglomerate mess from its anchors as well.

Aaron screamed in ecstasy, drunk on the sheer impossibility, insanity of his feat, drunk driving on a scale uncurbed, skidding on infinity, chronoplaning the humming wheels of the engine he hath wrought-

Change screamed in fear and suspicion, as the world lurched and heaved like the belly of some indigestive monster , treads squealing as he fought not to be shattered into the walls nor rent apart in the world’s violent shaking-

Nizzo spun in confusion, with the world reduced into a swathe of vibrating movement on one end, this-one-of-changing-shape broadcasting a thousand messages of pain and suspicion and fear on the other-

The channels flitted around each other like opposite reflections of a mirrored sphere forced back and forth across dimensions taking light from every direction beyond the usual three and the engine dragged them and kept going, just kept going, giving its tick…tock…tick and at the center of its machination Aaron laughed a brilliant, silvery laugh and jumped from his post as up ahead came a cloud of static stretching as far as any eye could see, and ran down roads that were trying to coexist with military metal tile, passed by a news crew filming the crushed bodies of Squad One, simultaneously run over by a bus and flattened by a falling generator, tried doors that sometimes were of offices, sometimes were of suburban homes, and sometimes were of-

Aaron! He was here! He came!

He heard – he knew – “Change!” He ran – and behind him, the engine juddered, cracked and shook, the spires bent and twisted as its path, uncontrolled, unsynced by any timeline, took on the nearest causality it could find and aimed even as the clock ticked, tocked, clacked and cracked out of control, gearsprings unwound, energy spent and unfound with entropy taken to its maximal proximity and taking with it an abomination of a city-</font>

The bridge of the ESS Pyreness was on yellow alert. Admiral Huxley stared ahead into the angry, flickering nebula before him, pushing forward on impulse power. They would first do a close approach, then circumvent the anomaly to draw out any-

“Admiral! We’re getting some abnormalities on the forward sensor array!” Ensign Cain, of the navigation panel.

“What?” Huxley wheeled around to face the ensign, but was interrupted by another series of cries around the bridge.

“Admiral! Readings on the flux-space around the nebula have are spiking!”

“Experiencing anomalous force readings, Admiral!”

“Admiral, we-”

Huxley screamed – “ALL STOP!” and the Pyreness didn’t – drawn by an invisible thread it surged towards the roaring morass below. And it rose to meet them, consolidating into –


A city…something that was the unholy coexistence of a city and some military building…spewed forth, pinwheeling crazily in the new channel, and slowly scraped below the Pyreness’s bulk, the pair of them: spaceship and monstrocity – orbiting each another. For a second, affairs careened precariously in that mad, unstable state, as the channel pulsed and writhed, trying to decide to make fit square pegs in round holes, or knock the set over, call subversion and die…

And the channel chose to live.

Huxley stared at the spaceship they were orbiting. It was about their size – a proper starship-sized spaceship, anyhow, but it seemed much…denser. More complex. A long-haul colony ship? It was built like an ancient counterbalanced rotating habitat, with two modules – one red, one blue – circling one another on the ends of a short, central axis. All across its patched surface were strangely nauseating plates of metal, as if something thoroughly unpleasant had been dismantled and its parts used in the spaceship’s structure.

“They’re hailing us, Admiral!”

“Main screen turn on!”

Glares all around were interrupted by the incoming signal, which consisted mostly of an attractive woman of reporter stock, i.e. just-barely-workplace-acceptable.

“This is Communications Reporter Sharon Leimie of the ESS MediaPolitics. We’re an information-collating long-haul community liner, and today we’re here at the Black & White Nebula, as it’s commonly known. We’re very privileged today to have a fleet admiral on air, Admiral Huxley of the ESS Pyreness, which is patrolling this sector – and this nebula – for banditry, piracy and other criminals who use the nebula to cover their trails and escape justice!”

“Um, yes, er, we-” Huxley’s flustered response barely had time to form before the communications panel lit again.

“Admiral! We’re getting…another hailing?”

“…and the weather at the fabled B&W Nebula today is predicted to be remarkably stable for the next 72 hours, no flares or particle storms in sight – over to you, Stewart.”

“Thank you, Perry. Here on the ESS Newsworthy we’re dedicated to bringing you breaking news, up-and-coming news, fair and balanced appropriate news. I’m Reporting Officer Stewart Skewiff, and today we’ve come across the ESS Pyreness here at the Big B&W, with the illustrious fleet admiral Albus Huxley in command, hunting for small-time criminals who hide in the nebula. What’re your thoughts on this, Admiral?”

For a simple second Huxley felt that something wasn’t right – but then he remembered the Twin Ships Media Foundation, and their goal of broadcasting interstellar news across the galaxy, and their brilliant idea of removing bias by simply broadcasting both sides of any event, one each from the dual modules…

“It’s quite excellent that we ran into you today! The Pyreness is, as you’ve mentioned, on a mission – if you’d like to send any reporting crew over, we’ll work with any programming you’ve got scheduled.”

“That would be excellent! That’s very kind of you, Admiral.”

“We’ll send a camera crew and security detail, and you can show them as much as you like.”

Maria’s eyes glazed at the prospect of lengthy negotiation – which meant she almost missed seeing, behind the MediaPolitics reporter, a glimpse of a certain money wizard cutting behind the camera-
Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"So what's your gimmick?"

Kriok gave her fellow contestant a sideways glance, the quiet whooshing of decks passing upward to either side.

"C'mon, your gimmick! Ability, power, specialty. I'm basically a wrecking ball, not much good getting out of anything's not a solid prison. Hurry, I don't know if we have hours or minutes, maybe less. That weird time-delay between channel hopping, or whatever."

"Minutes until what, exa–?"

Kriok was interrupted by a harsh carnival of klaxons, announcing the too-close warp-in of an unknown vessel.

Moments of shaking and attempts to grab conspicuously nonexistent safety bars for support later, the elevator was smoothly descending as before.
Freefall waited a couple moments more for an intruder alert that never came.

She scratched her head. "Huh. Wasn't them."

"You were expecting something else?"

"Not important. Look, you have any ideas on how to get outta here? Any fancy systems on your cyber stuff pointing to escape routes, or-"

"The first step to escaping, I imagine, would be to live long enough to escape."

"Oh, relax! We'll be fine. We just have to find some sort of communicator that can break out of-"

"Would you just tell me who 'them' was? I am extremely sick of surprises."

"Yeah, uh... I've just never outrun so many cops that easily. I can't imagine they're far behind."

The monochrome streets around Joe McMiller, P.I.'s monochrome office were quiet. Too quiet.

Quite literally so, given the absence of McMiller's internal monologue – gone with his consciousness – and the channel's typical jazz accompaniment, which tended to vanish when something physical was about to happen.

"This the place?" "Yea."

Two hard-edged, coat-draped mobsters ascended the steps to McMiller's floor, carrying telltale violin cases.

"Let's see how much this wiseguy likes lead for dinner."

Taking positions in front of the detective's door, they unveiled their weapons at jump-cut speeds and opened fire.

Already on the floor and blissfully unaware of his surroundings, McMiller missed the chance to make a frantic, showy leap to the ground to escape the ensuing chaos. A shower of bullets tore through wall, wood, and glass, shredding furniture and sending the letters of his name and title engraved on the fragile, translucent door-front flying symbolically apart and onto the surrounding wreckage.

When the bullets ran dry, a surprisingly unscathed McMiller lay under a pile of minced office, underneath an even more surprisingly unscathed television blaring noisy static.

"Let's reload and hit it again, just to make su-"

The gangsters were interrupted by the metal click of a pair of handcuffs locking one's right forearm to the other's left, followed by a further cascade of clicks from the cocking handguns of an impossible number of LAPD police officers.

Clint Gladwell stepped in front of the men, staring through sunglasses oddly impervious to the channel's older setting. A fresh bruise spread from underneath one of the lenses.

"We'll be confiscating your automatic weapons."

A now sweating, quivering gangster traded a glance with his partner, then eyeballed the strange officer, alighting on the LAPD insignia on his jacket.

"It- it ain't your jurisdiction-"

"I DECIDE when it is or isn't my jurisdiction, punk. And I'll have you know that this happens to be a federal case." Gladwell stared the man down above his lenses, flits of static flashing across his usually-hidden eyes. The target of his attention narrowly avoided soiling himself.

He stepped back and lit a cigarette, a luxury not afforded to him within his home channel's censors. "But I admit, we seem a bit... underequipped to deal with the current situation. Perhaps you boys wouldn't mind explaining where we could find more of these 'violins'?"

Kriok had wasted no time in setting a quick pace toward the distant rear of the vessel, which a scattered map or two assured her would contain the ship's hold. I need to find a storage or cargo area. Cargo means matter, all shapes, sizes, and complexity levels. I just need some time to myself in a material-rich bay before any more surprises catch up with me. Least of all any of hers.

Freefall kept up beside her. "Alright uh, I don't get it yet... are you the warrior race type, or the techie, scientist type or what?"

"Do members of species you've never met tend to fall into such 'types'?"

"You're half-robot, and they put you in a battle to the death. It isn't all that complicated. So is that arm of yours electric, a laser, magnetic... C'mon, spill it, Turok, I'm guessing you wanna escape and I need to know what you can do!"

Kriok winced at her error, or bristled slightly; hard to tell with a face half cybernetics. "I'm guessing you have a case of selective hearing."

"Yeah, I get that a lot. Look, are we gonna escape this battle or not...?"

The bird-like alien slowed her pace to level a cold, mechanically emphasized glare at her newest 'companion'. "Yes, I am trying to escape this battle. I am also trying to be reasonable and practical about it, unlike most of my so-called competitors who seem to be insane, delusional, useless, impulsive, psychotically murderous, or more typically some infuriating combination of all of the above!"

"...Alright, well you can rest easy. Pretty sure I only heard one of those that applies to me."

"That's... fantastic."

The grating circus of klaxons erupted again, this time accompanied with red emergency lights.
"Critical Alert! Multiple armed, hostile intruders on decks twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five..."

"And I'll give you a hint..." – Freefall cracked her knuckles at the sound of incoming footsteps up ahead, lots of them – "It's definitely not 'useless'. Hurry down that other hall, we've got company. I'll catch up."

Kriok broke into a run as Freefall began tearing a screeching hole into metal sidewall.

Minutes ago, back in the company of the familiar this-male-one-of-riches, Nizzo was anything but less confused.

Rather than answering any of Nizzo's inquiring thoughts about the situation, this-male-one-of-riches and this-one-of-changing-shape continued to spit harsh and hostile conflicting thoughts – targeted at both this-male-one-of-riches and Nizzo himself, regarding some of the odd concepts the shapeshifting mind had broadcast to him earlier – leaving him completely in the dark as to what his container's movement into an oddly accelerating and decelerating sort of current meant.

In reality, Nizzo happened to be even more clueless than he would have expected. He had no idea that they had entered what amounted to a transport shuttle, nor that these-ones-of-spreading-ideas nearby were reporters with recording equipment, or said reporters' roles in the situation as mere tools to excuse Aaron's intrusion onto the ESS Pyreness, perhaps to new competitors and companions.

But what he happened to be the least clueless about, amidst the trio, was the presence of hundreds of those absurdly focused "
copyright" minds, assembled just beyond the walls and doors of their small vessel and emanating the idea of concealing-oneself-from-potential-prey. Why wouldn't anyone explain to him who they were? Couldn't they sense them?

Dextrous talons picked through the cables and wires ostensibly controlling a heavy cargo bay door, the feathers on Kriok's arm brushing along metal borders the wall once shared with a control panel. It was a basic matter of sending a pulse through the correct wire while a safety circuit was disconnected, power more easily siphoned from a cable to a nearby light fixture than supplied by her comparatively unwieldily fabricator arm. The very idea of using fragile, ancient wire-dependent circuitry in something as supposedly sophisticated as an interstellar vessel stunned her, as did the relative insecurity of the device, though the schematics she'd pilfered wirelessly from the ship refused to highlight said ironies.

Which is to say, nothing quite made sense. Internal consistency, but little more. She'd gotten nearly accustomed to the patently ridiculous, so this infuriating TV setting decided to give her something frustratingly between sense and nonsense, just to throw her off.

A resounding couple of beeps, and the door opened. Kriok sighed with mechanical lungs. Part of her wished she'd accidentally blown the whole anachronistic goddamned ship apart.

Her successful, irate stride into the cargo bay was preempted by three loud, metallic bangs from the wall opposite the control panel.

A muffled voice. "Hey, Big Bird. You out there?" "'s Kriok. Would you elect to remember it, this time?"

Freefall punched her fingers through, then stretched open a gaping hole in the wall, slowly erupting from it amid a deafening shriek of tortured steel. Coming out of walls was always more fun, she thought; you got to see the dumbfounded looks on criminals' faces. Kriok desperately regretted not having opted for cybernetic ears to match her eyes; the klaxons, which had subsided to leave the pulsing red lights as the indicator of persistent ship alert, would have been a welcome alternative.

The superhero finally escaped onto the hallway floor, soaking wet with still-warm condensation.

"Do I want to ask what you were doing?"

"Broke off a nice big steam pipe into the hallway. Blistering hot, kept any of the bacon on my tail from heading your direction. Or at least I'm pretty sure it was those damn cops. We're in the clear, it sounds like; 'fore I left, I caught a glimpse of laser-security shooting back. Bet it would've been like watching a paintball match between rejects from the Imperial Stormtrooper marksmanship academy-"

"What could a spaceship possibly need with pipes full of hot steam?!"

"Oh, you kidding? This is a TV show. Broken steam pipes are showy, you don't get the impression of the ship falling apart without a few jets of smoke."

Kriok noted distant footsteps and the occasional cracks of projectile weaponry, emanating from the direction of the hall she'd left unexplored. "Let's lock the door behind us. Just in case."

The pair entered a large, impressive cargo room, tiered floors lined with crates, equipment, and large, gently humming loading pallets hovering just under a foot off the ground each. Freefall could imagine a couple dramatic uses such a room could have, like bringing down cratefuls of weapons for an upcoming on-ship standoff, or large bombs to be deployed in a serious situation.

Regardless, "This place is probably chock full of weapons. Think we should have a look around?"

