Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

As Ablendan Blake came slowly to his senses his overtaxed mind struggled to process his new situation. He was sprawled out across a cramped and uncomfortable surface, his hands seemed to be bound in front of him, his cloak billowed violently; buffeted by a constant stream of wind coming from somewhere above him. Every so often the world around him seemed to quickly shift in one direction or another and he would be thrown into a metal surface. People were talking, and occasionally snickering nearby. They were talking rather loudly to be heard over a slew of unfamiliar noises, the most irritating of which was some kind of constant wailing noise.

“Ugggh.” He mumbled groggily. “What’s going on?” There was no response to this question, whether intentionally or because they just hadn’t heard him was unclear and not a distinction that Blake could make at this point in time.

It took him a while but eventually he managed to pull himself together. Using his newly reacquired motor control he attempted to climb to his feet, only to bang his head on a low ceiling. He collapsed into an uncomfortable seat and took a good look around. He was in the back of one of the motor vehicles like that which had been at the wheel of previously, only this one had a fine mesh separating the front and the back of the vehicle. A pair of metal loops were locked around his wrists, connected to one another with a short chain. This and the mesh created an impression of intended restraint which ran contrary to the fact that all the windows were wide open; the cops had hoped that leaving the window open might get rid of some of the flies that buzzed around Ablendan when they had shoved him into the back of the police car.

Blake stuck his head through one of the windows and took a look around, his hood billowing behind him. The car was barrelling down a narrow strip of road vast desert. Behind the police car in which Blake had been bundled was an entire convoy of identical police cars. Their sirens wailed as they sped along the road, throwing up clouds of dust and sand in pursuit of their target. Ablendan, being unfamiliar with the concept of motorcycles, could not really make out what the thing was from this distance and angle, but he did recognise the shape of Alaster head and shoulders over Darren and Sara.

He looked down at the road rushing past him. The car was moving very fast, but that wasn’t really much of a problem for Blake, any parts of him that might be disconnected in the impact could easily be reattached. However it was the dispiriting thought of traipsing up and down by the side of the road looking for these parts that dissuaded him from jumping out there and then.

“Hey Frank, that hobo’s woken up.” The voice came from one of the police officers in the front seat. The police car swerved wildly as the driver turned to get a good look at Ablendan sticking his head through the window. He chuckled to himself at this sight, casually leaned over to the console and with one of his sausage like fingers he hit the button to close the window in question. Ablendan felt the window rising up underneath him and for a moment he panicked, thinking he had triggered a trap designed to slice him in half. He threw himself backwards, landing in an awkward heap half on the seat and half on the floor of the car. It took him a moment to recover and then as quickly as he could he was at the other window, only to find that it too had closed. Blake threw himself at the grill that separated him at the police officers and began raking at it with his claw-like fingers.

“Hey calm down back there.” The one addressed as Frank called back to him.

“Let me out!” Ablendan demanded.

“Listen,” the first police officer turned around, according to his badge his name was Hank “though you’re going to have to serve some hard time for this, you should just be thankful you aren’t those guys.” He gestured to the swerving motorcycle on the road ahead of them. Ablendan was about to snap back with another mindless demand for release, when what he was being told registered with him.

“Why?” he asked, a sort of black curiosity creeping into his voice.

“Static infection.” Hank replied. “Standard procedure is to quarantine and then eradicate upon first signs of infection…” Ablendan sensed a but.

“But?” He prompted.

“Innocent people never run, at least not from a static quarantine.” He produced a shotgun from on the seat next to him. “So we eradicate at the first opportunity we get.”


Saint slid a bolt into her crossbow and breathlessly aimed it at the main door into the dining room. Her heart was pounding fast now, faster that it had ever done when she was out amongst the flesh-eating zombies. They were harmless enough really, they wanted to eat you and would shamble at you and proceed to do so if you let them, but they were simple and predictable and they made sense. This didn’t make sense. She’d tried to wake up the sleeping couple and there had been no response. She hadn’t hung around after that. She’d dashed down the hallway, down the stairs and into the dining room, her bare feet thudding upon the wooden floors. He must have heard her. She should have taken her time and walked slowly. This was a disaster; an unmitigated disaster. Any minute now he was going to burst in here and… well she didn’t know what he was going to do, murder her probably.

Saint had known there was something slightly off about him from the moment she’d met him. Hell before she’d found the sleeping couple she’d been making jokes about how mysterious he was. It suddenly occurred to her that she’d very nearly slept with him. Maybe that was why he’d turned her down; maybe he could only get off if the other person was already asleep… Yeah that was exactly what she should be thinking about here. Saint cursed herself and resolved to conveniently forget that had ever happened when she got back to the rest of the survivors.

She held the crossbow with one hand as she hopped around, attempting to pull her jeans on. She passed the weapon from hand to hand as she shrugged on her jacket. She decided she didn’t really need to wear her gloves and that tying her bandana around her face was not worth letting her guard down. She slipped her backpack on over her shoulders, grabbed a knife from the kitchen for good measure and prepared to leave. It was when she was at the door, contemplating the possibility of navigating the ruined city and avoiding hordes of zombies in the dark that was seized by indecision. It didn’t make sense. It was like she’d had a tooth out and she kept prodding at the gap it had left with her tongue. No matter how much she wanted to stop poking at that gap, it was almost a compulsion, something she couldn’t let lie.

When she’d turned up he was threatening the life of the sleeping woman and the guy had fled. A couple of minutes later he had returned and then they’d spent most of the rest of the day together. So if he had done this then how? If he’d drugged the guy then why would he make such a scene, wouldn’t he just wait for the guy to pass out before murdering his girlfriend and speaking of which if he wanted to do that why hadn’t he done it? That was beside the point, she decided. She guessed he could have knocked the guy out, but she suspected that would have left some kind of visible wound on the guy and she had seen nothing. He might have had a tranquiliser gun he wasn’t showing her, but even then she doubted he would have had the time to drag two unconscious bodies up the stairs before he returned. And if he’d let them get away and then returned for them later after they’d had their awkward encounter before she’d tried to get some sleep, no that didn’t even bear thinking about. There was so unlikely that both the guy and the girl would have survived in the zombie filled city and that Mister O would have been able to find them incapacitate them and get them back to the hotel and up the stairs into the bed without her noticing.

The only explanation that seemed to make any sense was that they had been there the whole time, which of course made no sense at all.

“Damn it.” She said, stepping away from the door. She walked down the hall to the foot of the stairs and looked up. She knew that sticking around here was probably dangerous, and that what she was doing was probably suicidal… but she had her crossbow and a knife; she was not defenceless, and she just could not let it lie.

She made her way up the stairs, her gait careful, her gaze darting from one shadow to another, her aim steady. At the end of the hallway there was a heavy door with an O upon the door. She approached it with caution, placed her hand upon the door and pushed it open.


The motorcycle was as massive and bulky as the clockwork knight who rode upon it. Alaster looked somewhat anachronistic; a suit of armour atop a motorcycle. Looking less out of place, but more out of his comfort zone was Darren and the unconscious body of Sara. At some point since leaving the hospital, it was not exactly clear to anyone involved how this had happened, they had reshuffled into a more tenable position; Darren was now sat directly behind the suit of armour, clinging onto it for dear life. Sara was sat behind him, her arms locked around him in a surprisingly sturdy grip, her unsupported head lolling to the side. They were also inexplicably wearing motorcycle safety helmets. The whole thing could likely be blamed on executive meddling. Timothy was still sat in Alaster’s lap, though he had now awoken from his paint induced nap. He’d quickly discarded the incongruous safety helmet (Don’t Try This At Home, Kids). His reaction to the scene unfolding was one of confusion, but also of awe.

“Alaster, what is going on?” Timothy asked.

“I Am Here To Protect You.” Alaster replied. It glanced at the police cars following them, in its drug fuelled haze they were not cars but machines, clockwork robots built just like him. Some moments it would seem like the only difference between them and it was on which side of the conflict they stood. At other points Alaster imagined that they were better, faster, bigger, stronger. That they were gaining on him. That they were churning up the earth itself in their efforts to get hold of poor defenceless Timothy. It gripped the handlebars so tightly they almost split.

“Well yeah I know that.” Timothy replied dismissively. “I meannn like what is this thing and where are we going?” Timothy rapped a hand against the motorcycle casing to indicate exactly what thing he was talking about, as though it wasn't obvious.

“We Are Fleeing The Forces Of The Magic Guardians.” Alaster replied, its voice was low and level, all matter of fact and serious. “You Are The Only One Who Knows How To Stop Them.”

“The what?” Timothy asked. “I am?”

“Not Today, But One Day.” Alaster replied. “I Must Keep You Safe Until Then.” Timothy didn’t reply to this.