"If that's how you get your kicks, fine. I need to worry about getting this door closed."

Kriok began unwelding the sides of the inner control panel.
Freefall wrung a bit of moisture out of her ponytail, then kneeled next to a nearby loading tray's moving handle and wrapped her hair once around the middle. She pulled both sides of the ponytail, garotting the metal pipe in two; a two-foot, handle-ended half-lever clattered noisily to the floor.

"Gotten any crates full of oh-so-fun weapons open yet?"

"Nah, just getting that door closed for you."

Kriok turned, then leapt away from her work just in time to avoid Freefall plunging the handle-end of the broken rod into the controls, a shower of sparks erupting from the impact. The bay doors rapidly shut, red lights around the frame unmistakably signifying a lock.

"And what in blazes made you think that was a good idea?!"

"TV show, Kriok. That always works. See? It's shut."

"You couldn't have known for sure. And now we're locked in."

"You think I couldn't pry us back through those in under a minute? Actually, you go do your tech stuff, I'm gonna pinch these shut even harder in case anyone tries to force their way in."

Freefall set to work crushing the seams of the heavy doors into their frames, each other.
Kriok went to do something useful, and made a bold red mental note of how this 'Freefall' went about solving problems.

Copyright Central's agents, forged from the sheer power of anti-intellectual greed and creative lack, were usually immune from the warping effects of any particular channel.

However, their base of power itself had just been uprooted, smashed into the fabric of another channel, and
compromised. So, too, was their usual immunity.

Now, Copyright Central was instead Central Command, the newsstation-situated forward base of an influential group with the means and wherewithal to assault piracy and infringement across the galaxy, no matter the cost. And as means went, well... let's just say that their already-powerful methods had been molded into a setting-appropriate level of absolute superiority.

The news-crew shuttle that the Pyreness had unwittingly allowed upon its decks contained not dozens, but hundreds of cloaked CC agents hidden amidst its civilian payload. Spreading themselves across the ship's decks and uncloaking, unleashing dangerous projectile weaponry banned by intergalactic treaty in favor of more humane laser-based pistols and rifles, was the simplest of tasks.

Wresting the bridge from its owners was equally simple.

"I told you to reverse the engines. You're risking the lives of everyone on this ship!"

Admiral Huxley was holding his hands in the air, standing in the corner of the bridge at the gunpoint of one of four heavily-armed, suited agents occupying the room. He knew these extremists wouldn't cease at a simple appeal to humanity, not "CC", not those who would violently overthrow a ship with an anti-piracy mission over a couple of suspected pirate stowaways, dyeing security's red shirts even redder with their deadly, illegal projectile rifles and even deadlier aim.

Rather, he was stalling to edge slowly towards the unconscious Ensign Cain, eyeing the laser pistol on his belt.

"Negative. Just understand that we take piracy a little more seriously than you do, Admiral."

"The gravity shift from Twin Ships Media entering our vicinity has us drifting slowly towards that," Huxley warned, pointing at the swirling anomaly displayed on the now-cracked monitor. "If you don't let engineering make a simple course correction, we'll all be finding out what's inside the Black and White nebula firsthand!"

"Well then, it sounds like it's in your best interests to make sure we find our infringers sooner, rather than later."

The agent picked up a shipwide announcement radio/mic, handing it to Huxley and gazing at him through silver, teched-up shades.

"Call off security and tell them to join our search. We want every able officer on this ship to help us track down our fugitives as soon as possible."

The agent walked over to a cowering Maria, lifting her chin up with the muzzle of his rifle.

"Every able officer."


A third crate landed and split open, the victim of an unceremonious toss by Freefall off the fourth tier of cargo. Dangerous, loaded plastic show props spilled out, sliding across the smooth deck floor.

"Anything useful in those for your matter-ma-whatsit?"

Kriok was beginning to wonder whether these beak-less bipeds she'd been meeting lately had some sort of evolutionary flaw, or perhaps even a shared religion against common sense.

"How about we stick with the ground floor crates, for now?"

Freefall gently fell from the floor above, landing next to her. Kriok picked up one of the exhumed weapons, apparently the same handheld laser-toys Security had used to accost her earlier.

"The shell's mostly hydrocarbon polymers." She handed it to her fabricator, deconstructing the middle of the weapon. "A silicon dioxide crystal - more nonsense - and other scattered... mhmm. This is basically useless. Find me something bulkier, more raw materi-"


Kriok turned to find her 'assistant' test-firing the weapon at a few crates, launching*fwuup fwuuuup!*tacky violet beams that left steaming scorchmarks where they hit.

"Yeah, what I thought. Shittiest lasers I've ever seen."

"Did you just test-fire a hot weapon at potentially bomb-containing storage crates?"

"Alright, you need to relax. I told you I've pretty much seen these guys in a firefight, these piece of shit lasers can't punch through anything."

"I don't understand you. Are you stupid, or just suicidal?"

"Shut up. I know what I'm doing."

"I've been trapped, mocked, threatened, painted on, and forced to cook since I was abducted into this damnable contest, and yet nothing so far has made me feel more uncomfortable or close to abrupt obliteration than you. Why should I trust you not to get us killed?"

This was an exaggeration, to be fair. Asteroid mining had been far riskier business than any of this, and Freefall seemed saner than her previous allies of convenience, at least. But Kriok had several practical, tactical, and conversational reasons not to let a violent thug of a competitor in on her abilities.

"Ain't gonna happen. This is my job."

"Ah, that's right. You were some sort of 'hero'. Is putting everyone around you in danger part of your job description?"

"Listen up, you bird... robot... thing!" She slammed her palm against the standing gunmetal gray corner of an otherwise shattered crate; meaning to lean against it to punctuate a confrontational stare-down, she instead sent it tipping to the ground, leaving her standing awkwardly. "I'm not an empty suit. I'm a superhero. A problem solver. Groups like mine get called in whenever you have to deal with a superpowerful anomaly. Something like a gang of robbers carrying stolen experimental weapons, or a giant goddamn beast made of crystal unleashed by some oblivious scientist. Aliens. Ghosts. Fucking witches, the magic kind. I do a damn good job helping defend my city. I keep people safe from shit like that, and they respect me like a celebrity. You're the one I don't understand. If you're going to play the whole lone last-of-your-race deal, at least play it straight and threaten me or something like a proper out-of-touch asshole. But don't you dream of telling me I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know about you, but this contest isn't some big shocker I don't know how to handle. It's practically an average Wednesday."



Kriok opted to add a generous, dripping coating of sarcasm to her usual condescending tone. "Sure. Let's say you've really been through this sort of nonsense before. Just how is this battle going to play out? I mean, you're the expert. Enlighten me."

Freefall put a hand to her chin for a moment or two.

...Contemplative? This should be good.

"...Round three."

"I'm sorry?"

"It'll be over by round three. Maybe four, since we're doing the whole environment-swapping thing, and that's gotta play out a few times, but four max. We're gonna gather people together, one by one. Probably fight a few of them before they learn to stop being dumbasses, got a lot of villains in our lineup. One of 'em's just gonna be some evil asshole, another one joins and betrays us when they throw something heavy to break us up... Those sorts of characters are just gonna get karmic deaths. Y'know, run off like a coward and get confronted by a swarm of mooks, or refuse a helping hand and get crushed by a giant rock. That sorta thing. Probably gonna be the less human guys like zombie-dude, too, no offense to you, Kriok. Just callin' it how I see it. All the while we're building science stuff like whatever the fuck you're working on, we get a communicator up, my team comes to help, and we all get together to kick the announcer's ass and go home. ...Yeah, that's about it. Sorry, I don't usually talk this much, did that make sense?"

A nice, long pause.

"...the announcer."

"Yeah, the show host."

"We assault a TV show announcer, and that lets us go home?"

"Alright, look, I don't know if it's the announcer specifically. Could be a producer, a director, point is I'm betting we'll see one goddamn guy running this thing. Or girl, computer, whatever. We kick its ass, this contest never happens again."

"You're completely insane."

"Hey, I'm helping you. If that makes me insane, then you're goddamn lucky I am."

Kriok grabbed a bulky replacement ship-part from one of the containers they'd split open, and returned silently to her work.

Freefall had a point, she realized. If her competitors had been sane and rational... well, she might not have survived them.

"...What exactly are you building, anyway?"

"A thermonuclear mining charge," Kriok replied sarcastically to the liability.

"Oh... whoa whoa, hold on, we're not killing anybody! Letting them do their fucked-up channel stuff and shoot each other like they always would is one thing, we can't goddamn well stop them. I don't wanna blow them up–"

"Do you see any uranium or plutonium around here? It was a joke. I'm surprised you even knew what one was."

"Excuse me if I'm not impressed by your sense of humor-"

"Whatever we'd need to escape would presumably require a lot of power, more than we could take with us if I constructed an enormous generator. Right now, I'm going to build anything I damn well please. You can help, if you're so inclined."

"Alright, fine, but no killing. That's my rule. If you want my help, you're going strictly non-lethal."

She turned to Freefall. "And if I have no other choice?"

The hero scowled, cracking her knuckles. "Well then, we'd have a problem, wouldn't we?"

Kriok returned to her work once again, fabricator-arm humming brilliantly.

I stand corrected. A major liability.

Several moments passed, with nothing but the fabricator's mechanisms and machinations interrupting the tense atmosphere.

"It's 'Freefall', correct?"


"How much can you carry?"
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

"Mister O!" Darren called through the empty halls of the hotel. His voice carried a tone of urgency that brought the hotelier at a far brisker pace than he usually moved at. The thing that had caught Darren's attention was difficult to miss, as Mister O rounded the corner he slowed to a stop and regarded it in silence. "What's going on Mister O?" Darren asked. Mister O did not respond. He stared at the wall of static that had made this particular corridor of the hotel impassable without a word, and then in silence he turned and walked back to the dining room. Darren glanced between Mister O and the inexplicable wall of static, and then rather anxiously, he followed Mister O at a jog.

The dining room looked more homey now. It had mattresses on the floor, and the broken debris of the tables had been cleared away into some other room. The television had been taken into the kitchen, where Mister O claimed it had better reception, though as it still just broadcast
static that was debateable. Sara's bed had been made up in more or less the middle of the room, surrounded by a selection of empty bottles and wrappers that Darren had not had the wherewithal to tidy up after himself. Mister O strode straight through the room, heading for the door at the back that led to the kitchen. Darren slowed to a stop beside Sara's sleeping form. From the kitchen there was the rattle of drawers.

"What is it? What's happening?" He asked; a hint of desperation in his voice. He couldn't think about what would happen should this channel begin to destroy itself as the last one had, not while they were trapped here by that same destructive force.

The door swung open and Mister O stepped out, his pale face set into a rueful frown, his wild dark hair hanging over his eyes. Held tightly by his side was a kitchen knife. Darren's eyes narrowed in confusion.

"Are you suggesting we just cut our way through the static?"

"No." Mister O replied simply, his gaze falling to the unconscious maid. Darren followed his gaze and though the implication seemed to be clear, it seemed so absurd, so outlandish that it took him a moment to comprehend it. His jaw dropped, his eyes widened. "Darren, this is inevitable." He said, in a tone that was not exactly soothing. "She is the problem. She is the reason we are stuck here, and she is bringing the static down upon us."

"No." Darren stared down at Sara's sleeping form. There was pain in that statement. It was the statement of someone who does not really believe what he is saying but cannot bear to admit it.

"She is part of the static now." Mister O said. "She is not the woman you dreamed of. That woman is dead." There was a long pause. Darren could not tear his eyes away from her, but he was certain that Mister O was staring at him, gauging his reaction.

"No." He repeated. There was still pain in there, but it was undercut by resolve. It was a 'no' that said that whatever was happening, whatever he believed, he would not let Sara come to any harm. He stepped in between her and Mister O, finally taking his eyes from her unconscious form. The drama of the moment was rather unfortunately ruined by the fact that a third person chose this moment to clear her throat. A woman stood in the doorway, her head shaved, the lower half of her face obscured by a bandana, a pair of studs in her left eyebrow. She wore a camo vest, a pale leather jacket, torn and stained denim jeans and fingerless gloves. In her hand a crossbow, though it hung limply by her side rather than being aimed at either of the inhabitants of the Traveller's Rest.

"'Sup?" she asked. Her sudden arrival caught them both off guard. Though Mister O would later reflect that it wouldn't make sense to have a television channel with no people whatsoever, he had at that point been expecting that it was populated with nothing but zombies.

Darren used the momentary distraction to pull away Sara's covers and lift her from her bed. It was probably adrenaline that allowed him to lift her without trouble. He didn't wait for Mister O's reaction, which was not likely to be favourable. He just ran, not knowing, not thinking of where he was going or what he would do when he got there. All he knew was that he had to get her away from Mister O. He couldn't go outside. Not with the zombies. He just ran. Down the corridors, his heart pounding, his heavy footfalls echoing through the hotel. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was running through the

It was everywhere, an assault upon his senses.

It blinded him.

It deafened him.

It scratched along his skin, suffocating him.

Sara seemed to be melting away.

He screwed his eyes shut,

gritted his teeth

and gripped her tighter.

And then he was somewhere else entirely. It was recognisably a hospital waiting room. One of those where there is a row of seats and a television mounted on the wall. It was the kind of waiting room that seemed to imply you would be doing a lot of waiting. Darren was not sure what had just happened, but he was not about to question whatever twist of fate had brought him here; somewhere he could find treatment for Sara. He carried her over to the hospital desk, with little heed that the television had began to broadcast static.


In the kitchen of the Traveller's Rest the picture cleared and was showing some kind of confusing news spaceship, but Mister O was not there to witness this. Whatever irritation he might have felt about the incident with Sara and Darren, it was gone now. He was talking to the newcomer, a scout for a party of survivors who had been looking for somewhere defensible to spend the night. He smiled.

[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 TimeothyHour.

Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

"So, let me get this straight. You want me to carry this crate?" Freefall motioned towards the container in question, an exceptionally large cargo container that was likely to only just barely be within Freefall's lifting capacity.


"...Why, exactly, am I doing this?"

Kriok paused for a moment, her processors silently computing an answer that could be understood-- or at least, seemed believable enough. The avian didn't want to spend any more time than necessary with this psychopathic thug, and saddling her with extra weight would hopefully help the alien in losing her once they left this cargo bay-- maybe the police she was evading would catch up to her, or one of the other contestants. Even the undead abomination seemed safer-- he was clear-cut with his motivations, not this jumbled assortment of contradictory ideals.

"I am improvising a solution to the energy problem. The components in there can be converted into an energy collection grid and from there linked to a smaller reacto--"

"Yeah, yeah. Look, that science crap is good and all, but maybe instead of doing whatever the hell it is you're planning, you could just fix my communicator. It uses quantum entangle-whatever, 's bound to be better than whatever it is you've got planned." She held out the device, extending it to Kriok.

While Kriok was more than happy to enumerate to Freefall the myriad ways in which her proposal was flawed, exercising restraint around her was more likely to achieve results. She examined the communicator, rotating it around and removing its hardened plastic casing. True to what Freefall said, there was the hardware necessary to recieve and transmit quantum signals-- working alongside primitive silicon processors. She re-sealed the communicator, returning it to its casing.


"It's not going to work, not without significant alterations. I can modulate it to theoretically work between universes, but--"

"But that'd require a lot of juice. Great." Freefall leaned against one of the crates, an enormous shipping container. She folded her arms, watching the avian.

"Hang on, just why can't you set up the energy thingy here? It can't take that long. You do that, I call my team, we all go home. Isn't that way simpler?"

Kriok did not approve of this idea, but stopped herself from decrying it. If Freefall's team bore any similarity to the hero-- which, in absence of prevalent data to suggest otherwise, seemed to be the case-- then bringing in however many other violent cutthroats was something to avoid.

"No. I'm not bringing your team into this." Her refusal was unambiguously blunt.

Freefall tilted her head at Kriok's refusal. Evidently, some coercion would be needed to sway the alien.

"Well then, I guess we'll be here for a while, seeing as I'm the only one with enough strength to open up the exit. 'Course, you know, helping out sure would make things go a bit faster."

It wasn't exactly the smoothest threat, nor the best way to secure a long-lasting alliance, Freefall noted to herself, but she needed some way of getting what she was after. She liked to think that she'd picked up something from overhearing Ace's business agreements and meetings. Hopefully, the alien would pick up that her cooperation wasn't something in question.

Kriok didn't deem Freefall's threat as being worth a response, and instead went back to managing her fabricator's subsystems. Her plan had been to store important materials in some usable form, then convert them into another component when she had acquired a more permanent stronghold. Freefall's ultimatum gave her an exceptionally strong idea as to just what it was she would store the components as.

She grabbed a few more of the bulky ship components, shoving them into the fabricator's operating area. Her mind pulled up the automated processes for managing the fabricator, loaded a blueprint, and began to work. Kriok watched as the machinery pulled the components apart, rapidly picking apart individual atoms while simultaneously working to reconstitute them into her new tool. As it finished, she pulled out the tool-- a bulky, squat device that resembled something of a cross between several construction tools and a particle accelerator. She grabbed the power cell from her thigh satchel, inelegantly slotting it into the device.

Freefall stopped leaning against the wall, suddenly taking note of Kriok's new acquisition. "Uh, what are you doing? What did you just make?"

"A kinetic booster device, stripped of relevant safeties." The comment was given without much regard as Kriok began an irate stride to the sealed door. She stopped, leveling the device and letting it begin its charge cycle.

"...The hell is stripped of relevant safeties supposed to me--"

The device discharged, firing a barely-visible blast of kinetic force towards the door. As the blast connected, the door strained to remain anchored, before finally giving up and disconnecting entirely and landing with a tremendous thud. Kriok surveyed the damage-- the broken hydraulics meant to control the door hissed and whined, and electrical wires needlessly connected to the door sparked with electricity. After briefly pausing to let the metaphorical dust-- that was one thing they had gotten right, Kriok remarked to herself, the vessel was completely sterile and lacked any grime-- settle, she continued her stride.

Freefall quickly followed-- she wasn't going to let Kriok get away when the avian could still help her out, and definitely wasn't going to let her get away with whatever that device is. "Hey, Kriok, settle down. Just what are you after here?"

Kriok's pace was only barely slowed by Freefall's question. "I'm retrieving whatever observational data this vessel has, then I'm leaving."

"Yeah, uh, it doesn't work like that, Kriok. You're probably going to find all of the televisions smashed or covered or static or whatever, can't leave until you have a final confrontation and beat up the leader."

"Yes, that seems to be a persistent point amongst your notions."

"The hell is that supposed to mean?"

Freefall waited for a response. When none seemed to be forthcoming, she took measures into her own hands and moved in front of Kriok, intercepting the alien.

"Okay, look, Kriok. If we want to get through this, you can't just run off doing whatever it is you're doing right now. If we split up one of us is going to get trapped or confronted, and maybe first couple of times the other one will come in at the right moment and bail the other out, but that doesn't work every time, okay? Look, can you just stick with me? I know what I'm doing here."

"...Have you ever considered basing your world view on something other than genre conventions?"

Freefall pointedly ignored the avian's comment. "...Is trust one of those things your species is incapable of? Like, just one of those things your mind can't handle?"

"It is not something I have much of to offer, not when my life is at risk."

"Yeah, well--"

"There they are!"

Despite the shuttles being packed solely with operatives of Copyright Central, somehow an intrepid reporter had managed to get aboard the vessel. In lieu of a cameraman, a floating drone accompanied him, modified to handle a multitude of cameras and other broadcasting equipment. As he walked towards the two, he flicked out a comb, straightening out his hair before returning the comb to one of his many pockets. He straightened his suit, and beamed his impeccable smile as he finished his approach.

"Wesley Cockburn, MediaPolitics News. I'm here today with two very special guests-- with me today are Freefall and Kriok. Freefall, what is your evaluation of the ESS Pyreness and the success of its five-year mission to root out piracy in this quadrant?"

While Freefall didn't exactly have the highest opinion of reporters-- the bastards tended to worm their way into anything and found any number of ways to make crime-fighting that much harder-- she was technically obligated to handle the press to the best of her ability. "Uh, our mission is goin--"

"We'll get back to that. Kriok, how does it feel to be the last of your species? What are your opinions of your status as a minority in the Earth Republic?"

Kriok scowled for a moment, then decided that her time would be better spent not pandering to this channel's inane demands. As the reporter waited for an answer, she left.

"A shocking testament to the truths of cultural conventions. Back to you, Freefall-- tell us about Admiral Huxley-- one of the most famous members of the Earth Republic Navy, our viewers will recall."

Freefall silently fumed, wishing that the conventions she had to obey had some statutes about punching out annoying journalists, and not having to pander to their every question.

As Freefall dealt with the journalist, Kriok kept walking, following the map she had downloaded to attempt to find what she was after. While she privately thought that the ship wouldn't have any worthwhile information, three encounters with the static was enough to risk trying to find something that would illuminate just what exactly was pursuing her.

Kriok stopped, having found the engineering section of the ship. The centralizing of an expansive part of the ship's function into a single room with no redundant back-ups and fail-safes was another poor design choice, but not one she was going to let herself be bothered by-- not when she had a clear objective.

She entered, immediately noting the wall-mounted television panel amongst the multitude of control panels. At one of the panels was one of the crew-members-- were it not for the grey skin crudely stretched over a robot chassis and the exposed robotic parts, he would look human.

"Crivvens, lass, ye shuid'nae be here. Not when thare out lookin' fer ye. Weren't fer me programming, I'd hae ta be oot thare meself."

"...Did they also deliberately program a separate lexicon?"

"Aye, but that isna the short o' it." The android, rather than fully answering Kriok's question, instead moved on to its own predicament, pulling up several holographic illustrations and diagnostics.

"Y'see, after thaim stotious louts barged 'n an wrecked the airt, we hae been on a collision course wi the nebula-- an thanks ta those bloomin idiots, I dinnae hae access ta the impulse engines."

Kriok made an exaggerated display of exasperation. While the technical challenge the android had proposed was nothing she would have any difficulty with-- and she was more than happy to be engaged in something unrelated to struggling to stay alive-- it felt demeaning. She examined the diagnostics, her partitioned processors analyzing each read-out.

"Have you attempted a manual course adjustment?"

"Whit, ye want me ta eyeball i--"

"Are you implying that you don't have enough processing capacity for that task?"

"...Ye ken, I cuid utilize a reciprocating harmonic effect ta neutralize the vessel's trajectory..."

Kriok was dumb-founded by the utter nonsense the android had just spewed. "Or you could bypass that entirely and just modify the controls here to act as a direct interface, adjusting course that way."

"Leuk, all I need ta do is properly modulate this an we'll--"

The engineer's thought was cut short by a pistol round, leaving the android's head a barely-recognizable collection of circuits and wiring. Another shot smashed into the television panel, ruining Kriok's chance of an expeditious retreat.

"Hello again, Kriok."

Kriok stared back at Winston, watching him angle around the room, his retinue of riot police menacingly blocking the exits.

"It's been a while, hasn't it? You've had a lot of time to go off on your own, to cavort with locals, to avoid judgment for your crime. You thought you could murder my partner and get away with it, didn't you?"

"I was presented with no other option."

"Oh, sure, so you immediately jump to fighting your way out. No negotiation, no explanation of how you got here, just cutting to the chase and impaling a spike in a man's chest cavity."

Winston took Kriok's silence as a lack of a response, and continued his monologue.

"I learned a lot about you while you were gone, Kriok. The capabilities of your technology-- your arm in particular is quite impressive. Not to mention that you're
the last of your kind-- there won't be anyone who will miss you, Kriok."

Kriok took note of the tonal shift, reflexively tightening her grip on the kinetic booster device.

"Do you know what we're going to do, Kriok? Do you know what I'm going to do to you for killing my partner? I'm going to find out just how all that technology works-- your arm, the power core on your back, your mechanical organs. We'll dissect you piece by piece, leave you with nothing but that computer core you call a brain, let you compute digits of pi or whatever it is you abominations do."

"Death is too good for you, Kriok. You'll be with us for a lon--hurk

Freefall's fist slammed into Agent Winston, her soaring jump into the room having worked as well as she hoped. His retinue opened fire, spraying her with an ineffective fusillade of bullets that harmlessly plinked off of her dense body. As they struggled to reload, she leapt back, elbowing both of them and crashing them against the wall they stood by.

"Ha, love it when you catch 'em monologuing. Nothing quite like popping a guy as they stroke their ego. Anyway, Kriok, this is exactly what I meant about splitting. You got damn lucky that I wriggled out of dealing with that report-- you're not listening to me, are you."

The avian, rather than responding, chose to drag Winston's body, propping him against a wall.

Freefall realized a half-second too late what Kriok was doing, just as the pulse of kinetic energy smashed against the agent. She blinked. Winston's body was thoroughly pulverized.

"You... killed him. After I specifically told you not to kill anyone."

"He was a threat."

"Damnit, Crackbird!" Freefall slammed a fist against a control panel, intentionally adding some dramatic emphasis. "It doesn't matter if he's a goddamn giant space caterpillar, you don't just kill someone!"

"I don't think you understand something."

"Oh? What don't I get?"

"That my concern is survival. I will do whatever it takes to make sure I get through this alive. I'm not going to let universes full of cheering onlookers revel in my death. I will get through this alive, and if that means killing to remove a threat, so be it. But I am not going to put myself in unnecessary danger for no reason, as you seem to do."

"Ha, well, we'll see how long that lasts, Kriok. Because the next time you get ambushed like this, you're on your own."

Kriok smirked, as best she could with a face partially constructed out of metal. "And, tell me, how do you plan to fix your communicator? How, exactly, do you plan to adapt to changing environments? What happens when your plan falls apart? You seem to be assuming that I'm the one dependent on your help."

"Sure, if you call walking into an ambush like a chump not needing my help. Face it, Kriok, if you want to make it through this you're gonna have to listen to m--"

The argument between the two stopped as one of the doors whirred open.

"Oh, good, I found the two of you! Listen, we need to get out of here, the ship's been taken over and they're looking for you. They've got the entire crew searching for you, not to mention all of the soldiers that on board."

"I see no point in staying further." Kriok responded.

Freefall clenched her fist. "Alright, let's scram. But don't think you're off the hook, Kriok."

Maria smiled, glad to have found both of them. "Alright, I saw a television on this level, let's get out of here. She began to leave, with both the alien and Freefall following her-- Maria tried not to notice the occasional scowls and glares they gave each other, that would have to wait.


Numerous security personnel filled one end of the hallway, pointing an assortment of weapons at the three contestants.

"By order of Copyright Central, you are under arrest for copyright infringement. Put down your equipment and surrender, or we will open fire."

"Yo, dorks! Your dumb copyright stuff? As if!"

The security on-board the ESS Pyreness were trained for any number of situations: negative space anomalies, boarding parties, teleporter malfunctions; whatever the situation was, they had at least had some experience with it.

However, they had never expected anthropomorphic spider women to careen out of a room, mounted on skateboards and zooming towards them. The spiders almost immediately collided with the line formed by the security teams, their robotic carapaces gleaming as the animated creatures began to fight.

"Juliet, get these dudettes out of here!"

Freefall had managed to extricate herself in the initial chaos, and could only watch as both Maria and Kriok were grabbed by one of the spiders and hurled into a television-- one broadcasting an old, Eighties-era cartoon.

As Kriok sailed towards the portal, she could only wonder just how else this universe could be more impossible.
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

A Federal Reserve
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.


Alaster couldn’t agree more with Tschichold at this moment in time. The zombiefied man, who was apparently called Blake judging by the screams of the painter in the back seat, was terrible at driving. The painter was terrible at giving constructive advice, preferring to scream at everybody about how ugly they were. And Timothy was terrible at doing what he was told.

“How are we going so fast?”

“Keep Your Head Down, Please.”

Tim struggled against his sickness, but he was eight and wasn’t very good at it. And oh, lovely, now the stoners in the back had woken up and were screaming in awful, high-pitched tones. They were the WORST duet, and Tschichold had no qualms about telling them so.

Alaster was getting wound up, and not just because it was made of clockwork. It was in a strange place, surrounded by people that either wanted to hurt Timothy or inhale toxic substances. It hadn’t found the time to repair the damage that woman had done either, and the occasional grrrrrg noise punctuating the ticks wasn’t sounding healthy. And now it had put its charge in a fast-moving vehicle being driven by a man affected by hallucinogenic substances.