“Kid!” Darren’s shout caught Timothy by surprise. The kid hadn't figured there was anyone else on the bike with them. “Your robot got dosed with the same thing that you did.”

“Oh.” Timothy replied, understanding what was going on a little more. He'd seen some strange things under the influence of Tschichold's paints.

“As for the motorbike and the police cars…” Darren shrugged, then after a second remembered that Timothy couldn’t see him and continued: “I don’t know.” There was a stirring from behind him, the quiet noises of someone waking up from a pleasant sleep.


It was a meadow.

It was a field of long tall grass blowing in the breeze. In the distance there was a shining blue lake surrounded by tall green trees stretching up into the cloudless blue sky. The mid afternoon sun beat down upon Saint as she stood in the doorway. But it was more than that. There was someone’s room, the walls barely showing behind a slew of posters of video game characters or women with very little on. There was a street somewhere, someone’s favourite coffee shop, an old fashioned school classroom with the alphabet hung over the blackboard and uncomfortable wooden desks. There was a sitting room in a sewer and an entire pile of empty boxes of pizza. There was a desolate highway in the middle of a desert. There was a slew of images, more than could be reasonably processed at once. All of them completely empty, well almost all of them. There was a balcony overlooking a darkened desolate land, the sky overhead was a dazzling shade of violet and standing there was a familiar figure in a suit with a mess of black hair.

It was only a second before he rounded upon Saint, a look of panic evident upon his face.

“What is this?” She demanded.

Mister O stood in silence for a moment, his mouth opening and closing as he mentally tried out different responses to that question. Before he could respond, there was a flash and all that his room was was gone, replaced with


“Sara?” Darren asked.

Slowly, she removed one hand from his waist and lifted off the safety helmet. Darren was overjoyed for about a minute. His stomach turned as he saw her eyes, filled with

“Darren.” She responded with a wide smile.


As the room was enveloped in static Mister O collapsed, clutching at his head. Saint dithered in the doorway for a moment. She believed in the channel that she lived in, she’d never had any experience with the static or the world beyond her world before, but even so the static called to some part of her. It was primal, it was fear. It made her stomach turn. She discarded her crossbow into the hall and darted into what could hardly be described as a room any more. She knelt down by Mister O and put her arm around him. With her help he was able to get to his feet and out of his room, into the hallway. The moment she let go of him he collapsed again.

“What is it?” she asked, kneeling down next to him.

“Sara.” He said.


The static was chaos and it was order.

It was the gentle prod that would be administered to the wayward to convince them to comply with their narrative function and it was the all consuming chaos that would destroy a channel that had gone too far from its stated purpose.

It was not a malevolent force by any stretch of the imagination.

In the world where narrative was imperative it was balance.

But today, just this once, it was pissed.

Plots had been derailed, characters had been prematurely killed. Inter-channel crossovers were abundant. Elsewhere a pair of channels had been smashed together with little care for the consequences of such an action. The balance had been tipped too far too fast.

But now, in the mind of one of the contestants, the static finally had the information required to make sense of these intrusions and to reply to them appropriately. Should one of the combatants of this battle to the death die the rest would be moved on to pastures new. It was a bit of a gamble, but it was the best hope for salvaging the balance and what remained of TV Land.

The static was good at making people play their roles, now it would make them play the roles that had been theirs all along; the role of contestant in a Grand Battle.


The world shook and the sky darkened.

“What the fuck?” The cop called Frank muttered to himself. Ablendan who had been sulking in the back seat of the car stirred at this. It did not take long for him to see what the cop was talking about. He pressed his face to the window at his side and stared out at what had until recently been a desert. Suddenly there were wrecked, burnt out and abandoned buildings rising from the sands. Disgusting rotting shapes shambled through the narrow sand filled alleyways that passed for streets. His attention was drawn up into the sky where massive zeppelins bearing the © symbol hung outlined against the sky. It was no longer the perfect cloudless afternoon. It was no a harsh sea of crackling static, ominously pressing down upon them.

“I… I’ve never seen this happen before.” Hank said. It was not a particularly helpful comment.

“Should… should we get out of here?” Frank blubbered indecisively.

“No.” Hank replied. It had taken him a moment to make this decision, but he sounded pretty sure of himself. “It’s them.” He nodded at the motorcycle they were pursuing. “They’re responsible for this. We eradicate them it all goes away.”

“Are you sure about that?” Frank asked. There was a longer pause than the driver would have liked.

“Yeah, pretty sure.” Hank replied in a tone that said he was not.


Maria had heard the gunshots. Only her own impotence had stopped her from running back there and trying to save the avian. For a good moment she had stood there, refusing to move forwards, then she realized that they would be heading this way, and the group of copyright refugees were moving on with or without her. It had happened minutes after that, as they moved down an otherwise non-distinct sewer tunnel and suddenly there were copyright agents in front of them.

Maria couldn’t stop running; she could hear the pounding feet of the copyright police chasing her down. She could still hear the sound of gunshots echoing in her head, and the sight of so many people getting killed one by one; only the fact that she was at the back of the group saved her. Indecision had gripped her like a vice. Master Fragment was shot three times before he went down, circuitry sent flying across the tunnel. She could still see them; still see the look of cold indifference upon the faces of the copyright enforcers.

She didn’t stop running when the world shook, nor when metal screeched so loudly it was almost too much to bear. She stumbled slightly as she suddenly felt like she had the wrong number of legs for no perceptible reason and suddenly before her the tunnel opened up on, well for a moment she wasn’t sure what it was. There was enough sand for it to be the middle of a desert, but there was also buildings all around and what appeared to be alien zombies? She stopped running. She didn’t want to but… copyright enforcers behind her, alien zombies in front of her… what was a receptionist to do?

Suddenly a nearby engine roared to life, and what Maria had at passing glance taken to be a building was revealed to be some kind of massive fortress on enormous tank tracks. Part of the vehicle opened out and with a satisfying click folded down into a ramp. A moment later a three people in heavy futuristic armour, which was covered with Mediapolitics branding, emerged from the side of the vehicle. They blasted the alien corpses that shuffled in Maria’s direction and beckoned her over. The coast clear she darted towards her saviours, pausing only to duck below laser blasts aimed at the chasing copyright enforcers. Maria stumbled up the slope, one of the armed figured offering her a hand. He had short and incredibly tidy brown hair and a dazzling smile. He helped her inside as the other two watched for any other hostiles. Once she was inside the heavy metal door slid back up and closed.

“Wesley Cockburn, Mediapolitics News and Private Security.” Her saviour introduced himself. “I’m reporting live from the ground floor of the Mediapolitics Mobile Fortress, with me is my special guest, the receptionist at the Traveller’s Rest Inn, Maria. Tell me Maria, what is your opinion on this dramatically altered world, the economy and the handsome reporter who just saved your life?”


“Sara…” Darren trailed off. The world around him was shaking and all kinds of crazy things were going on, but his attention was fixed firmly upon what was once his love.

“I have had enough of you already.” Sara snapped. “You’re pathetic. Not just you, all of you. You’re all pathetic. You’re in a battle to the death, your entire purpose is to battle to the death. And yet, not one of you has so far made an earnest attempt to kill one another. Well let’s see about that.”

Alaster skidded to a halt, coming to a stop just in front of a massive metal building on tank treads that had not been there moments before. The name printed across its side in block capital onyx letters was ‘EMF PYRENESS’. The heavy metal doors of the Pyreness began to open making audible the sound of the open warfare taking place inside. A ways behind them the chasing cops began to slow and reach for their weapons. Robot spider women and copyright agents poured from the mobile fortress locked in intense battle with one another. Plasma shots filled the air as the group dismounted the motorcycle.

Alaster hadn’t wanted to abandon the motorcycle but the entire road was taken up with the Pyreness ahead of them, and the motorcycle wouldn’t drive on the sand. It was the end of the road so to speak.

“Get Behind Me.” It said, raising its blade towards the oncoming ‘magic guardians’ that seemed to surround him.


“Sara?” Saint asked. “The girl?”

Mister O struggled to respond. He just about managed to force out a choked, ‘yes’.

“What about her?” Saint asked.

But there was no response. He was in too much pain.

Saint got to her feet, her mind racing. There was only one conclusion that she was able to arrive at. She fumbled the knife from her pocket and sprinted down the corridor.


“I’ll fight!” Darren pleaded; he glanced at Alaster behind him. “I’ll fight anyone but the suit of armour. Just give me Sara back.” Sara wheeled around upon him.