The list of problems was so long, it endangered several species of tree.


There was the sound of paint splattering, and the stoner’s screams quickly ceased. Well, that was one problem taken care of. Now to try and deal with the other ones.

Alaster turned to Blake, who was slapping at the wheel with joyful abandon.

“You Are A Terrible Driver. Give Me The Wheel.”

But Blake did not want to give the strange suit the wheel. Blake was having a lot of fun with all the colours running by and the loud noises, and he did not want to give up those experiences. The suit was trying to take the joy from his life! The zombie-man clutched possessively at the wheel and snarled at Alaster. Maybe it would go away in a bit, and then he could go back to having fun.

Tschichold laughed snidely.

“Oh, great,” he said to Alaster. “You want to drive? What makes you think you’d be any better at driving this hunk of crap?”

“The Fact That I Have Two Working Eyes.”

“…Oh, no, you DIDN’T! And anyway, just because I have the one glowing eye, doesn’t mean -”

Blake ignored the argument. The silly shapes were being stupid and not providing the explosions of unicorns and stationary that they had been doing a while ago. In fact, the colours were fading away rather quickly. Blake wondered if they had someplace to be. Hold on, that was an asinine thought, colours didn’t GO anywhere. Where was HE, in fact? He hadn’t exactly MOVED, had he? He was still in the car…

As a rapidly sobering Blake tried to drive on, the other two argued.

“- and you’re a baroque piece of shit!”

“That Doesn’t Have Anything To Do With Our Current Situation.”

“Alaster, what does shi-“

“You Will Find Out When You Are Older.”

“I MEAN, how the hell would YOU drive this thing? HE can’t drive! He’s never been able to drive! That was the WORST channel! And YOU can’t drive because you’re all from the dark ages except with magic spells and half-dressed elves and skulls on things! I HATE skulls! Skulls are a terrible design choice! So, what I’m saying is, I should drive!”

“We Have No Guarantee You Would Comply With Our Demands.”

“That’s right! I’d drive right on out of this awful channel! Or into a ditch! Or ANYTHING! I’m already sick of this place and I haven’t even BEEN here that long!”

“I Would Like To Remind You That I Have A Large Sword And I Can Lift Two Hundred Pounds In Weight.”

“What, you’d FORCE me? Hah! That’s rich! Fuck you, man! In fact, just because I feel like saying this…”

Tschichold, at the height of a fume-induced migraine and at the end of his temper, leaned forward dangerously.

“FUCK YOOOOOUUUU-” he began.

Blake noticed the police blockade, and hit the brakes. Gravity responded by slamming everybody back into their seats as the car’s brakes wailed to please, make the pain end. A few more metaphors later, the car eventually coughed and stalled, rolling to a halt a short distance from the barricade. The occupants stared at the row of black and white vehicles with apprehension.

After some time, the fattest cop any of the three had ever seen walked up. The rest of him took a while to follow, but it got there. His piggish eyes stared at the occupants, trying to work out which racial stereotypes these people slotted into. The guy in the suit of armour was Mexican, clearly.

“What the hell is going on here?” the cop demanded. He sniffed the air.

“And what is that smell?” he added.

An awkward pause.

“We Are Trying To Reach The Hospital,” said Alaster, slowly. “My… Son Is Ill.”

Alaster hadn’t lied before, and all things considered that was a pretty good one.
Tschich, however, was having some trouble.

“It, um…” The painter’s gaze flicked to the others, but help wasn’t forthcoming. Oh, to hell with it then.

“It’s me,” he admitted. “It’s me. I thought it was decriminalized. To be honest with you, I have horrible anorexia and it helps my appetite. I'm so sorry.”

The fat cop seemed to accept this for the moment. He moved on to Blake, who was rocking back and forth in an attempt to get himself together. His already narrow eyes narrowed even further.

“What’s wrong with him?”

This didn’t get a response. The fat cop took this as his cue to walk around the car and grab Blake by the back of his cloak, breaking several rules of police operation, personal space and common sense. He turned Blake’s head to look at the zombie’s face, and saw the glowing red eyes. For a moment, the cop had trouble putting two and two together (his back-story added that he’d had trouble with that at school as well), but then his face twisted.

“Lemme tell you something, buster,” he growled, pulling out a pair of handcuffs, “weed is NOT decriminalized in this state, and this guy’s eyes are redder than the devil’s dick! You’re busted!”

“This Is A Terrible Mistake,” tried Alaster.

“Hell no it ain’t! You’re off to county jail, you dirty-” and here the cop said a word that should not be repeated in front of children or, indeed, anyone with good taste. Neither Alaster, Timothy nor Blake knew what it meant, but Tschich did. And Tschic was at the end of his tether.

“Okay. I’ve had enough.”

Before the cop could respond, Tschich darted forward and smeared a few layers of paint across his target’s face. It was a highly unpleasant experience for both sides, but it worked out for both of them in the end – an obstacle was removed for Tschich, and the cop was sent to Happy Rainbow Land.

Timothy giggled as the cop, sitting on the side of the road, began to sing a nursery rhyme.

“He’s funny,” he said, and then coughed weakly.

There was a rising growl from the driver’s seat. Blake had sobered up, and was very angry about pretty much everything that had happened so far. How DARE that painter make him lose his senses? When Ablendan got hold of him, he was going to start with his HANDS, and then pull his lungs out, and then maybe rip that glowing eye out of its socket! And THEN –

Alaster and Tschichold looked at each other briefly.

Another splat of paint later, and Blake’s thoughts of revenge were replaced with Technicolor snails.

“Thank You.”

“You’re welcome,” said Tschich, more on reflex than anything. He looked at the two stoners in the back seat.

“Are we keeping those guys or what?” he asked. “I mean, they’re AWFUL to listen to, and thir fashion sense is appaling...”

“No. They Are An Unnecessary Load. Leave Them With The Law Enforcement."

Law enforcement. Cop. Cops.

Oh dear. Tschich knew he had forgotten something. He looked up and saw, not to his great surprise, more portly cops tumbling or pushing their way out of the other vehicles, like caterpillars abandoning the chrysalis. They didn’t look too happy about the fact that their partner was an incoherent, burbling mess at the side of the road.

“I’ll drive,” he offered.

“Okay,” responded Alaster.


A few minutes later, the car screamed down the road again, pursued by a fleet of police cars.


About an hour of in-channel time later, a battered, roofless sedan, splattered with mud and dirt, pulled slowly into the hospital parking bay.

Tschichold switched off the engine and removed the chicken from his head.

“Let’s never do that again,” he offered.

Alaster wiped some mud off its pauldrons, and then picked up one of the t-shirts they had acquired from a washing line somewhere and wrapped a shivering Timothy in it.

“Agreed,” it added.

Blake snored in the back seat.
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

“You really expect me to call you Mister O?” She had said her name was Saint. At the moment she was perched upon the countertop in the kitchen. She’d removed the bandana that had previously been covering her mouth, to reveal a stud in her lip in addition to the other piercings she sported. She said the bandana was to block any stray globs of blood that might come flying her way during a zombie fracas. Her crossbow lay on the table next to her and in her hands a cup of tea. She fished in a pocket, produced a flask and poured a little of its contents into the drink. “This is genuinely what other people call you?”

“Yes.” Mister O replied. It was too late in the day for her to risk heading back to her camp now. She said she’d sleep here tonight and go get the others in the morning. This suited him just fine.

“Bullshit.” Saint retorted. “I’m not calling you Mister anything. What’s your real name? Oliver…?” she had to think for a minute before she could come up with any other names beginning with O, “Owen?”

“Yeah you got me.” Mister O said with a frown. “My name is Owen, mystery solved.”

“Hah, yeah right.” Saint replied gulping down her hot tea. “No, really Mystery Man. What’s your real name?” she paused thoughtfully “Is it Oswald? I could totally understand not wanting to admit that.” Mister O declined to respond and the pair lapsed into an awkward silence. “Okay, fine.” Saint said, sliding from the countertop. “If you don’t want to say then I guess it is none of my business. I have a better question for you anyway.” She walked past the hotelier and the miraculously working television and through the door into the dining room/living area. Mister O followed her with a certain weariness that suggested perhaps he would have been happier had Saint headed back to collect the other survivors.

“So, ‘Owen’,” Saint shot Mister O a sly smile, “what was up with that guy?” She knelt down beside the bed where Sara had been sleeping when she had arrived and pushed over one of the empty bottles that Darren had left next to it. She turned back to Mister O. “This isn’t another sore subject is it?” she asked.

“No.” Mister O replied hesitantly. “There was something wrong with Darren’s girlfriend. I was prepared to take whatever steps were necessary to eliminate the problem but he was not.”

“Oh.” Saint said. “Oh right I see. Zombies are a fucking pain, right?” she paused. “Should have never let him get attached to her. Blow her brains out soon as she got bit, he probably won’t appreciate it all that much at the time but later on when he’s still alive thanks to you I’m pretty sure he’d see you were doing what was for the best, right?”

“It wasn’t exactly like that.” Mister O mused. “But it’s close enough.” Saint straightened up and walked back over to where Mister O stood near the doorway.

“What is your story Mystery Man?” she asked. “And don’t give me that Owen bullshit. I think you have an interesting story to tell me.”

“I’m just a simple hotelier thrust into a difficult situation.” Mister O said innocently.

“Yeah, well we’ll see won’t we?” Saint asked with a smile.


It all happened very quickly. One minute Maria had been strolling through the clanking steel corridors of the ESS Pyreness with Kriok and Freefall following her like a pair of sullen teenagers, the next she was sprawled out on the pavement. The preceding minute or so had rushed past so quickly she could scarcely comprehend it. She attempted to climb to her feet, an act that took a couple of goes and help from Juliet, the robot spider woman who had pulled them from the Pyreness, before she managed to do so. Even then she felt awkward and unsteady and had to reach out and rest an arm on Kriok’s shoulder for balance. They were on a street corner of a seemingly empty city. Behind them the shattered remains of an electronics store where a couple of televisions still functioned; they were bulky things with rabbit ear antennae. Dark shapes moved through the striking red sunset sky; zeppelins emblazoned with the © logo and massive searchlights shining down onto the city below them. Maria glanced from Kriok to Juliet to notice she was the focus of their attention and their furrowed brows.

“What?” she asked, withdrawing her arm from Kriok’s shoulder in case this had been some kind of breach of nerrin etiquette. Kriok looked at her as if the reason for her dumbfoundedness ought to be self evident, but when it was clear that it was not she spat it out.

“You’re a robot spider woman now?” she asked. Saying it out loud she felt kind of silly, it really was self evident, yet Maria didn’t seem to have noticed. The receptionist frowned.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maria asked. It was at this point that Juliet who had also been confused by this development, turned her attention elsewhere, to the zeppelins moving overhead.

“Yo girls,” Juliet interjected, “really think you should save this for laters. Stand out here much longer we’re gonna have to throw down with the pigs.”

“…What.” Kriok said. It was not really a question, Juliet was already out of earshot scuttling away down the street, sticking as close to the walls as possible. Kriok started after her and paused when she heard the sound of a large pile of metal crashing to the ground.

“Ouch.” Maria said from where she lay sprawled out across the road. “Umm… a little help?”

Kriok hesitated for a second, and then darted back to Maria’s side and helped her up. The most confusing thing about her transformation, Kriok reflected as they hurried after Juliet, was not the transformation itself; Kriok had encountered plenty of ridiculous things since her abduction. It was the blasé, ‘it’s not even really a thing’ attitude that Maria seemed to have about it. Okay she thought, fine, whatever. If you don’t have a problem with bizarre transformations then what do I care?

They caught up with Juliet as she was prying open a manhole, and one by one they climbed down into the absurdly spacious and remarkably clean sewer below. Maria had a tough time of it and made more than a couple of comments about ‘how strange it was she was having trouble with her legs and she had no idea why’. A grated over and far too narrow channel of sewage ran through the middle of the tunnel. It didn’t even smell down here, not that the pair of mechanical arachnids would have noticed anyway.

“I would like an explanation to precisely what is going on here.” Kriok said as they made their way through the sewer tunnels. Her manner was straightforward, matter of fact; a simple and quite reasonable request to be filled in on what exactly was going on.

“Chill out girl.” Juliet replied. “When we get to the HQ Master Fragment will give you the DL on all this whole crazy thing.”

“Master Fragment?” Maria asked.

“He’s the dude who built us.” Juliet said, shooting Maria, or perhaps more specifically, Maria’s new shape, an apprehensive gaze. The rest of the journey, five or ten minutes of trudging through seemingly identical tunnels, was conducted in as near silence as makes no odds. Eventually the sound of muted conversation drifted down the tunnels and up ahead they could see the shape of a barricade, manned by another spider woman who gave Maria a strange look as they passed through. Beyond the barricade an effort had been made to make the tunnel look more homey; garishly coloured leather furniture, chintzy lamps and a tacky plastic dining table upon which there was a pizza box containing a couple of slices of steaming hot pizza and an entire stack of empty boxes.

The room was rather surprisingly busy, not at all suiting whatever expectations Kriok or Maria might have had for the place. People stood in small groups around the room chatting amongst themselves, and besides Maria, Juliet and the one who was guarding the barricade there were no more spider women. Each individual group tended to look like they belonged together; they were dressed similarly, of the same species in non-human cases, or had the same animation style/lack of animation. Sat upon the couch smoking a cigar and looking generally unsatisfied with his lot in life was a bulky businessman in a purple suit. Where his face ought to have been there was a bulbous wisteria jellyfish hood. When he noticed Maria looking his way he sneered and shifted his body, as though he had suddenly found something very interesting to look at on the opposite wall. Sat next to him was an old man, a cyborg with long grey hair, a little wispy beard and a kimono. He clapped him on the shoulder and then stood at Juliet’s approach.

“Master Fragment,” Juliet said, “these people are from the channel that is under attack.” The cyborg looked Maria and Kriok up and down, frowned for a moment and then shrugged.

“Greetings.” He said; his voice was low and raspy. “Pardon my rudeness, I had not realised the channel you were from was so alike to our own. I am Master Fragment, but you can just call me Fragment. You have already met Juliet and Cleopatra,” he indicated the spider lady guarding the entrance, “the man with the head of a jellyfish is Patrick Passendale, and the rest of them I find it difficult to remember all of their names.”

“I’m Maria and this is Kriok.” She made the introductions for both of them as Kriok frowned impatiently. “We aren’t from that channel actually.”

“Regardless, you are part of this conflict now.” Fragment replied. “You have seen what the ‘Copyright Police’ are capable of in their petty desire to quash a person’s creative freedoms. Those who are not one hundred percent original will find their world torn to pieces by them for a supposed crime inherent in how they were created. You see Passendale over there? At one point our only purpose in this world was to battle his forces on a weekly basis, putting an end to whatever his latest insane scheme might have been. Then we both learned about the forces of the copyright police and our history was put aside. I am sure that if he believed he could negotiate a deal with those heartless swine he would do so, but as he cannot we work together.”

“Doing what exactly?” Kriok asked.

“Evacuating those under assault by the copyright police.” Fragment said simply. “Providing a safe haven in which those persecuted do not need to fear their wrath.”

“This does not seem very safe.” Kriok replied. “I saw copyright zeppelins searching the city above.”

“Safety is relative.” He replied. “Our channel is ‘legally different’. They cannot take such drastic action as they would against other channels, and as long as we are fighting against ‘the man’ we are safe from the static.”

Kriok looked thoughtful for a moment. This channel, featuring mechanical spiders who communicated solely in some bizarre alternate vernacular, strangely seemed to be about the most sensible place she had been so far; nobody seemed to have any expectations of her and she was not being constantly taunted by static apparitions. “Fine,” she said, “good luck with that.” Kriok looked ready to make her excuses and head off for a little alone time, when Juliet piped up:

“Master Fragment,” there was a sudden edge of urgency in her voice, “the situ in Galaxy Guardians… it’s pretty damn brutal. It’s like a freakin’ bacon factory, we just can’t deal.”

Fragment stroked his beard thoughtfully and with a solemn air to his voice he asked: “Can either of you hold your own in a fight?”

“I’ve never really been in a fight…” Maria said thoughtfully. Though she did not vocalise the thought, the way she trailed off made it clear she thought Kriok could handle herself. Fragment pounced upon this implication before Kriok could refute it.

“Thank you.” He said. “I hate to have to ask such a question, but these are desperate times; we are fighting a war we have no hope of winning, one in which we are fighting to survive. Every competent fighter is a precious resource, one we cannot afford to squander.”


The hospital receptionist was a massively overweight woman with scraggly black hair and an enormous wart upon the bridge of her nose. She was the kind of character designed only to make things difficult for the protagonists, to be overly rude and obnoxious in order to provoke an ever more frustrated (and hilarious) reaction from the protagonists. Darren was almost immediately aware of this from the way she sat; her feet up on the hospital desk, her face buried in a tabloid newspaper, but even with the information that she was a roadblock designed to raise his hackles he could not help but get angry. She infuriatingly ignored Darren’s attempts to get her attention, eventually culminating in him shoving her feet from their resting place, at which point it became apparent she could no longer ignore him.

“What is it?” Her voice was a masterclass in condescension.

“My friend,” Darren pointed to the chair in which he had rested the unconscious body of Sara, “has been unconscious for an entire week. I’m really worried about her.” This was met with a stony glare and an uncomfortable silence. After a good half a minute with no response whatsoever, the receptionist shoved a sheaf of forms and a pen across the desk, grunted, and returned to her newspaper. “Excuse me.” Darren’s attempt to get the woman’s attention fell upon deaf ears. He was almost at the point of vaulting the desk and throttling her till she acknowledged his existence when she spoke to him again.

“Fill in the forms sir.” she said rather pointedly. Darren gave in. He snatched up the forms and the pen (which was leaking and quickly covered his hand in ink) and stamped back across the lobby to where Sara still slept. He was in the process of filling in the incredibly in-depth form when the automatic doors slid open. In strode a mechanical man carrying a child cradled in one arm and hauling a jet black humanoid by the wrist with its other. A trail of rainbow paints splattered across the floor where Tschichold’s feet scrabbled for purchase against the clockwork knight.

“Let go of me!” He demanded. “This hospital is hideous. I need to fix it!”

The shouts made Darren look up from the forms, where he was presently filling in Sara’s favourite colour; blue. He recognised the pair immediately. In his panic to try to save Sara he’d almost forgotten that he was in a battle, the fact had just at some point became irrelevant. Seeing them again brought it into sharp focus. These two would probably not hesitate to kill him, and not just him, Sara as well. As much as he would have liked to stand up to either of them and protect Sara, he reckoned it was probably a much more realistic option to get the hell out of there. As he got to his feet he glanced around at an apathetic waiting room filled with patients who were not even acknowledging the existence of the knight or the painter. It took him a moment to realise that they were not people so to speak, they were hazy and indistinct; they were just extras.

“Excuse Me.” Alaster tried to attract the attention of the obnoxious receptionist as Tschichold huffily smeared the armour with bright orange paint. “Hello? Excuse Me…” It stooped to read her name tag, “Jacqueline.” Alaster reached over the desk, grasped the newspaper from Jacqueline’s hands and ripped it away. She was left holding a collection of torn strips of paper and wearing a quite different expression from the one she had with Darren. Alaster had very clearly gotten her attention. “Ah. Hello There Jacqueline. My Son Requires Urgent Medical Attention. He Inhaled Fumes From This Individual.” Alaster shook Tschichold and dragged him in front of the desk as if presenting him for the receptionist’s consideration.

There was a long moment of silence, even Tschichold stopped demanding his release to stare at the receptionist, his face screwed up in distaste. Paint dripped from his free hand which he held up in between him and Jacqueline.
Purple. Red. Blue. Orange. Yellow. Pink. He cycled through colour after colour before eventually letting his hand drop having concluded there was likely no colour that could be applied to this woman to make her aesthetically pleasing. “Oh god!” He yelped. “You are hideous!” With that the spell was broken. Jacqueline shoved a sheaf of forms and a pen across the table, grunted and returned her attention to the strips of torn paper, desperate not to really acknowledge what was going on.

Alaster released Tschichold, who no longer being anchored by the weight of the guardian, stumbled and slammed into one of the large glass windows, leaving behind goopy blue handprints. Tschichold peeled himself from the window, wheeled around upon Alaster, raised a chiding finger and said:
“YOU… are not a very nice person!” That being said he spun upon his heel and strode back outside to where he had been repainting a particularly unsightly mural before Alaster had dragged him in here.

Alaster grabbed the sheaf of forms with its free hand and lifted them to its face. He scanned a couple of lines and then tossed it unceremoniously over its shoulder.
“My Son Requires Urgent Medical Attention Now.” It announced. “Hello? Jacqueline?” Alaster reached over, grabbed the receptionist by the collar and lifted her into the air. “Perhaps I Did Not Make Myself Clear. My Son Requires Urgent Medical Attention.”

Darren was stood staring at the spectacle that was unfolding before him. Sara had at Darren’s clumsy inattentive manipulations, slipped from the uncomfortable hospital chair. He couldn’t help but notice that while Alaster and Tschichold were not exactly getting along they were hardly behaving like enemies. Perhaps, he reflected, some kind of understanding had been reached. Darren figured if he was forced to be here and he didn’t want to kill the others maybe at least a couple of them felt the same. Plus they wanted to kill the inn, whatever that meant, and he was not in the inn. If he had his way he wouldn’t even be returning there. It couldn’t hurt could it? Darren bent down and lifted Sara from where she lay sprawled half in and half out of the plastic hospital seat.

“Okay.” Jacqueline croaked. “Fumes wasn’t it? Let me call a doctor.” Her arms flailed for the intercom on her desk but could not reach. “If you could just put me down…” Alaster reluctantly lowered the receptionist to her feet and she quickly snatched up the intercom and requested that a doctor head down to the accident and emergency waiting room rather urgently. Jacqueline gasped for breath now freed from the guardian’s grip. “If…” she coughed, “If you could get the other guy that would probably be a good idea.” Alaster turned and strode back out of the automatic doors after Tschichold, leaving Jacqueline to notice Darren and Sara. He’d approached the desk while Alaster was still menacing Jacqueline but hadn’t really felt the need to draw their attentions at that point.

“Hello.” Darren said brightly. “I was wondering if you could get someone to take a look at Sara here.” Jacqueline scowled at him briefly and then Alaster was dragging Tschichold back through the door.

“Noooooooo!” He cried. “I was almost done! It was almost perfect!” Alaster ignored him, its attention now focused on Darren.

“Are You The Doctor?” It asked. “My Son Requires Urgent Medical Attention.”

“No,” said Darren, “The name’s Darren. I’m with the Inn, or I was with the Inn. We’re both stuck in this battle to the death. I thought we could come to some agreement to help one another.”

“At The Moment The Priority Is To Find Medical Attention For Timothy.” Alaster replied as if this dismissed all matters that did not relate to Timothy seeing a doctor.

“Yeah that’s what I mean.” Darren insisted. “My friend Sara needs help as well, but this woman is being very difficult.” There was a pause as Alaster looked down at Darren and Sara.

“Fine.” It replied eventually, it turned and addressed Jacqueline. “Help This Man As Well.” Jacqueline was already reaching for the intercom. She requested another doctor, and then as an afterthought she requested any doctor that was around but not really busy doing anything to get themselves down to the accident and emergency waiting room.

“What exactly are we talking about here?” The receptionist asked. “Did she trip and bang her head or what?”

“Well…” Darren was not sure how to start this sentence. “There was all this static, like it was consuming everything and she was just stood there staring into it, and then she collapsed and she hasn’t woken up since.” Jacqueline’s eyebrows shot up in alarm. She was suddenly reaching for a telephone and dialling 5-5-5.

“We’ve got a potential static infection.” She said. “The hospital in Stoner Comedy. Come quickly, she’s been infected for about a week.” Without so much as a glance at Alaster or Darren Jacqueline was suddenly vaulting her desk and dashing through the exit to the hospital. The sound of murmuring filled the reception and suddenly even the extras were fleeing for their lives; an indistinct crowd of people you’d be unable to identify if you saw them again were all but trampling one another in their urgency to leave. In the distance there was the squeal of alarms getting closer. Alaster glowered at Darren.

“What Have You Done?” It asked.


Dusk eventually fell upon the Traveller’s Rest. At some point the bulb had burnt out in the dining room and so Mister O had gone on the hunt for some candles, eventually locating an entire box full of them underneath the sink. Saint had took the initiative and made a meal for the both of them. Mister O had not been hungry and had said as much. Saint hadn’t seemed terribly insulted; in fact Mister O was beginning to doubt that she could be insulted. He’d attempted to be off-putting in the hope that she’d stop asking awkward questions but it seems the evasiveness had only made her more enthusiastic.

Mister O was stood in the kitchen flicking through the channels hoping to find some trace of Sara. He’d tried to shrug her off when she’d physically left the inn. He couldn’t do so entirely though, one little fact kept nagging at him, the fact that she was not exactly a physical problem. He gave each channel a cursory glance; after all there was no guarantee that she would be a main character in whatever channel she and Darren ended up in; she could just be in the background. But then by the same token of logic she might not appear on camera at all. He knew that trying to locate her like this was a futile endeavour. He needed some time to himself. Something he didn’t get.

Saint had tided up the dining room, or at the very least she had taken all the crap and shoved it somewhere where in the half light of the beautifully arranged candles he could not see it. There she lay on the mattress in the centre of the room, wearing one of the Traveller’s Rest maid uniforms and a wide smile. When asked exactly what she was doing she’d told him she thought he should loosen up. That they were the only people that were not dead for miles around, that this world was slowly dying and it would not be all that long before she was dead and he was dead and the whole damn world was dead. But she’d said they were alive tonight and they should make the best of it, have a little fun while there was still fun left to be had in the world. She’d guessed that he didn’t exactly indulge himself a lot.

He’d made his excuses and gotten out of there.

Saint tossed and turned on the uncomfortable mattress. The Mysterious Mister O had been pretty clear; he was not interested. He didn’t care for the idea of a night of passion, no matter how it was dressed up. Part of her would have liked to believe that he was just not a passionate person, but such thoughts were wishful thinking. She knew she was not to everyone’s tastes and she didn’t let it bother her. It was not like the rejection was keeping her awake; the too thin mattress upon the hard wood floor was taking care of that all on its own. ‘Owen’ had gone off to keep a look out, take first shift so to speak while she got some shut-eye, but this was not working.

Saint walked barefoot through the ground floor of the hotel, peering her head into each of the darkened empty rooms in her search for the Mystery Man. True to her expectations she could not find him anywhere. She opted to leave a note in the kitchen, scribbled down upon the first scrap of paper she could find. She went out into the lobby and up the stairs to the first floor. The hallway light flickered intermittently as the old bulb threatened to die on her. The ever present sound of groaning zombies was for once almost overpowered by the eerie howl of the wind. The air felt cold against her skin and her eyes felt heavy. She grabbed a door and pulled it open. Inside there would be a nice comfortable bed for a nice comfortable nights sleep.

The door slowly swung open upon the darkened room. Saint stopped dead. For a minute she stared into the blackness, her hand was ready and poised to flip the light switch on, but she was reticent to do so. The noise had thrown her, it was like her mind had been paralysed. She knew what she would see but for the moment didn’t know what that would mean, what that could mean. What that would say about Mister O. She’d thought him a harmless if secretive individual. Had she misjudged him? She clicked the lights on and there she saw what she knew she was going to see.

Two people asleep in a double bed. One of them was a girl with long blonde hair; lying next to her was a guy with short dark hair and pale skin.

She recognised them. Darren and Sara. She’d last seen them fleeing through the hotel. Mister O had said that they’d got out somehow, yet… here they were. Saint’s blood ran cold. What exactly was going on here?


[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 Agent1022.


“Infringers sighted.”

The corridor was a steel-plated prism, light spitting from harsh fluorescents and bouncing cruelly off its polished insides. Wizard, tanksaction and jellyfish stood, sat and swam at one end – facing the squad, twelvestrong, at the other. A ragtag sort, mismatch ruling both sets, both worlds.