“You don’t get it do you?” she asked. “Sara isn’t in here any more. She’s dead. She’s gone forever. All that is left is a puppet for me to talk through.” Sara smiled a coy half smile. “Darren, do you know why it took me so long to wake up? It’s because she was fighting so hard. Desperately trying to stay alive. Desperately trying to come back to you. An entire week of agony; struggling to keep control of her own mind. You ought to have killed her there and then. Put her out of her misery.”

Darren punched her. She didn’t even flinch.


Saint pulled open the door. No wait that’s not Sara. She frowned at the old woman asleep in the bed and moved quickly on.


“You really shouldn’t punch girls Darren.” Sara responded with a punch of her own, knocking Darren to the floor. He landed hard against the road, the impact knocking the breath out of him, the punch bloodying his nose. Sara kicked him over and then straddled his sputtering frame. “You know what Darren. This isn’t something I usually do. Normally I am all about balance and keeping things on the correct narrative track.” She wrapped her hands around his neck. “But all of you have messed everything up so much that I’ll make an exception. And even better I’ll enjoy it.” And she squeezed.


As Saint pulled open the door she could hear Darren already sputtering for breath. He thrashed against the sheets while the sleeping body of Sara lay peacefully next to him. Saint wasted no time. Two quick strides and she was at the bedside. The kitchen knife raised and brought down upon Sara’s sleeping body.


It was a close run thing. Darren sputtered and coughed for breath under Sara’s crushing grip. He buckled and thrashed, his arms felt so distant as they tried to force her up and away from him. Everything went black just moments before Sara vanished. One moment she was atop Darren squeezing the life from him and then a flash of pain and she was gone as though she had never been there at all. A moment later Darren and was gone as well.


The police cars pulled up to a stop some feet away from the magical suit of armour and his ward. The two named police officers opened the doors and climbed out. Frank had a shotgun and a sweat on. Hank had a megaphone and the look of someone desperately trying to take care of a situation that was clearly out of their league. Behind them generic looking overweight policemen were getting out of their cars, their generic looking weapons in hand.

“Where did…” Hank hit a button the megaphone and for a moment it fed back. He grimaced and then managed to get it working correctly. “Where did the others go?” Neither Alaster or Timothy responded, and before anything else could be said, the back door of the police car flew open. And when I saw flew open I mean the door was thrown from its hinges by a swarm of flies. Ablendan Blake stepped out of the vehicle. He held his arms out before him as the flies flew back into the darkness beneath his cloak. The handcuff loops hung loosely from his spindly wrists, the chain beneath them had been shattered. “How did…?” Hank tried to back away from the terrifying abomination but tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground.

“I don’t know how long I was out…” Ablendan muttered, more to himself than anything else. “…or quite what it was that I must have been smoking…” He looked the overweight police officer up and down and smiled. “…but I feel a little peckish…”

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Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

Barry Barnes lurched like a drunken man through the halls of the Pyreness, spewing blood from the stump of an arm.

Rydym wrthi’n cael anawsterau technegol. Rydym yn ymddiheuro am yr anghyfleustra.

No, no. Start at the arm.


<font color="#655575">“You are not even supposed to be alive.” The Copyright Colonel wore a uniform of complex greys, splashed with sickly red-brown. “Your channel was struck from the official record, for selling materials infringing on the Galaxy Guardians name.” The Colonel stared down at the huddled figure, forced to kneel by two burly cadets. “Operating clandestinely, might I add. And even more so once we shut down your broadcasting. Did you think we wouldn’t notice your one-man studio on the fringes of 3AM television?” Cruelty© was the only emotion available for those of the copyright legion, and it showed through now in the Colonel’s smirk. “The static took care of that before we got to you. Saved us the paperwork, and now there’s only you.”

“You’re awful, awful bastards. All of you.” Barry shivered in his torn, bloodied suit under their ice-cold grip. “I was made to sell. You had no right to tell me what toAAAGGHKKK

Sticky blood dripped from the Colonel’s knife as he cut through the tendons of Barnes’ right wrist, neatly separating articular disk from condyle; and the salesman screamed and screamed and screamed.

“We had no right?” The Colonel retracted the knife, playing its point just above the skin of Barry’s forearm, trailing a line of blood. “We are intellectual property, Barnes. We are memetic,” the Colonel raised his voice to a shout as he plunged the blade into the gap between radius and ulna, “LAW!”

Ashen-faced pain, white hot fresh dull sharp blade pulsating lifeblood Barry cursed “fuck fuck fucking son of a shitfaced motherfucker fuck FUUCK-”

”We copyrighted expletives too, did you know?” The Colonel punctated Barry’s screams with twists of the knife, until jagged bone ends shone like blades through the bloodied skin. “And for the record, the only ‘sons’ that we are - ” Neatly, the knifepoint inscribed a set of scales in the salesman’s flesh, and incised its shape from the muscle, “- are of enforcement.”

For a second the Colonel left the knife quivering in Barnes’ flesh, before delivering a decisive strike into the elbow joint. “Out of screams?” He forced it out, spattering the world with red brown black white black white grey - “Wondering, ‘Why this? Why me?’ Let me tell you, Barry Barnes, Level Two Infringer for Buying and Reselling with Intent to Violate Copyrighted Material - it is because you represent-”
Barry could swear he could taste his humerus snap “-all-” the Colonel wedged blade behind scapula... “-that we-” ...and pushed...“-detest!”

Unbelievable blade on blade lever tear free screech inhuman inhumane “...” Words. Words couldn’t come. Thoughts flooded overwhelmed pain pain “...-!”

The Colonel’s cold face, lowered to meet his, seen through fog, tears, blurring, shimmering, waves of hazes of paintred painted red hemoglobin candy metal red - “In life, I was an intellectual property rights prosecutor. I was high-ranked with Command before I knew Command existed. And they knew I had...other interests. They know everything.”

He pulled the knife from its bloody sheathe. “Ready to die, Barry Barnes?”


“Oh come now, Mister Barnes. You have nothing to live for. No goods, no money, no channel, no home.”

Through the mire and haze came a single thought - fragmentary at first, but gathering speed like a snowball down a hill, taking the wheel, forcing pain to a back seat...

“But I-” a twitch formed in the salesman’s eye - “but I do, Colonel.”

“I-I’m looking for a man. A-a man with money. Lots of it. But he didn’t have to pay a c-cent. Not fucking one. NOT A FUCKING ONEehehehehehe-” His good hand swept in a narrow arc, breaking his captors’ grips.

“I...I want to know. Have you seen. Have you seen him? Have you seen a man in a robe, traveler, really worn out, kind of young, doesn’t look rich at all but oh boy is he rich. The whole idea that he isn’t - ha! That’s rich. Get it? HAVE YOU SEEN HIM?!" The knife went spinning as the cadets went reeling into their commander, stopped, caught neatly-

"HAVE YOU SEEN- I’m sorry. I’m just out for ...ehehehe... revenge. Yes. He took everything of mine. He ruined me! He backrupted me to the end of the earth and back and I want to grab him and shake him until every dollar he’s t-taken from me falls out.” Without flourish, the Colonel pulled his pistol from its holster.

“And then, I want to crack his skull open to see if he’s got money in there too...”
The gun fired twice as Barry tore it from the Colonel’s hands - or to be precise incised fingers apart, dropping them to the floor like so much bloody meatsticks-

“He’s f-fucking made of money, this g-guy.” A swift flick of the wrist, and the Colonel slumped, flailing at his throat before going limp and stiff as only the dead can manage.

“Living is fucking wonder-wonderful, C-Colonel.”</font>


Barry Barnes lurched like a drunken man through the halls of the Pyreness, spewing blood from the stump of an arm. In the other hand he carried, twirled the late Colonel’s pistol, pointing it at shattered, burnt, bloodied, broken corpses and laughing. Hysterically.

“What was that?”

“Some crazy, probably. Place’s full of them.” Freefall was carrying the lightly snoring Tschichold with the absolute minimum of physical contact possible, i.e. about two fingers from dropping him entirely. Which, as the artist gave a slight groan, she did. “See? Five minutes.”

<font color="#814444">As Tschic swam his way back to a marginally more or less sensible world that at least contained a semblance of cause and effect, he became aware of the fact that the wildly shaking aspect of the world was not, in fact, a byproduct of psychoactive paints, but instead the result of being wildly shaken by the crazy lady that had punched him out earlier. This brought things into perspective rather quickly.

“Moneybags here says you have info. Cough up!” Through the haze of purple swirls he could see the lady’s face, and it wasn’t contorted in a visage one might have called ‘comforting’ or ‘calm’. ‘Frustrated’ would probably have fit better. ‘Halfway to demented’, better still. Still, it could have been the paint.

If only.

“You look like shit.”

“...that swearing injunction...” Freefall ground her teeth as she held the painter at arm’s length, careful to avoid the growing puddle of paint on the floor. “As diplomatic as I should be, and trying to make sure we all escape and survive, you are sure not making this easier!” Her eyes flicked downwards briefly before returning hastily to Tschichold’s face. “Especially the fact know...naked...” Letting loose a scream of rage, she delivered a vicious kick into Tschic’s offending nether regions before dropping him. “You have no bloody idea...”

Unending pain. Unending paAaAaAin, he drew out in his head. Tschic’s insides were on fire, which was a change from feeling like his outsides were, which he did on occasion. There was also the time he was actually set on fire by a group of demon-hunter enthusiasts who didn’t quite grasp the fact that he wasn’t, in fact, a demon.

This, on the other hand, was beyond imaginable. Among those polled on the intensity of testicular pain, comments included ‘it hurts like hell’ and ‘ballhurt is to pain as the sun is to light and warmth’. The fact that Tschic’s essential bits were, in actuality, completely inside his body helped, but on the other hand Freefall was a fantastically strong kicker. He flailed around for a bit, eyes shut.

It was at least marginally better than the pain of having to look at the decor.

Trouble. Change’s notes fluttered wildly, and began sliding out of the stack formation.

“There’s going to be trouble all right, if Chuckles doesn’t...” She paused, as did everyone else.

aahhahahahaha...ahahahahAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” The sound of laughter, first faint, yet grew louder - punctuated with the sound of footsteps treading through blood. Growing closer. Louder, echoing from every direction...

Aaron. We know that voice.


“Who?! Where the hell is it coming from?!”

“Right behind you,” Barry Barnes said.

Then Freefall whirled around and cracked open Barry’s skull.</font>


To díktyó mas échei proso̱riná apogeió̱thi̱ke ston aéra gia mia genikí̱ érev̱na. Elpízoume na eínai píso̱ sýntoma kai radioti̱leoptikó̱n ekpompó̱n, kai na zi̱tí̱sei apó tous theatés mas na féroun mazí mas!

Perhaps a closer examination of events is in order.


Sneaking up on me, then? We’ll see about that - let’s see how mister Barry the Creeper likes a side order of knuckle sandwich! Oh. he has a gun. A firing gun. What kind of person shoots the hero in the back? We’ll see about th...wait. Heavy. Fist. Moving...

The body that had until recently been Barry Barnes twitched, the only movement in the frozen tableau that locked the battlers in that neverending moment. <font color="#FFFFFF">In the corner of the screen shone an icon: | | - and its label: PAUSE. In the darkened room, lit only by the bloody image on the viewer, the Broadcaster pushed his hair from his eyes and placed his untouched mug of coffee (“You Don’t Have To Be Omnipotent To Work Here, But It Helps!”) on the desk in front of him. He smiled. He just smiled.

Freefall prised the bullet from the small of her back, flattened by its impact with such a high-density surface. She looked at it for a moment. She looked back at Barry.

“Oh, fuck."</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.



Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.


Were Alaster capable of blinking, it would have. Over the course of mere seconds, it had seen Ablendan Blake-- not that he was recognizable under the influence of Tschichold's paints-- burst out of one of the parked vehicles, rend through the assembled forces, and leap through a hole into the enormous, mobile building they were beside. The mechanical mind of the clockwork contraption ticked, gears slowly moving as it pondered.

"Alaster, w-what's happening? What just happened?" Timothy's pitiable moan, as soft as it was, could still easily be heard by the attentive mechanical knight.

Under normal circumstances, Alaster would not be making the leaps in logic that it was. These, however, were not normal circumstances-- it was in an alien environment, made even more alien by the influence of the hallucinogens that suffused its memory crystal. Its mind made a quick conclusion about the new threat-- what the clockwork figure, in its drug-addled state, had assumed to be a construct of stitched-together flesh. It needed to be pursued and stopped permanently. Perhaps now it was hunting others, but it would no doubt return to try and kill its ward-- and Alaster could not allow that. A proactive stance was necessary if the future savior of magic was to survive.

"You Are In Danger. We Must Stop Him." The contraption maintained its stoic, mechanical timbre as it spoke.

"B-but, I don't understand. Wait, what are you--"

Just as Timothy made an attempt to question his protector, the mechanical knight grabbed him, stowing the boy underneath an arm as one would a particularly heavy sack of potatoes. Alaster crouched, and then leapt into the building. Without hesitating it began to scour the hallways-- taking long, almost automated strides as it searched for the abomination it intended to destroy.

As he ran, Ablendan could feel the primal desire to feed-- no, to kill-- coursing through him.

It had gone from more than just a desire to feed-- the ruined corpses of his past kills were more than enough to satiate his hunger-- as much as it was the satisfaction and cruel release that his slaughter was bringing him. The flies buzzing in his ears only reinforced this urge-- Beelzebub's ever-present reminder of his sacrifice drove him further into a murderous ecstasy. He raced through the metal corridors he now found himself within, paying no attention to the chaotic struggles further away. His mind only barely registered the events of moments prior-- the noise and cacophony of the channels being merged did not register underneath the cries of his prey. Whatever vestiges of humanity Ablendan Blake had were submerged underneath his animalistic instincts.

The abomination pounced, his scraggly claws raking through several humans as he sailed forward. He smiled as his mind registered the warm flow of blood and snapping of bones. Simultaneous to his leap, Ablendan could sense the flies scattering across the area-- digging and burrowing into others and aiding in the chaos. His violence was indiscriminate-- just as often as he tore into one of the remaining enforcers, he would rend through the metallic shells of the robotic spider women, smashing their delicate circuitry in a surge of sparks.

Ablendan wheeled around a corridor, no longer bothering to even maintain a bipedal posture and opting instead to lope awkwardly on all fours. Just as he reared up to prepare another murderous charge, he noticed just who it was facing him on the other side of the corridor.

"You." Alaster's intonation was a sonorous thunder-- for something utterly devoid of emotion, there was an evident conviction present in its tone. "You Must Be Stopped."

Ablendan stood up-- still crouched in a predatory curl, but at least acknowledging the mechanical knight now opposite him. There was no meat to this new quarry, but even then he felt the urge to smash the contraption. He snarled an animalistic acknowledgment of Alaster's presence.

As though programmed to do so, Alaster flourished his blade in response to Ablendan's threat. His other arm released Timothy, letting the apprentice drop to the ground.

"Alaster, you can't do this." Timothy whined.

"The Future Of All Magic Depends On Your Survival. It Is Necessary For Me To Defeat Hi--"

Alaster's intonations were cut short by Ablendan tackling the mechanical figure. The scrawny figure of the abomination likely would not have made an impact, but the flies that infested him somehow propelled him forward, adding to his force. Ablendan's tackle staggered the mechanical knight, who took several steps backwards as it corrected its balance. Ablendan, still maintaining the momentum of his charge, made a series of tentative swipes at the machine, trying to find a kink in its armor. All the while, the flies of Beelzebub made their own, separate attack-- swarming and nestling within the delicate clockwork machinery, attempting to jam its mechanisms.

Alaster bellowed a deep, thunderous cry, almost akin to that of a horn. One hand shoved the ghoul assaulting it back, while its other reared back in preparation for a strike with its blade. Its sword swept forward, missing Ablendan by inches-- the flies sacrificing themselves in the hope of causing the contraption to malfunction were having a least some effect, delaying the contraption's reactions ever so slightly. Both hands now gripped the broadsword, as he raised the vorpal blade above him. The knight menacingly advanced towards the reeling Ablendan, preparing to vertically bisect the threat to his ward.

Ablendan, on cue, slipped underneath Alaster-- his powerful claws damaging the exposed gears and machinery of the contraption's legs as he slid below.

The machine, struck in the delicate mechanisms that allowed it to balance, collapsed. It attempted to stand, but underneath the immense weight of its machinery and armor was incapable of doing so.

Timothy Yessic was alone. His protector was damaged, and the figure of Ablendan approached-- now going from standing on his haunches to walking upright once more. Timothy wanted to run-- if Alaster was incapable of defeating this monster, there was little hope of doing so himself. In an attempt born of desperation, the apprentice hurled a fireball towards the abomination approaching him.

The abomination roared as the fire rolled across his body, licking and searing. As much as part of him wished that the fire would consume him wholly, the flies shielded him-- blocking the flames and patching themselves onto his burnt skin. Ablendan laughed.

"Fire will not hurt me, boy. It failed to kill me once before, and will not work now."