<font color="#655575">Dead eyes met the aurumancer’s. Dead eyes, with their life and soul beaten from them long, long ago by legislation, revision – the Copyright Captain must have been someone, sometime, somewhere forever gone. “Squad…twenty-seven! Open fire!”


“My name is Aaron Abstract! I am alive! Now you’d want that to keep happening, wouldn’t you?!”

Bedlam as the pathomancy surged through their minds bitterly, like sand forcing its way through a sponge, tearing apart chains of logic and reasoned arguments like “who is this?!” and “what the hell is his life to me?!” and filling them with thoughts of pearls and glitter and shiny, snapping connections and sense like a child might snap a toothpick-

By gold…

Blithely, they followed down the hall, through lobbies and messes and canteens, following their golden idol with the silver tongue. Through the warzones, they fired at those who had been their compatriots, their colleagues, but were now just threats, endangering their Abstract, whom they had pledged to protect, protect with their worthless lives in exchange for his. Red shirts stained red as chaos flew in little bundles, exploding in lasing powers, in flitting, fleeting projectiles that ricocheted like spirochetes in helices, whorls and lethal shards. In the center Aaron screamed and laughed as death, pointless death claimed for him, for him, which only let him take more – more power!

Nizzo was reevaluating the world.

In the rocking waters of the lurching tank as it trundled, pummeled by laser and by shot, Nizzo tried to make sense of the noise and vibration that passed into his realm of understanding. There were a blur of noises around the beacon that was this-male-one-of-riches, and he saw other noises that were concentrated, there, there

Hunkered behind an overturned stack of crates, Aaron heard – directed his minions, their fire – there! Screams -

Another shot struck the tank, scoring cracks in its housing - Aaron! A little bailing out, if you would please! Strong arms pulled transaction and jellyfish behind the fortification as the ‘fwuup’ of lasers echoed overhead.

…Seconds passed like a million years, alternately compressed back down to seconds then drawn apart once more, like taffy stretched on rotating arms of causality and insanity…

And like a clock winding down, Aaron stopped. The firefight was dying, and so were the fighters. Exhausted, the survivors lay on the bloody ground, unable – or unwilling – to move.

“I did this! I…ahahaha…I did this!”

Idiot! Change swiveled madly on his useless treads, slick with blood and matted with death, pointing the cracked turret into Aaron’s face. They were assets! We could have used them, and you sent them all to their deaths! The barrel poked the aurumancer in the chest. Have you gone mad?!

For a broken, brilliant shrapnel shard of a second, Aaron seemed ready for a retort. “Y-”

Listen to me, Aaron! Listen to yourself! I don’t even know who’s more dangerous of an investment – the jellyfish; or you! The tank’s internal workings coughed and wheezed as Change abused them back and forth, then finally died, freezing the barrel mid-poke. And at the admonishment, Aaron froze as well-

A hand trailed along the wall, and came away bloody. Eyes widened as they surveilled the scene: resplendent with bodies – prone – charred – dead.

“I-I did this.”

Yes, Aaron, you did. The Transaction gathered himself, slowly – leaching a flurry of bills and coins from the pockets of the dead. His voice was cold, flat, almost absentmindedly – a complement to the death that surrounded them. You killed them.

A tear hit the bloodied floor with a splash, then another –</font>

A door at the far end of the mess hall blew open, interrupting the two. “Haltholy shit!” a redshirt managed to exclaim, before falling, twitching, to the ground -

“Threat level increased! Further restrain the infringer!” A corporal wrestled a taser from the woman they had with them – the dark blue suit marred here and there with burn marks – and attempted to tug her into the bloody room. <font color="#7474FF">Upon refusing to move, however, the Copyright Corporal opted to apply approximately 20,000 volts of electricity, temporarily rendering the captured infringer movable.

The one that had spoken – squad leader, with commandant’s stripes – produced and leveled an energy rifle at the human or humanoid individual in the blue-grey robe: positively identified as being a major infringer or collaborating thereof. He was going to take this opportunity to eliminate a threat that had played a large part in this mess to begin with-</font>

Freefall, on the other hand, took this opportunity to knock the taser out of the corporal’s hand, sending it skidding under a clump of bodies with a keening splut – following through with a punch to the commandant’s gun hand, leaping over the crates and landing in between the wizard and the squad. “All right…value…greed….money wizard. You a villain? Oh never mind, just lemme handle this! Come on, you copyright idiots! Open fire! Give me what you got!

The Copyright Commandant might have replied, reacted, might have begun to give the order of shooting to kill – had it not been for Change, slicing through the air lithe as a cobra in silence only broken by the commandant’s scream of pain, accompanied by the sound of the gun, and severed fingers, hitting the floor.

The rest of the squad might have acted, if half of them hadn’t been redshirts desperately looking for a way out of tromping with dead-eyed, soulless copyright cadets, and saw a golden opportunity to get on the winning side.

Slowly, Aaron stirred. He tried moving his hands weakly, and found them bound uncomfortable behind his back with cable ties. Around his sitting form were crates and metal plates seemingly repurposed as walls. It felt like a segregated portion of a larger space, such as the cargo hold, since that was exactly what is was. Nearby, in the top of an absolutely worthless plastic box, Change squirmed unhappily while casting seemingly baleful glares the box’s other occupant: Nizzo, swimming in the bottom with an oxygenator. And as he broached the beach of consciousness, he became aware that he was leaning on someone.

<font color="#7474FF">“Why the hell are all of you psychopaths?”

His head hurt, especially where he’d been whacked.

I like to protect my investments. A dead Aaron isn’t much use.

”That’s what I’m talking about! Assigning values to people like price tags…that’s psychopath stuff right there, and believe me I’ve beaten up psychopaths before-

He wetted his lips for a second – they tasted like blood – and parted them. “Um.”

Oh good, Aaron, you’re awake. No, don’t move, Miss Freefall’s got your hands tied to hers.

“Oh, it’s ‘Miss’ Freefall, is it? Come over here and say that!”

“Oh.” Aaron looked closely at the box; no wheels. “Um, how-”

“If Moneybags doesn’t shut up, I’ll goddamn find a way-”

The flurry of notes shifted a little, embarrassedly. We were captured.

“No duh-”

“That’s not good.”

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Finite months, I had not wrote
Oh god, I need to get my goat
Precious time, I must conserve
Thus, I must, shall do reserve
Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Thanks to the miracle of cars, the marauding police managed to get to places where heart aneurysm could not take them – namely the hospital. As the policeman tumbled out clown-car style, they saw the grand theft auto parked haphazardly near. A policeman waddled over and sniffed defiantly.

Those bastards did not even parallel park correctly!

Only then did he discover the sprawling form of Ablendan Blake. The policeman could not help but feel repulsed (but also racially superior) at the unconscious undead. What a troublesome Asian. Ginger. Whatever. The demonic servant’s desiccated flesh made it troublesome for the observing cop to pigeonhole an arbitrary ethnicity.

“Mangy mutts. They stay in trouble,” the policeman wheezed as he adjusted a pillowing fat roll. “but they can’t stay out.”

He decided to arrest this Clearly-A-Hispanic (such a filthy fly-ridden mongrel, like most Hispanics). His little friends were probably hiding in the hospital finagling with their meth lab –clearly. “We are going to need back-up,” the cop flapped his jowls at his radio.

“Lots and lots of backup.”


The shadow painter’s determination to eliminate all perceived ugliness on the hospital mural was strong as a million condensed suns. However, the clockwork knight’s grip was iron – well, actually steel and bronze reinforced with magic but regardless, Tschichold simply could not win against the mystical manhandling of Alaster he found himself in once again.

“Let me go, you Romanesque rickshaw. You Gothic cuntpuncher,” Tschichold snarled as his legs danced a tango on the paint-laden linoleum. “You Baroque piece of shit.” With that last word, Tschichold had a niggling realization that he was seriously running low on Alaster-themed insults. The epiphany made the artist freeze on feet.

“I’m so UNORIGINAL.” The relevation was too much for his already addled-mind, thus Tschichold broke down to tears and a puddle of melancholy blue. If mood swings were like roller coasters, then his was a drop tower – complete with sharks and flying bears.

Fortunately, the last insult fell on deaf ears - a merciful triumph for everyone’s good tastes. There was already too much on the plate for the contenders inside Stoner Comedy anyway as Alaster attempted to figure out what the hell was going on. The list of problems had already gotten to the point of mass deforestation. It was just that bad.

“I Said,” Alaster demanded. “What Have You Done.”

If Darren’s woes were a footnote to the list of problems, the result would cause a Precambrian Tree Extinction. The man was wary of the metallic behemoth of a guardian. However, as much as he wanted to know what have he had done, Darren said what he knew, “I have no idea. Seriously!”

“The Receptionist Had Called The Alarm As Soon As You Told Her,” Although its tone was a robotic monotone, the accusation was tangible to the man. “Something About A Static Infection. So I Say, What Have You Done.”

Darren let out a frustrated groan. His delicate situation was not exactly translatable to text (especially to a walking suit of armor who sounded like a robot). However, Darren needed all the help he could get. “The Static influenced my companion, I think – or at least caught her attention for a dangerous span of time. There might be-"

“Static,” Alaster interrupted, as if the word was held the key to solving this mess.

“—consequences,” Darren picked up his explanation as if nothing happened. “I have no idea what sort of consequences but –“


Another interruption unpleasantly held up his sentence. The interruption was in the form of the ubiquitous cops. In the door. On the job. With their guns out. They were dangerous – fat dangerous as one might put it.

This would probably be an intimidating sight if it were not for the fact the blockade looked like a bunch of sentient marshmallows.


A cocky cop decided to unload his Glock upwards, causing the faceless background to panic even more.

Of course, Tschichold was not too keen about this situation either.

“THIS. THIS IS SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE.” He paused as he attempted to recollect his thoughts. “ART.”

Meanwhile, Lloyd the Trained Actor was still travelling through the space between channels, channel-space if you may. For some reason, his inter-dimensional travel was taking an ungodly amount of time. His strong panic boiled down to sheer denial which simmered to a mild annoyance.

“This is fucking boring.” Lloyd grumbled as he traveled through the empty oblivion.

Well put, Lloyd. Well put.


“Whatever happens, I blame everything on you.”

Alaster did not quite heard the accusation and even if it did, it would shrug that off. Right now, its biggest problems were the blobby obstructions with the guns. On the job. In the front. Even if the clockwork knight was bulletproof, the weight of these beached security whales would be too much for one guardian.

“I think our chances are slim,” Darren said. He was not exactly fear-stricken. However, when you have your companion in your hands, bureaucracy holding up help, and the row of armed donut-holes in the front, you tend to feel a little uneasy in your knees.

“Slim? More like screwed.” Tschichold bellowed indignantly. “Now how am I going to art?”

Alaster stood still like a statue. The problem got a smidgen worse, thanks to circumstances beyond its control and knowing. So, the clockwork knight really wanted to get out of this dilemma as much as it had apparently got itself into there, especially since its ward was gravely sickened and...


Another bullet lodged into the ceiling and the faceless crowd overturned into an uproar. Alaster had not spoken a word to these corpulent cops, yet it had a pretty good idea what they are like: fucking unreasonable. It did not exactly take a rocket scientist to realize that the cops were not going to ever listen.

A salvo of bullets upwards cemented Alaster’s viewpoint to reality. The participants of this battle to the death needed to get out pronto, or at least far away from this place. “We Need To Get Out Of Here,” Alaster declared loudly to the rest of the contenders.

“How?” The man from the traveling Rest demanded as he clasped tightly onto Sara. “What are you going to do? Go terminator on them?”

“No, That Would Be Too Inconvenient. And Risky.”

“Well,” Darren began to scratch at his chin with a free hand. “Other than that, the only other way I can think of is besides brute-forcing our way out is maybe we could go to another exit in this damned place. I don’t know.” He gave a slight shrug. “Maybe we need to think outside the box.”

Boxes! Alaster understood what the man had said, but it could not step outside the boundaries of conventional though-processes. After all, it is a technically a robot, well, a magical one, but regardless. It needed to follow logic, steps. Creativity was not exactly its greatest forte. Alaster may have to take risks.

Just then, Alaster had an idea – an idea that could sufficiently be described as crazy - so crazy it just might


Alaster scanned the whole area, attempting to search for that one particular individual. After a few precious seconds, it managed to find his target – who was in the process of redecorating the receptionist desk with a colorful field of flowers.

“Let me go!” The artist was not too happy to be yanked from his life’s work, but at least he managed to think up new insults. “Let me go, you –SWEET JESUS ON A POGOSTICK.” Tschichold screamed as Alaster’s chest popped open, revealing a shimmering purple gem.

“Oh god, oh god, please don’t hurt – “
Against his pleading, Alaster deftly smeared Tschichold over its memory crystal like an expert artist with his brush, coloring the gem into a shocking yellow. As soon as the crystal was completely immersed, Tschichold was rudely dropped on the floor.

Darren warily stepped forward. “…Is he okay?”

Tschichold continued to sit here - his jaw slack-jawed from fear but mostly surprise! Never once in his miserable life had someone purposefully slathered paint on themselves. The artist was quite shocked—

-- especially since that the clockwork robot, with its chassis opened to the air, stirred a bit.

Alaster had only a couple of words to say,

“Hast La Vista, Baby.”

Meanwhile, Lloyd was –


The Trained Actor angrily fidgeted at the sheer lack of progress he was making for his personal quest. All he wanted to do was to get a new gig! He was getting increasingly – no – positively frustrated and there was nothing he could do about that.

“SO BORED.” Lloyd wished the oblivion did not echo back at him. It was getting rather annoying.

The last few minutes were an incomprehensible blur for Darren as he clasped tightly to Sara. In a few uneventful second, he found themselves on the back of a very large motorcycle. A cursory glance told him they were not the only contenders on-board. There was the artist, his face not unlike a startled one-eyed cat.

“Where the hell did he get that motorcycle?” Tschichold sputtered. The shock of such an acquirement was enough to break him into the uncharacteristic surprise – noteworthy especially since he usually was in the thrall of his own hallucinations.