A gnarled claw grabbed the apprentice, spindly fingers wrapping around his neck as he lifted the boy up. The buzzing of the flies got louder as he prepared to devour the child-- feed, feed, feed, the flies echoed and repeated to the shell of a man. Ablendan could think of nothing other than his hunger. To consume, to feed, to listen to the child's cries as he tore flesh from bone, to listen only to the whispers of the flies that suffused him and to surrender all that he had left-- mind, body, and soul, all for Beelzebub.

Ablendan stopped. He looked at the boy. His hand released its vise-like grip around his neck.

Ablendan remembered.

He remembered the deal he made. He remembered the humanity that he had lost, piece by piece. He remembered the countless years that he lived as a wild animal, fragments of his humanity whittled away.

Alaster steadily approached-- the mechanical knight had managed to right itself, and now began to walk with uncertain balance towards the abomination.

Ablendan stared at himself, remembering how he once was-- a fine, affluent gentleman, a man of discerning taste. A sick man, desperate for a cure. A foolish man. He had lost so much. He was moments away from losing it all, losing it all and never recovering-- being reduced to nothing but a tool of the demon he once consorted with.

Alaster's sword stabbed the abomination-- the immeasurably sharp blade penetrating hardened and toughened skin and cutting through bone, ligaments, and organs alike.

The abomination collapsed-- the flies had abandoned him, his wound was far too grave to recover from. Blood ran along the thick wound-- he was used to blood, but rarely his own. He dropped one clawed hand to support himself, trying to remain conscious even as he knew he was dying.


He had been given release.

Ablendan Blake smiled. The haggard man could finally end his wretched existence, he could bring a finality to the years of suffering he had endured. He looked up, towards the mechanical knight and the apprentice. His voice was raspy and weak, but he had words left to speak.

"T-thank y-you."

Ablendan Blake collapsed and died the final death that he had delayed for so long.

Originally posted on MSPA by Schazer.


There was a tetchy sigh, and the staid staccato of high heels on brushed-steel floors. The contingent of Copyright Police scattered like vultures before a lion, the possibly-airless space abuzz with emotionless outrage. The Broadcasting Standards Authority paid it no heed.

"I will handle it from here," agreed a voice, so authoritative that something almost stirred in the atrophied emotional centres of the Copyright Police. Satisfied, they peeled away from the reality - and the static-choked stations, too.

Whatever had - for convenience's sake - presented the complainants with that ruthlessly professional human woman switched it off. The space went wasn't for the briefest of moments, then began existing again without further preamble. Out of nowhere, the remaining contestants - suits of armour and entourages and whatever else - were plucked and somehow impossibly impeccably arranged around a sleek black table. Each was vaguely aware of another to either side of them, but something subtly coerced their eyes to remain in front.

Somehow simultaneously directly across from all of them, something spoke. It spared them of theatrics - or, indeed, any strong impression of anything at all.

“The Broadcasting Standards Authority wishes to apologise for this egregious breach of common decency. Following complaints and an examination of Last Thing Standing™ as per the Station’s Code of Practice, we have hereby terminated the Broadcaster’s program into which you have been unduly waylaid.” There was a perfectly calibrated pause there in a few of the entity’s intonations, as though it offered its listeners a chance to fume at the euphemism. In reality, some of the lengthier explanations merely caught up. “As such, the Broadcaster has henceforth been arrested and is facing trial for violation of hyperfederal common media law. As his twice-life non-parole period has already begun on a multiverse-scale significant seventy percent of timelines, the Broadcasting Standards Authority is pleased to note the Broadcaster and his program are no longer of concern to you.”

Whatever sat across the table smiled a little, or did something else to leave its audience a bit more reassured. With that same mechanical perfection, the expression was switched off.

“Understandably, complications with your collective multiversal induction persist, and in a less-complicated situation would have been rectified immediately. As inter-intra-universal chronology and causality stand, however, the Broadcasting Standards Authority regrets to inform you that restoring you to your respective universes and chrono-spatial locations therein is currently beyond our scope.”

Again, that insidious little pause, letting more circuitous dialects catch up while sharper minds seethed. The Broadcasting Standards Authority reminded itself on some subroutine to work on temporal-perception manipulation. Effective conversational lulls were hard to calibrate, even more so in one-sided discussions.

“The Broadcasting Standards Authority is pleased to report, however, that all efforts are being made to rectify the situation in as prompt a manner as possible. The Broadcasting Standards Authority is grateful for your co-operation, and would like to present its gratitude and apologies by way offering your party interim accommodation at Eta Carina Resort. The Broadcasting Standards Authority trusts this multiverse-class tourist destination will be to your collective discerning tastes.”

And with no chance for response or further explanation, they were gone.


Eta Carina, through circumstances that were beyond anyone’s comprehension, was one of those places to be. Situated on an endless sandy shores of a particularly sparkling Carina Nebula (however the hell that was supposed to work), the resort (and worlds-class casino) was always a popular destination amongst the rich, the famous, and those aspiring delusions of being either. You could expect, on any given night (Eta Carina had no day - although you’d never be able to tell by the casino’s lights, the constant fireworks, or the ever-present glow of the nebula) a good third of their technically-limitless floor space booked by some celebrity’s birthday party, or a corporate mogul’s heinous display of wealth and prestige.

It was glamorous. It was decadent. It was a mainstay of multiversal culture, recognised by the proles and the aristocrats alike.

It was the perfect setting for a heist film.

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

The shadow painter was still incredibly confused by the suddenly scenery change (and the hallucinations did not help). Wasn't he supposed to be on the some kitschy sci-fi ship with some wizard and a superheroine? Tschichold did not remember Trek Wars to be this sandy - and itchy, he grumbled as he attempted to remove the beach-stuff from the more awkward regions of his body. Despite the discomfort, it was nice to be in a spot of serenity.

"Holy shit, I'm on a beach."

The sentence was a fleeting monotone. Technically, he should be surprised by this whole background transition. Then again, the previous crazy shenanigans (shitty cannibal party-wreck; sitcom misery with a rather sassy bird; hallucination-addled hijinks with a robot, a kid, some dude, and a zombie), whatever astonishment he had was essentially spent. The shadow painter could not help but laugh. Gosh, these memories were quite a riot. They were crazy. Too crazy.

With a thud, he let himself fall on the sand. Whatever just happened - they were all too unreal. Tschichold considered just disregarding these figments. Another one of those mind-games his afflictions maliciously played. Maybe he could consider just forgetting them...after he finished relaxing on this Very Comfortable Sand.

Seriously though, this sand (maybe not sand, but the description was CLOSE ENOUGH FOR HIS ARTISTIC TASTES) was Very Comfortable. Tschichold had been to plenty of beaches but none of this was as comfortable as the stuff he was laying in. It was not grainy and heavy, but more like powdery and white. It was like laying in a pile of Moon Sand -

Wait, moon.




Tschichold jumped a few feet up (not hard considering that the artificial gravity of Eta Carina was just slightly less of the gravity of our Earth). Yes, he was on the beach, but also yes, he was in space. The iridescent afterglow of the beautiful Carina Nebula made that statement hard to disprove. If Tschichold squinted, he could just see a frolicking pod of Carinan Sea Lions (Zalophus carinanus) in the cloudy star-distance. However, Tschichold had no camera - also he was screaming.

"Oh god, oh god, ohgod, ohgod, ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod." Tschichold repeated the phrase into an unparsable blur. Tschichold was essentially suffering from a textbook case of "freaking out," but he could not help it! He was incredibly shocked at his situation ("how the fuck did I not see SPACE BEACH") - shocked enough to realize his problem was much larger than he thought...

The blathering of the Broadcaster (which was now a distant memory); the questions that smarmy Freefall asked (also her costume still sucks); And ohgodohgodohgod, the death of, er, Barry - the truth was there; everything hit him at once. He was in some kind of grandiose battle to the death.

The shadow painter escalated into hysteria as he attempted to figure out the logistics to this multiversal tournament. His fair share of neuroses and his propensity to shrug off things usually made him oblivious to fear. However, the notion of death was something else. Thanatophobia (pretentious-ese for "fear of death") is a very primal and ancient fear carved into the human psyche.

Tschichold had a tendency to overestimate things. He couldn't help it, he'd claim. He's an artist. So that tiny little reptilian uncertainty was pulled, stretched, exaggerated into an over-encompassing fear that enveloped his addled brain - doesn't help that he is trapped in this battle. As such, he is very, very, fearful of ending up like poor Barry Barnes. Tschichold had never felt this helpless in his life.

He-he really needed a place to relax.

Tschichold tried not to cry, but he did anyway. Blubbering like some actor in a soap opera, the shadow artist went resort-wards. He just needed some single room to meditate. He needed to stop and think. You know, make sense of things. But honestly what he really wanted was some bathroom in the Eta Carina to cry his eyes out. His delicate mental state could not really handle this.

At all.

Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

In the scant seconds that had passed in between Saint plunging the knife into the sleeping woman and emerging bloodied from that room, Mister O had seemingly recovered. He was on his feet, dusting down his suit, looking for all the world as though he had not been writhing in agony upon the floor mere moments ago. Saint strode down the hallway, eventually coming to a stop in front of the proprietor.

“I just stabbed some woman while she slept; I think I am entitled to an explanation.” Saint asked. She was no longer angry or afraid. She was perplexed; the things she had seen inside Mister O’s office, they made no sense, and what she had just done, well that made even less sense. She was kind of irritated; she felt like she was trying to put together a jigsaw only nobody had seen fit to give her any edge pieces. There was a good moment of silence, almost a repeat of what had happened in Mister O’s office before the static had cut in.

“Okay.” Mister O relented. Even as he did so he looked uncertain, as if he could not fathom how to even begin to explain this. “I think I could use a cup of tea before we get into it though.” He pushed open the door to his office and stepped inside, holding the door open for Saint who, with a sigh that suggested she knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere, followed him. For a moment the world around them cycled, a flurry of places manifesting and then being whipped away in an instant. It took a lot to unsettle a hardened survivor a zombie apocalypse like Saint, but this made her feel uncomfortable; uncertain and unsteady upon her feet as though the floor was about to ripped out from beneath her. She grabbed onto Mister O’s arm until finally the world settled down. It took the form of a street-corner café except devoid of people. Through the glass windows it was clear to see it was a sunny summer day. Saint quickly retracted her grip as the proprietor of the mysterious inn wandered behind the counter and made himself a pot of tea. “Would you like anything?” He asked.

“Yeah, an explanation.” Saint reiterated. “Look, it’s okay, I’ll believe you.” She paused as he shot her a strange look. “Clearly whatever is going on here, it is weird and you’re thinking it’s going to be too weird for my poor little brain to comprehend right? Don’t worry about that. Whatever it is I can handle it.”

“Okay.” Mister O eventually began to explain. “This is a dream.” The look that crossed Saint’s face suggested for a moment that she not only didn’t believe him, but that she was unimpressed with his clichéd plot twist.

“I could almost buy that.” Saint replied. “I fell asleep downstairs and this is all some crazy dream-”

“No no, you aren’t dreaming.” Mister O interjected. “This is a dream, this place.” He looked around the empty café and then clarified. “I don’t just mean here, I mean the entirety of the inn.” He picked up the cup of coffee and walked over to where Saint was leaning upon one of the wooden chairs. “Without the dreams of the guests the inn is nothing more than a burnt out husk.”

“I don’t know.” Saint replied, running her hands along the smooth wood of the chair. “This feels pretty real.”

“Well,” he paused as he took a sip of the cup of tea, “that is because it is real. Everything in the inn is as real as you or I, just a dream at the same time.” Mister O regarded Saint’s expression and concluded that this hadn’t really helped. “Think of the dreams as the building blocks that make the inn. Instead of bricks and mortar we’re made of dreams and sometimes the dreams look like bricks and mortar, but sometimes they look like other things as well.”

“So…” Saint was quiet for a moment. “The woman… The static got into her? Into her mind and infected her dreams.” Mister O’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Yes, exactly.” He replied. “And when you killed her, that part of the dream was removed.”

“And here in your office, these places; these are the places that your guests dream about?” Saint asked.

“You’re taking this rather well.” Mister O observed.

“Would you prefer I fling my arms up in the air and go ‘oh my gosh this can’t possibly be true’?” Saint asked with a smirk. There was no reply. “Come on Mister O, you were supposed to be the one explaining this to me. Tell me what happens to your guests.”

“As I’m sure you’ve already figured, they work here at the inn.” He said with a half-smile of his own. “I can’t run this place on my own you know. To them it is as though they’ve always worked here; that strange logic you find in dreams.” They lapsed into silence for a moment, the only sound Mister O sipping at the piping hot cup of tea.

“Okay, I believe you.” Saint said eventually. “It’s one hell of a story but I’ll buy it. There is just one thing that I don’t understand.” Mister O who had been so relaxed for once, suddenly tensed up again. “Why?”


While Mister O and Saint had been discussing important matters, Maria was being interviewed by the incredibly unimportant Wesley Cockburn; reporter and private security specialist who she reckoned really just wanted someone to tell him how fantastic he was. When the Broadcasting Standards Authority scooped up the various remaining contestants from the battle Maria persisted a little longer than any of the others, though she was not to know that. There was a minute or so after they had gone when she had a feeling of uneasiness in her chest, like a cord that had been tied tight around her was pulling her onwards. She groaned in pain and requested an end to this interminable interview, although of course she was not so rude as to say that exactly. It wasn’t until she was almost doubled over that Wesley even noticed her discomfort and offered her his shoulder. As he guided her to a seat, she was pulled away; pulled back to the inn as though she was connected to it by an invisible bungee. And thanks to her grip on him at the time so was Wesley Cockburn.

Maria caught only part of the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s address, having been pulled back into the inn only once it was already in progress, and much of the rest of it was disrupted by Wesley demanding an explanation that she couldn’t give him. She did however manage to get the gist that they were no longer in a battle to the death even if she couldn’t fathom the jargon the Broadcasting Standards Authority was bandying around as explanation for their unplanned sojourn. Before she could go and get Owen or Saint, hell before she could even properly process the information for herself, the inn was moved on again.


Amongst the glaring neon signs that illuminated the Eta Carina strip, there was suddenly a new one; a crescent moon lit up in purple. The building that it was attached to had not been there just seconds ago, but despite the bustling crowds there was no fuss. Perhaps it was because you would be hard pressed to find a person upon this strip who was both sober and observant enough to say with any certainty that the building had just appeared, but perhaps it was that these people were seasoned multiversal travellers and if they were surprised at the sudden appearance of a casino/hotel perhaps they should get back into their own universe before they encounter something truly unsettling.

While The Traveller’s Rest was larger than it had been in either of the previous rounds, it was runtish compared to the buildings that surrounded it. In any other place they would be considered skyscrapers, the only reasons they were not here was that there were no buildings with which to compare them and perhaps that there was no sky to scrape. Inside Maria strode across the casino floor, barely sparing a glance for the empty tables and quietly humming slots machines that she was already intimately familiar with. The clacking of her high heels echoed through the empty space, or would have done had it not been drowned out by the hurrying of the reporter/mercenary Wesley Cockburn as he tried to keep up with her.

“I am a very important man, I’ll have you know.” He said. “Stop wasting my time and tell me what is going on here.” From his perspective this room moments ago had been a rather elegant dining room, and then suddenly it had changed. The room had flowed around him, the dining table had split in half and moulded into blackjack tables, the legs of the chairs had flowed together and become stools, the walls had slid away and slot machines had risen out of the ground. It had taken little more than a moment and Maria was acting as though this was how it had always been. If only he’d had his camera with him.

“I’m very sorry Mister Cockburn, but I’ve already explained I don’t know what you are talking about.” As they reached a door upon the back wall, Maria turned and instructed Wesley to stay here while she went to talk to the proprietor. However as he opened the door she saw him and his wife emerging from his office down the short hall. If she hadn’t known better she might have said that for a minute before the door closed fully, it seemed a shade too bright in there.

“Owen, Saint, did you hear?” Maria asked. Owen looked the same as he ever did and not just because of the effects of the inn. His usual attire was a fancy business suit and tie, perhaps the one he wore now was a little more fancy than usual, probably even a designer brand, but overall the same look was achieved. Saint was dressed similarly though in a pale red. Her piercings, her shaved head and the peeking out of a tattoo on the back of her neck made her formal attire look sort of incongruous, but it was something that Maria had long ago gotten used to.

“Yep.” Owen replied with a smile. “A new location, and this time we should have actual tourists. This is fantastic news.” Maria paused momentarily, she’d been excited about the announcement but for very different reasons. Why was it that all that Owen could think of was business? It was like he was blind to the danger that they had, up until very recently been in… but… since that was over now she could hardly hold it against him. If he wanted to be happy that this was a far better locale than back home, then well, he was welcome to do so. She guessed she wouldn’t be getting to have a day off then.

Owen and Saint emerged from the corridor and took in the casino floor with a measure of seeming surprise. “I’m going to guess this place has sort of a Vegas vibe then?” He mused idly, his gaze eventually resting upon Wesley. His face flickered between confused, pleased and then confused again when he saw the weapon strapped across Wesley’s back. “Our first guest?” He guessed.