Darren wondered the same thing too. From what he saw, there were no motorcycles or anything equivalent to a motorcycle-really. The man from Traveler’s Rest continued to ponder on how an incongruous leap of logic happened, but considering that they are actually making progress – Darren was willing to suspend his disbelief, especially when the clockwork knight turned around.

Alaster was wearing shades.

“Ugh, can’t you go a little slower.” Tschichold half-heartedly demanded. “I think I’m going to vomit.”

In the distant future, mankind would have to fight a war against the magic guardians. Fortunately, for the resistance, they reprogrammed a lone assassin to be the protector for the savior to be. The assassin was itself. The savior was little boy nestled in its front. Alaster knew what its mission was: to protect Timothy Yessic, the only chance for mankind to have any ground against the golems to come.

- at least that was the clockwork knight thought. Apparently, having your vitals in such close proximity to psychoactive paints gave you visions that alluded to particular types of pop-culture. It was in a hospital. On the run. From the cops. Despite that, the goal was so urgent, so important.

Naturally, Alaster pressed the accelerator.

“FUCK,” Tschichold spat, as he held his seat against the sudden acceleration. “WHAT IS GOING ON WITH Y-“

The painter never finished his sentence as his head made physical contact with a television on the overhang – the boxy kind where repeats of popular shows are shown to the amused visitors. It just so happen that a special of Trek Wars was on – and to the shock of Darren,

Tschichold incongruously disappeared into that show.

“So have you seen any good movies?”

Freefall attempted to do some small talk. As much as she did not want to be in this place, the superheroine decided it would be practical to talk with her wizardly in-mate. After all, it was obviously crucial to gain as much information about others as possible.

Much to her disappointment, Aaron and Change seem rather…not paying attention to say the least. It was almost as if they were intently listening to something in the far-off distance. With that observation, Freefall wondered if sentient wads of cash could actually listen to things, especially if they do not have any ears (or at least visible ones).

“Do you hear that?” Aaron whispered.

“Yes,” Change fluttered around, his bills changing currencies in almost an inquisitive manner. “A string of expletives, each astoundingly cruder than the last. I’ll say, this sounds oddly familiar, almost as if we met the originator of the voice before – “

With a magnificent splat, Tschichold landed face flat on the prison floor. Although the fall was not fatal, it still felt rather unpleasant. The shadow painter felt like a pancake and that was not a pleasant feeling. To prove his displeasure, angry bubbles of air formed around him as he laid down on his own paints.

“Oh,” Aaron just stood there. “Okay.”
Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"Mrrgphrrmrmmmphm. Mmmgm."

Exhausted grousing bubbled unintelligibly out of a dark technicolor puddle of paint, a spectacle probably in a showy token protest of his current misfortune. Most of the possible onlookers, however, were insulated from the visuals by a crate-fort prison or a lack of visual senses.

"...I'm getting the feeling you know who did that."

"Yeah, it's pro-" "Flipping christ on a pancake on a picture of Sarah Palin's head, that hurt!" "It's Tschichold. The painter."

"So, Chuckled the Psycho Painter. How much trouble is he?" "I heard that! Never trust boring chrome cargo crates. Smarmy fucking bastards."

"He's not... alright, I'm not really sure. I haven't seen him do anything untoward to anyone, he just sort of... stumbles around and paints things—?" "I art things you uncivilized jackass, it's a goddamn verb. I remember you, you sound like the guy in grey rags who was talking to a jellyfish like it was a rediscovered Renaissance work. I don't think you were even high! So why'd they stuff you in a crate, for the crazy or for dressing like a color-blind bum on the sidewalk? Nobody ever stuffed me in a crate. You know why? Because I was a not-color-blind bum on the sidewalk."

"He's... certainly gotten chattier since I saw him last."

From the sound of things, he's decided that his chief role in this contest is to waste our valuable time. We'd profit more by collecting his hallucinogenic paint and selling it on the black market than we would entertaining his drivel.

Tschichold jumped as a loud BANG rung from the pile of crates, shifting his canvas just as he was making a precise stroke of orange; though angered by the redirection, the jagged resulting line actually gave a nice flow to the quick image so far that wasn't retarded, so he graciously dropped the point with the offending surface.

"There's some light. Now we need something sharp to break these cables."

"Wait, you just made a massive dent in a steel box with one foot. Can't you just pull apart the bonds?"

"Yeah, 'cept it'd snap your wrists like twigs if I did. Believe me, I'm tempted after seeing you standing cackling over pools of blood. Since your smartass floating drug-deal dropoff of a sidekick kept insisting, I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and just smack you around a little once we get out of this place."

That shut Aaron up, reminding him (to Change's impatient chagrin) that he should be sulking about what he'd done. Freefall wasn't actually sure at all that a simple break would hurt him much, if at all. Maybe she was going about this whole escape thing a bit more slowly and cautiously than she could. Maybe she was concentrating on the heavily aching, fresh as all hell bruises on her arms where some mooks had held her, firm grips amplified by that temporary taser-induced lightness to deal deep and massive damage. Maybe she didn't want anyone to notice that despite the brave face she was probably too good at putting on, every automatic move forward to escape and face those taser-wielding troops brought back the shocks she just endured, each carrying the month-old pain of a stomach wound from an electric incident that still-

An impression of a clutch of eggs, a female mate, the impression of searching—
Would you shut up about your eggs? The inherent risk of our situation demands mitigation by escape first, not—
"—just a stupid, stark metal setting with worthless fuuuture accoutrements, oh look at meee I'm from the FUuuuUTure and obviously people in the future are so uncultured and boring to think that paint is obsolete—"
—impression of askance, a lack of understanding, this-female-one-of-criticism and questioning directed thereof—
Did you fall into the least profitable profession imaginable as a fluke, or would it be too much to ask you to do something valuable for once in your life and cut my wizard loose—
"—and well, dammit, now all that psychic blind thing's babbling has me painting eggs everywhere. Eggs! If I really wanted to do something as unoriginal as death and rebirth i'd throw myself off a tall building holding a carton of farm fresh—"

"Would you all just SHUT UP and maybe look for at least one way out of here? I'd break Allen's wrists here just so I could plug my ears if two of you didn't have blaring psychic voices. I mean I've met psychics before, at least they have the courtesy to talk on an as-needed basis instead of Nipple the Two-Year-Old Telepathic Squid here-" Nizzo felt her attention finally redirected to him, reiterated his request for information regarding a precious clutch of eggs, a- "-oh would you can it you lousy piece of sushi??? I'll start frying up omelettes if you can't shut up for at least two fucking ow FUCK OW OW WHAT THE HELL!!?"

Of all the hostile thoughts and intents he'd felt traded throughout this battle, this was by far the most vile and chilling he'd heard. A threat to his spawn, not even hatched – the impression of devouring them, no less! – went far beyond reprehensible and straight to a nigh-immediate danger. This-female-one-of-criticism could not be allowed to follow him back to his young.

Aaron felt the girl behind her shift wildly between densities, kicking and yelling violently for a half-moment; some of those lead-heavy jerks of hers were putting a serious strain on his arms and back, too. "What?! What's going on??"

"That fishy piece of shit just bit me!"

"Girl, even if it had a mouth or stinger, I highly doubt-" She means psychically, Aaron. And if you'd regarded what I've been telling you for the past half-hour or so to have any semblance of value, you would have paid attention when I told you that this 'harmless' creature effortlessly destroyed a roomful of minds!

Never having attempted to devour a truly sentient equal before, Nizzo was frightened to find that this-female-one-of-criticism did not in fact die, but rather painfully repelled his mental 'straw' with the normal defenses offered by a thoughtful consciousness. He recoiled and silenced his mental broadcast, waiting cautiously for the predator's next move.

Freefall slammed herself and Aaron's way out of the heavy crate pile with some hard headbutts, trying to silence the buzzing migraine induced by Nizzo's failed attempt at swallowing her mind.

"Well, whatever you did managed to shut it up. Everyone wins!" Tschichold strolled over to the heavy cargo bay door, finding a nice circular canvas that he hadn't covered in echoes of sea life and weird jellyfish.

"Alright, see: super-psychic jellyfish. Now that makes more sense in a battle to the death. Got this sense that he considered what he was doing 'eating', too; better be careful not to piss it off or it'll start trapping the minds of a city 'bout round two or three, grows to enormous fucking size, we'd have to beat the shit out of it to turn everyone back to normal..."

Freefall pulled Aaron with her out of the nasty gap she'd made between two crates. Headache aside, she was almost thankful for the distraction from the thought of tasers. Keep it together, you're a hero: you're right, you're awesome, and you're pretty much fucking invincible. Insta-vulnerable electric shocks aside...
Aaron, however, cast a suspicious glance over at Nizzo's oddly quiet plastic holding cell.

So, do you finally accept that this 'Nizzo' is a serious liability?

"Relax, I'll just stay the hell away from the jellyfish for now. I was never that good with animals. ...and nobody say anything about his eggs, alright? Alright."

The psychic creature allowed himself to relax a bit at her metaphorical retreat, tuning his broadcasts up to relatively quiet levels. His vaguely frightened wariness regarding this-female-one-of-criticism continued, bouncing somewhat audibly between his occasional telepathic questions.

His rare flirt with radio silence, however, hadn't gone unnoticed. The pair of heavily-armed copyright agents covering the cargo bay doors had ignored the noisy bruiser of a girl's typical banging, but the fish doing anything other than shoving oblivious nonsense into everyone's heads was a dead giveaway that something was wrong. They hit a keycode that signaled a few beeps, then the whirr of heavy hydraulics, just as Tschichold was bringing his hands widely to bear in the center to top a nice mauve hill.

And each got a faceful of that mauve as his arms fell through the sudden gap.

"Wha- no no nonononono-"

Tschichold chased his artwork as it parted to either side of him, wet paint smearing and ruining their attempted conveyance as the door walls squeezed and retracted against the edges of their frame. When they finally stopped, he spent a second or two cursing blithely at the heavy futuristic contraption before noticing the pair of guards it had unveiled on the ground in front of him, twitching and hallucinating.

A pause, a glowing eye peering from paint-soaked black into their respective tacky future sunglasses and drooling mauve expressions. The wizard and hero behind him followed his gaze.

"......hey, you pricks just ruined my landscape- oh for crying out loud why am I yelling at dead guys I need to see a doctor. And maybe a tea shop. Some tea would really work right now."

Tea tasted like shit since it blended with his paint when he drank it, but it was almost a good consolation for lost work.

Pulsing, twisting arms of a nebula of static swirled near the epicenter of Galaxy Guardians, their expanse far more threatening in the claustrophobic reality that was this channel's narrow scope than they would be in the vast, occasionally canon-breaking universe the show attempted to convey.

As the flagship of the series inched precariously closer to this maelstrom, a wispy arm would pass through the ship every few minutes, leaving it quaking subtly and its passengers' visions and senses clouded by a perturbing fog of black and white fuzz.

Those situated in the cargo-bay-cum-brig – however the brig itself got so full as to warrant alternative space – understood the intermittent fraying of reality, the buzzing of color and tingling graining of vision as a TV antenna not entirely disturbed from receptive position, perhaps better than the ship's typical occupants. However, everyone aboard the ESS Pyreness essentially got the gist of it.

They were running out of time.

"Would you mind putting a little more oomph into it? My wrists aren't that sore."

"Aight'. Got it."

Aaron and Freefall continued raking their bonds against a jagged corner the latter had squeezed out of a crate. The bonds quickly relented, and each wasted no time in their intended directions: Aaron heading to loose Change from a plastic prison, and Freefall strolling over to the silhouette busy painting the uniforms of a pair of intoxicated guards, cracking her knuckles.

Change fluttered out into the air, looking as irked as a school of currency can be. Miss, just what do you think you're doing?

"I'm gonna give Chuckles the Clown here what for."

Aaron turned to regard the girl and painter, and the decreasingly boring uniforms of the guards at one's feet and brush. "I don't think he actually killed them, if that's what you're concerned over."

"Didn't he just drive them terminally insane with poisonous psycho-paint? Fake TV-person or not, that's still a pretty horrible way to go–"

Tschichold took a look at the gurgling faces of agents too devoid of creativity to hallucinate anything even vaguely amusing, and promptly returned to his work. "Nah, the high lasts like fifteen minutes, maybe a half hour sometimes, I don't really keep track."


Freefall glanced back at Aaron and Change, waiting for them to get caught up in argument over the psychic jelly they were freeing before putting her heel through each of the guards' discarded weapons. Don't want Team Scrooge going full Die-Hard again. But her attention quickly drifted back to the painter, who it seemed maybe had the ability to... no, now, wait a minute. This doesn't quite make sense.

"So this painting all over them like, lemme guess... Turns 'em into mind-controlled minions?"

"Lady, if I could control these bastards I'd have convinced them to wear something that maybe a postal worker wouldn't think was an excruciatingly boring uniform."

"Then what does the paint do?"

"It paints things! And gets you high, I guess, so it kind of sucks being covered in the fresh dripping stuff and not being able to see your fingers move in a straight line of baby goddamn blue. What, did they not have paint on your planet or– eugh." Tschischold had just gotten up and turned to... whatever the fuck that jumpsuit of hers was. Guess he was right.

"Let me get this straight. You drip LSD paint."

"Are you gonna start licking my paintings like acid stamps?! I have the right to refuse a sale, you know!"

"And you paint things. And that's it."

"Uh huh."

"Then how the hell did you get put in a battle to the death!?"

"Maybe I wasn't brought in as a contestant, you ever think of that? Maybe this was 'cause the one cultured producer out there looked at this battle line-up and thought, 'Gee, these crazy zombies and birds and suits of armor look like absolute shit! Let's find someone who actually knows what the word color means and throw him at them to keep our viewers from gouging out their eyes.' I mean, good christ–" ...Tschichold looked over the green (actually indigo) sterilized jumpsuit that even bulletholes and scorchmarks hadn't made look any less safe, the eagle emblem on the oh god that thing is a brand isn't it she looks like she belongs on a supermarket shelf... "–they probably saw my work and thought sweet jesus we need an expert like that I mean you look like the side of a can of off-brand peas holy cripes that's bad—"

The two continued to gaze in increasing horror at each other, Freefall's stare descending to Tschichold's midsection and gradually, gradually realizing that thick, gooey paint was the only barrier between his nether regions and the outside world.