Before Wesley was able to respond, Saint cut in. “You’d better hope so.” She frowned at the empty casino. “How are we supposed to run this place with just the three of us?” Maria frowned at the thought and its disparity from that which she remembered. She’d never questioned how they had managed to run a casino with just three people before, but she couldn’t really understand why that had never been a concern until now. She turned and looked at Wesley with a certain level of scrutiny.

“Wesley how would you like a job as hotel security?” she asked. After a pause she turned to Saint and Owen and introduced the reporter/private security specialist.

“Are you sure he’s up to the job?” Saint asked, all business.

“Yeah, you should have seen the alien zombie things he and his team killed back in this crazy desert place.” Maria replied.

“Okay fine.” Saint said. “Consider yourself hired, Mister…?”

“Cockburn.” Wesley replied. “Wesley Cockburn. And don’t I get some say in this?”

“Trust us Wesley; this is better than our standard hiring policy.” Saint smiled.

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Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.


One of the basic tenets of travel is this: It doesn’t matter so much about your destination, since how you get there is the worthier part.

Unfortunately, like most basic tenets, it fails in the majority of examples; especially when it comes to convoluted ones involving intermingling spaces, worlds, dimensions, realms, planes of existence et cetera. The criterion upon which this failure rests is deceptively simple: journeys, on the whole, should not be terrifying, filled with multidimensional eldritch horrors, and/or qlosph (an adjective yet to make it into humanity’s dictionary of experience, a fact for which many are very, very glad). And when your journey is caused by being forcibly dragged across the cosmos, your destination could be Paradise for all the multiverse cares; qlosph wouldn’t even begin to cover the crossing.

It’s also worse for wizards.

<font color="#AAA555">“Hey, you okay?”

Slowly, the mind that belonged to Aaron disentangled itself from the miasma of travel, reconnecting with its subordinate senses in a tearful reunion.

Aaron? Aaron! Stop sobbing, for gold’s sake! Change fluttered indignantly in front of Aaron’s still horrified, tear-streaked face. Nearby, the casino’s resident mechanic sat on a crate, watching in a bemused amusement as the wizard shuddered on the workshop floor. On occasion she would rise to give him another poke, an activity Change disapproved of as being worthless, but never took it too far to warrant action.

For some reason he couldn’t put a price to, this annoyed him.

<font color="#AAA555">“Well, strong man he ain’t.” She returned to her crate and watched the limbs flail again, though the shudders were dying down. “Sorry, Bundle – don’t think I introduced myself. I’m Artemis.”

Change. My name is Change. The notes fanned out a little, and bent towards the form on the floor. That is Aaron.</font>

“Hell!” Aaron sat bolt upright, little whimpers still echoing in the air. “What the hell happened there?!”

Aaron! Excellent, you’re awake! Change rippled pleasantly – calmy, attempting to restore stability to Aaron’s state – You will not believe the fortituousness and potential profitability of our locale-

Aaron, however, was having none of it, as his body gave an involuntary heave. “Bathroom. Oh, gods.“

Artemis pointed a leather-gloved finger out the door. “Down the hall, along the main floor. Follow the signs, just…don’t puke in here, okay?” Gratefully, the aurumancer ran out the door and bobbed away, robe trailing behind him.

<font color="#CDAD00">Change fluttered uncomfortably. Well.

“Well, I guess it’s just us for now.” Mechanic smiled at Transaction as if a floating bundle of money was a perfectly ordinary occurrence. “Wanna go for a walk?”</font>

Aaron pushed open the wooden door and into the opulent bathroom, and was immediately struck with a cloud of noxious fumes. Not the kind you'd usually expect in a bathroom, but the pungent, heady smell of oil paints, emanating from the multicolored mural that coated the walls, parts of the floor, smothering the mirror and the taps. It seemed to attack the eyes as well as the nose, swirls of color depicting strange, twisted apparitions and wild distortions of reality. Yet they soothed him a little, with strangely familiar visions in the intricate brushwork calling to his eyes, pulling his gaze – In fact…Aaron peered at a particular patch of painted dots – was that supposed to be him? And Change?

It was then he heard a sound from behind him, coming from one of the toilet stalls. A strange, wet snuffling. It sounded almost like...crying?</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

Teus ignored the frantic bustle of the wizards, and looked down.

“Do we have an agreement?” he said in his oiliest voice.

In response, Adhira Bolar removed the cigarette from between his lips and blew a cloud of foul-smelling smoke.

“As if I have a choice, kutte ka awlat,” he retorted, shoving the dog-end back in his mouth.

Teus was reminded of why he hated the Bandar-Log.

Apparently, before the Nameless Horror, the Bandar-Log had been a proud, strong people. Images of towering ziggurats were often featured in the history texts. But you wouldn’t think that to look at them now. They were basically monkeys, and did nothing to change this.

Despite the fact that the one next to him was a neta, one of the wise orang-utans, he wasn’t representing his species very well. He smelt. The collage of clothing and straps and survival gear over his body smelt. Anything metal, like the slim barrel of his gas rifle, seemed to corrode in the ape’s presence. Teus also made a mental note to have Adhira hung for the insult – it was amazing how people didn’t think he understood Bandar, or any foreign language. Someone ought to wash this creature’s mouth out with soap.

“Oh come now, there’s always a choice,” he replied, turning his attention back to the scrying glass as the wizards tried to track down their target again.

Adhira snorted.

“Yeah? Do the job or hang, right? Wonderful choice.”

“I didn’t say it was a good choice. I just said you had one.”

The words “Program Cancelled” flashed up every so often on the scrying glass. Teus didn’t know what it meant. Not fully understanding the events before him felt wrong, and the past twenty minutes or so had left him understanding nothing. Who were these people? How did they acquire such powers? What was a “commercial?” If only he had something to use as a handle on these events.

The golem had killed a demon of some kind. It had also improvised, slathering hallucinogens on its memory crystal when the normal thought processes were insufficient. The wizards had spent hours poring over Archmage Yessic’s blueprints for the Switzerman, and still didn’t why or how, or what the container in its left wrist was, or why it needed an angelic being bound to its so-called “soul”.

Teus squashed the faint kernel of panic in his gut and spoke again.

“So we are agreed. You recover or destroy the suit, and in return you gain full Citizenship, a luxurious apartment in the high city, and a lifetime’s supply of-”


Teus didn’t twitch.

“Of course.”

“Sorry to break it to you, but you’re a bakland if you think I’m agreeing to that,” added Adhira, unfolding a lever-like arm to gesture at the scrying glass. “I’m not going against a Vorpal weapon for just that. I want more. You’re paying for my shit for life on top of that, got that?”

Teus turned, and Adhira had the sudden, horrifying sensation of his skeleton trying to jump out of his body. This was because it was.

“I made no such arrangement,” said Teus, cold anger lurking behind his smooth tone.

Adhira decided that he preferred his bones on the inside.

“Right,” he grunted through the pain, “of course. Durians, home, citizenship. That’s fair.”


The pain went, and Adhira staggered into a more upright position.

“What about the child?” he managed to say.

“What about him?”

There was a pause, in which Adhira tried to think of a way out of the deal and failed miserabley.

“Off you go then,” piped up Teus, all false smiles.

“…Chup kar.”


“Alaster, look! Look!”

The lights! The music! The noise! The smells!

Timmy was as excited as any eight-year-old could be. Everything was bright and glowing, just like that city had been but even MORE so! It WAS like that city! It smelled like it too, all grimy and lived in, and there were No-Horse-Carriages again but they looked even smoother and sleeker than before and they were soooo cooooool! And the women were showing their legs! And, best of all, there was the ocean! At least Timmy thought it was, because he’d only read about it, but there was water and sand and people were swimming and playing games and things so it must be!

And when he looked up, there was nothing but stars.

Alaster was too busy lying in an alley to appreciate the spectacular sights of Eta Carina. It was struggling to remember something important, the last whisps of Tschichold’s hallucinogenic paint still clinging to its thought processes. It had been… had been… fighting. Yes, it had been fighting something. Someone? It couldn’t remember.

“Are… are you okay, Alaster?”

The Switzerman raised its head to observe Timothy. Concern was etched on the child’s features.

“What’s the matter? Did something happen?”

Drugged-up movie logic clashed against machine rules and won.

“Nothing Is Wrong.” Alaster sat up and ruffled Timmy’s hair with a gauntleted hand, electing a cry of pleased surprise. “The Magical Menace Has Been Defeated. We Are Safe Now.”

Yes. That made sense. They had defeated the enemy and this was their reward. The way movies ended. A happy scene in a resort that promised a life free of strife and combat. Judging by Timothy’s face, it could only be true.

“Alaster! There’s the ocean! I’ve never SEEN the ocean before! Can I go play? Huh? Huh? Can I? Pleeeeaaaase!”

“Of Course.”