"...Are you naked?!" She flinched back, her eyes ratcheting away to something less disturbing.

"Hey, I don't tell you how to live your life. Better being naked than wearing that... horrible THING, that parasite on your probably dull identity! Lemme just—"

Tschichold managed to put a thick, bright diagonal stripe of nigh-fluorescent yellow on her front before she batted his hand away (
hard). She poked an accusing finger in his eye and looked as if she was about to ignite.

"This suit costs two-hundred-fucking-thousand dollars each." <font color="#814444">Oh god she's a materialist–
"Y'know why? So it's light enough for me to fly without stripping down to my underwear. This one goddamn suit has to last me all the way to when we escape this battle. If it doesn't, I can't fly. And if I can't fly, I'll be spending plenty of time on the ground rearranging your face."</font>

"Fine, fine, we can go minimalist, sheesh. Just a broad stripe of—"

Freefall knocked his hand away again. "No extra weight, not an ounce. Paint in-fucking-cluded." "But if I just—" "No."

A green-coated fingertip (clawtip... brushtip??) ascended at a comically slow pace from Tschichold's side, heading up to Freefall's arm. His visible eye darted between his destination and her unamused expression, trying to discern just how close he can ge—

The ball of her palm connected with his temple, sending him sprawling to the ground, unconscious. Left a sticky bit of sunset orange on her right hand.

Aaron bolted around at the noise of painter-on-metal, swaddling a freshly-freed Nizzo in his arms. "What in blazes did you do that for?!"

"What? Look, Allen, I just—"

Miss Freefall, I can understand the defense of your valuable property, but that man mentioned a zombie, bird, and armor. You just incapacitated our only timely source of possibly vital—

Static swept through the ship again, nearly knocking them off their feet as it irresponsibly abused the Photoshop film grain filter on their vision.

It cleared after a few moments.
The aurumancer regained his footing, trying to find a comfortable place for a squirming, frightened jellyfish-thing. "You just knocked him out! Weren't you just saying we need to get out together, you hypocrite?"

"It's fine, god! He'll only be out five minutes!"

"You don't know that!! And it's beside the point—"

"Actually yeah, I do know that, Goldilocks! He's a scrawny male, maybe a hundred-fourty pounds, and that was a clean hit. Five minutes. You can time it." Freefall smiled the defiant smile of a man who just found his missing car keys, oblivious to the fact that his house is burning down around him. It's an expression she wore fairly often.

Aaron took a deep, calming breath. I suggest you take charge, Change voiced none too quietly to him. Miss Freefall clearly does not understand the rapidly appreciating value of a swift escape.

"Oh, like I'm letting the psychopa—"

"No no, please lead the way, Freefall," Aaron remarked with a tired yet sudden grin, eyes fixed on the rapidly spreading puddle from the downed painter. "We should really get going. Oh, but would you mind carrying Tschichold along? I do believe my hands are full."

The girl's smug smirk vanished instantly.

In light of all he'd been through and the senseless murders he'd so recently committed, some of this nonsense seemed strangely comforting.
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.


"I am not asking for much, honored Kriok. All I wish is that you use your skills to assist us."

Master Fragment's veneer of solemnity and calm was beginning to be worn down. The avian was uncooperative in the extreme-- for all the intelligence and observational talent she had, she was paranoid and cautious. She could not recognize that her caution was dangerous, and that when they had everything to lose they could not afford to just remain hidden--that would only be prolonging an inevitable extinction. Action was needed, yet somehow she remained oblivious to this fact.

"Yes, and my skill set is of a technical nature. You want me to be in combat, a task I am completely unsuited for. Were you in need of say, resolution of an engineering problem, I would be delighted to insist. Yet it seems that everyone I have encountered has the notion that I am a competent warrior." Kriok nearly punctuated her final remark with a stare at Maria, but a partitioned sub-process made her think better of it.

"You have escaped from the clutches of the Copyright Police. That is experience enough."

"Can I say someth--"

"A single instance of conflict is nowhere near enough to be considered an able combatant. I would expect you to know this, but I suppose I have been mistaken in that presumption."

Kriok was growing exasperated. Encountering individuals desperate to imperil her life was growing to be less of a frustrating trend and more of a reason for alarm. She was well aware that she would need allies, but allies that insisted on throwing her into danger seemed less than optimal. An isolated sub-routine pondered whether it would be better to just avoid the others entirely and just find somewhere to hide, but in light of the precedent of chaos following her, Kriok dismissed that thought.

"All I ask is that--"

"And all you ask is too much. I've been through far too much to have any inclination to throw myself at some fool's errand, not after having no time to figure out what has been happening."


Kriok stared at him incredulously as he began to speak.

"--Very well. We will talk again shortly, but for now it is fair to let you rest."

Kriok nodded politely and excused herself, looking to find a quiet section of the sanctuary to recuperate. As she walked, she noted that the underground hideout was larger than she had expected-- past the main atrium there were numerous branching tunnels and connected regions. Many of the tunnels were collapsed at one end-- a crude deterrent to prevent having too many points of entrance, Kriok presumed. She noted the makeshift infrastructure they had developed-- generators churning away and connected to sprawling networks of wires, extensive filtration systems to make the sewer water safe to drink, and so on. It was crude, but it interested her that they had managed to make their systems work, even though they had little resources. Kriok considered the possibility of repairing their machinery as a definite alternative to Fragment's impositions, if he insisted on her helping out by throwing her life away.

"Mechanical bird."

Kriok wheeled around, trying to find the source of the voice. Her grip on the kinetic booster tightened reflexively.

"Oh, stop that. We aren't interested in harming you. Gods above, you're paranoid."

Looking around, Kriok saw that a television had turned on, with an impressive set of prison bars welded in front of the screen as a grate-- presumably to deter entry from other channels into the heart of their hideout. A thin, bearded figure was apparently accosting her. The figure himself looked eccentric-- he had thing, circular spectacles with a variety of additional lenses, a wide-brimmed hat, and what appeared to be a clockwork arm replacing one of his limbs. Were it not for the absence of a hollow timbre, Kriok would have assumed that this was another delusion that the static had constructed.

"Alright, fine. I'll humor you. Who are you and what are aft--"

"Do not talk back to me! I am a tenured wizard-- I've been through far more than you have, so show some respect."

Artificer Theophilus Stratorius was more than annoyed at his choice of assignment. He had spent countless years tirelessly working, and at the first sign of a genuine crisis his reward was the task of fraternizing with what appeared to be, by all accounts, some sort of absurd mixture of machinery and an outrageously colored avian. He was supposed to be convincing it to assist them in their recovery of Alaster-- and while the artificer thought that there was no point to this, telling Teus as much would not end well. Instead, he was here, communicating with an insolent creature barely worth his time.

"As I was saying before you interrupted me, I am with the wizards."

"...The wizards."

"Yes, the wizards, you foolish creature."

"You are aware that I have no idea what you are referring to."

"That's not important. What is important, however, is that you help us."

"How am I supposed to help you when you have failed to elaborate on not only who you are, but just what it is you are after?" Kriok's question had a noticeable hint of irritation directed towards the wizard.

"Right, fine." Theophilus had hoped the creature would just agree to some task without questioning why it was tasked with doing it, but clearly it would be necessary to proffer some explanation to secure its cooperation.

"We're the wizards tasked with retrieving Alaster-- he is the clockwork knight somehow entered into this competition, as you were no doubt unaware-- and we want for you to assist us in returning him... to us."

"So you are another group clamoring for my attention."

"We will make it worth your while. And you do not wish to contemplate the alternative to helping us. We are wizards, and do not take refusal lightly."

"May I ask what it is you are doing?"

Fragment examined the scene, accompanied by both Juliet and Maria's new form. He had figured it would be necessary to check up on his new arrivals. Kriok seemed to be conversing with someone, and Fragment could only assume that something suspicious was occurring.

Theophilus was growing tired of these interruptions. "Right, who is this then?" He said, addressing no one in particular.

Fragment tilted his head at the wizard being broadcast. "I do not recognize you."

"Well, you certainly should! I am Artificer Theophilus Stratorius, and you better show some proper deference. I'm a tenured wiza--"

"I have seen the inhabitants of thousands of channels, yet you are not like any of them." The cyborg turned around, looking at both Maria and Kriok. He frowned.

"Who are you, really?"

"We're, uh, not really from here."

"Clearly." Fragment gravely replied. He paced back and forth, his mechanical augmentations hissing and whining with each step.

"Then, am I to assume that this recent chaos-- the resurgence in our oppressors, the increase in the static-- they are your doing? That you, wittingly or unwittingly, are bringing us closer and closer to our destruction? Perhaps the destruction of every channel?"

"The two events are--"

Theophilus butted in, tired of this dispute and how it was completely unrelated to the much more important issue of retrieving Alaster. "--Excuse me, but you should know better to interrupt your betters--"

"--completely unrelated, and the implication of a causal link is--"

"Er, yes. Maybe."

Kriok whirled around, turning to face Maria. "What are you doi--"

"Look, I don't know how any of this happened. I know that I was in one place, working at an inn-- my home, pretty much. And then I was entered into some sort of battle to the death, along with a bunch of other people. And then I found myself here, in the channels." Maria paused after she had said this, trying to regain her composure-- she had stuttered through some parts of her explanation, and needed to keep herself calm before she could continue.

"I'm guessing that some of the people that came with us are responsible somehow, but I'd like to try and help fix things whatever way I can."

Kriok tapped her foot irately. "This is ridiculous."


"We know nothing-- not who abducted us, barely anything about the others with us, nothing about the blazes-damned inconsistent universe we're in right now-- and you're offering help?"

Maria was taken aback by Kriok's caustic remark. "W-well, it's the right thing to do, isn't it--"

She stopped, seeing the scorn plainly evident on Kriok's face-- even with the layers of cybernetic grafts and the avian beak, her expression was clear. She backed down, shifting her gaze downward and away from the various others around her.

The wizards attempted to get a word in during the lull in conversation. "Well, that's quite enough of that then--"

Fragment cleared his throat. "As much as I see there are unresolved tensions here, I have received word that the Copyright Police have attacked. We have another base connected via an abandoned subway line, and must make all due haste to go there."

Maria nodded, following Fragment and Juliet as they began to leave. Kriok was no doubt enraged about what she had said, Maria thought-- given how she had snapped back at her, she doubted that Kriok would offer to help after her blunder.


She paused.

Kriok fumbled, her taloned hand rustling through some of her feathers and belaying her normal cold, logical demeanor. "Apologies for snapping at you like that. I have not had much time around others until recently. I need to complete some tasks, but once that is taken care of I will be rejoining you."

Theophilus strummed the fingers of his clockwork arm, watching as Maria and the others left. "Well, you certainly wasted my time with this." He quipped to Kriok.

"The construct. How do you plan to retrieve it?"

"Ha! Like you could understand the intricacies of our plan. Nevermind, none of that concerns you. All that we need you to do is--"

Theophilus' connection through the crystal ball was abruptly cut, for inexplicable reasons. The wizard re-attempted the spell used to contact that plane of existence, but stopped after a couple of tries failed to produce results. He shrugged, and got ready to excuse himself to a midday meal before submitting a report to Teus.

Kriok, however, found herself faced against a squad of Copyright Police-- like her last encounter, somewhat warped to blend in with the channel's aesthetic-- and her usual form of escape was thoroughly destroyed.

One of the enforcers stepped forward, clad in layers of plastic armor that made the imposing figure appear similar to a hybrid between a professional athlete and a fascist dictator. He drew a comically over-sized revolver-- were it not grossly exaggerated in size, the boxy weapon would no doubt be intimidating.

"Infringer located. Verdict, Judge Voermann?" His voice was synthesized, as though pushed through a vocoder while speaking.

"Guilty." Another enforcer replied.

Kriok barely managed to dodge his shot, rolling to one side and taking cover behind a thick section of pipe. A thick volley of projectiles was launched at the area she cowered behind-- pulverizing the concrete of the wall she faced, smashing through the sewer's pipes and spilling sewage, resonating as the sound of gunfire reverberated through the narrow tunnel.

And then it paused. Kriok's digital mind was overclocked, responding to the stress of the situation as best it could-- even the most extreme of mining incidents were nowhere near this pace, and even across innumerable partitioned subroutines and rapid signals Kriok's thoughts could barely keep up. She had no sense of intuition surrounding combat as a soldier would. Thoughts could not keep pace. She had to decide now, no time to let an errant thought process run to completion.

She leapt out of cover, her kinetic booster charged and ready.

The blast of raw force caught two of the enforcers unprepared, sending them flying back. They collided with the wall of the tunnel, their impact resounding with a wet, visceral crunch. The other two swung around, noting their target's new location. They had finished reloading, and their target had been reclassified as a threat, instead of merely just prey. They fired, launching slug after slug at the avian.

Even in the tight tunnels, many of the shots missed. A few plinked against the surface-level augmentations-- denting the machinery and pushing Kriok back with the force of the bullet-- but not injuring her.

One of the shots in the volley hit its mark. Kriok screeched in pain as the projectile embedded itself in her leg, stumbling back as blood ran along the feathers of her leg. Another shot hit-- this time in the lung. She slammed against the wall of the tunnel, barely managing to keep her footing, listening to the sputter of the mechanical lung as it desperately worked to remain functional. Even with the augmentations giving her unnatural endurance, she was sure she was fading. It only barely registered that she had another shot ready.

The blast of force dealt with the remaining two enforcers, but Kriok could hear more coming. She looked around, biometric sensors blaring warnings as blood seeped from her injuries-- she could only assume that the two injuries were severe, her mind dulled by the multitude of warnings. She saw a hatch-- it didn't matter where it led, she needed to move. Limping along, she forced herself to push open the door, the crude fingers of her fabricator arm twisting it open. She entered-- it didn't matter that it was just a dead end, she would not survive in the open-- and quickly closed the door, finding a locking mechanism and yanking it to make sure it remained closed. Her exertions caught up with her as she stumbled, only barely remaining standing.

Against the hatch, the enforcers began to pound, working on opening it.

Every one of Kriok's many processes agreed that she was doomed.
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Okay I said I was going to be posting after sanzh and byb and yep that's happening. This thing is designed to bring us to round end or thereabouts. People will be affected by this post.
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