Alaster pulled itself to its feet, took Timmy’s hand, and went off to its happy ending.


The wizards were currently busy being outraged at the fashion styles prevalent on Eta Carina. The women were practically nude! You could see their legs, sometimes up to the mid-thigh! And some of their clothing showed legs even when they were covered! One or two of the older wizards had fainted in horror. The younger wizards, however, were very much interested in the whole thing and kept trying to sneak glances.

Teus wasn’t attracted by the sights on offer. Fingers steelped again and cool demeanour returned, he observed the throng below and planned.

The tournament, event or whatever the suit had been a part of was on hiatus. That meant that the suit would not aggressively defend the child as much, but it also meant the other competitors would not seek it out to destroy it. That would make it easier to capture or destroy overall, as, judging by the culture of this “resort”, the native people would not respond negatively to the suit’s presence amongst them. However, it also posed the problem of eliminating the suit in the first place. The team he had sent had all failed miserably. That was why he had called in a specialist, of course, but he wasn’t going to honour an agreement with an animal, and he did not have high hopes for the Bandar-Log in any case. He needed a backup plan.

He cast his mind around for a short while, and found his backup plan.

He beckoned an aide to his side.

“I require the use of my private scrying glass.”

“Yes, my lord. Right away.”


Freefall hadn’t minded the bullets. Bullets were a triviality by now, a criminal’s way of saying hello. When you could make yourself harder than steel at will, bullets were least of your concerns.

She’d minded the tasers a lot, though.

This retreat was nice, though. It worked. The brief pause in the action before something dramatic happened, like in a comic. The last third of the issue and a half that was this episode in her life. It was so simple, when you thought about it. It was like people wanted to be slotted into stories and tropes, needed it even.

She was currently using the calm to patch herself up in a hotel bathroom, using a packet of the Gadgeteer’s special sealant to patch up the countless bullet holes in her suit. She desperately wanted to shower and clean off the dirt,

(the blood of the man she had killed, the person she had killed by accident)

but the suit would be harder to repair if she took it off, and like hell she was gonna fiddle around with this stupid thing. She had heroing to do. There would obviously be some crime happening somewhere, and even the peaceful resort of Eta Carmine would have a racket going on, or a mafia to take down. She wanted to keep her momentum going, after all.

(she wanted to go home she was so tired)

She was partway finished when a rush of black made her look up.

There was a tall, sallow-faced man clad in black robes behind her.

She whipped around and saw no-one.

“I’m over here, madam.”

Freefall turned back around. The man was still there, a smirk across his features.

“Oh, great, let me guess,” she said, an equal smirk forming, “this hotel is haunted and you’re a crazy spirit who’s gonna leap out of the mirror and murder me like in The Shining. What, Bloody Matthew, is it?”

The man sighed.

“No, I’m not an apparition,” he said. “I am-”

“Well what are you then? Maybe you’re some kind of reverse vampire? Like, you’re only visible in mirrors?” Freefall’s fist shot out and disproved her theory by hitting thin air.

“If you would let me finish, madam.”

Freefall lowered her arm like she’d meant to punch that bit of air anyway.

“My name is Teus,” continued the man. “I wish to talk to you about a walking suit of armour.”

Freefall frowned.

“What, the crazy Iron Giant and his pet wizard? Why are you so interested in them?”

“Because they are a danger to-” Teus suddenly smiled pleasantly. It didn’t suit him. “I’m sorry, I forgot to ask your name, Miss…”

“It’s Freefall to you.” She didn’t like this oily man. He fit the smug villain routine to a tee, inspiring a strong desire to punch him in the face.

“Very well then. Miss Freefall, the suit of armour is dangerous. It was designed to protect the child in a passive manner, but it has stolen that sword and suffered damage to its cognitive processes. It attacks everything in sight on the pretense of protecting the child, and if it is not stopped it will continue to kill, never satiated, until it falls apart or runs down. And it won’t do either of those for a long time yet.”

“And you’re asking me to stop it.”

“Of course. I have been observing this event for some time, and you are the most competent combatant present. You are more than capable of neutralising this threat.”

Freefall tried to prevent her ego from swelling. It was kind of true. She’d had the bucket of bolts on the ropes, and she would have finished him off too if stupid distractions hadn’t turned up. The authorities sure took their time getting the damn fight cancelled and all eight of them out of there - if they'd turned up sooner she wouldn't have had the joy of being tasered like a bad student protester.

(and maybe you wouldn’t have - )

Come on now, keep your cool.

“Flattery is cheap,” she retorted. “How can I trust you?

Teus’ smile shrank a little.

“You would rather let more innocents die? Shame on you, Miss Freefall. I had hoped that you would live up to the reputation preceding you. I would loathe to be disappointed.”

Now that stung. She stood up, looking the false reflection in the eye.

“I’ll think about it.”

And then she gave in to her primal urges and punched him in the face.


Teus jerked back as the glass shattered on her end, and then smiled wanly and sat back in his chair.

“Impetuous child.”
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Kriok could not move.

Of all the cross-dimensional journeys, the avian's had been one of the more turbulent-- she was on the cusp of being outright killed when she was ripped away from the sewers she was confined and harried in. While the Broadcasting Standards Authority-- a minor process noted the likely corporate euphemism-- was capable of causing a temporary cessation of her critical state as she provided her spiel, that quickly changed once Kriok was removed from that realm. A trio of mechanical alarms now blared in her cybernetic mind, reminding the avian that, in addition to her apparently-stabilized bleeding and the somehow-fixed mechanical failure of a lung, she was heavily sedated. Her surrogate mechanical tissue was exempt from the tranquilizer's effects, in some capabilities-- actuators and synthetic muscles wouldn't respond in order to prevent tearing and biological damage, but her mind and optical sensors still functioned.

The cybernetic avian began to make an attempt at scanning her new location-- a more difficult task than she expected, as her long neck could not twist and crane to affect her field of vision. There were a few obvious details Kriok immediately noticed-- a pair of orderlies, medical supplies, and a distant robot adorned in scalpels and syringes all suggested she was in some form of hospital or clinic. A subroutine questioned the purpose of including a medical establishment in what had been described as a tourist destination; another questioned just how the doctors were able to operate on her with no familiarity with the physiology of her species or specifications of her synthetic systems.

Another part of her panicked. She was helpless, in a new foreign environment, and she could not shake the notion that the competition she was an unwilling participant in had not really ended. The excuse that returning to her home universe violated some unspoken physical principle seemed suspect, and the vague proffering of a conciliatory stay seemed like it would have ulterior motives. No, she would have to assume that she was still in danger. This resort was just as hostile as the last location.

The avian heard footsteps. Someone was approaching. She couldn't twist to see just who it was, but the possibilities her paranoia-addled mind cycled through all suggested some form of potential threat.

On her right side, a figure pulled into view-- some variety of doctor, she assumed, based on the futuristic medical scrubs he wore. He waved a hand at the pair of orderlies mulling about, who quickly left. Kriok remained motionless as the doctor drew near. The doctor turned around, leaning against the bed as he pressed two fingers to a communicator embedded somewhere in his ear. Kriok waited and listened to his side of the conversation as he talked.

"Oi, boss. I found the green you wanted me to go after. You want me to bump 'er off, or what's the plan there?"

A subroutine recorded his speech, diagnosing his unique dialect. Hearing him talk cast serious doubts that he was a member of a medical professional. Kriok waited, listening to him talk further.

Uh, boss, I don't know how I'm supposed to muscle this feathery broad if she's unconsciou--"

The thug rummaged through his scrubs, patting himself and double-checking his possessions before continuing his dialogue. "Yes, boss, I have the package." The thug paused, before producing a box and scrambling to open it.

Kriok noticed that the package contained several objects that bore an uncanny resemblance to a set of mining micro-explosives, as well as a matching detonator contained within.

"Heh. Clever, boss. I see where you're going with this. Rig up the floozy's metal bits, and threaten to whack 'er if she doesn't help you along. I see why you're the boss, boss. I'll get to it." His fingers left his communicator, having concluded his conversation. He turned around, preparing to get on with his assigned task.

He was not, however, preparing for Kriok's mechanical arm to grab his neck and slam his head against the bed's hard frame.
Originally posted on MSPA by Pick Yer Poison.

"Excuse me, lifeguard?" A pleasantly mezzo-soprano voice emanated from somewhere below and in front of the lifeguard on duty. He cracked open an eye behind his sunglasses to see if it was a cute girl speaking or just some kid who sounded like one. Meeting an agreeable sight, he sat up a little straighter and, leaning forward slightly, asked what the problem was.

The girl gestured towards the pool behind her, in which a large number of guests in varying amounts of swimwear were drifting or darting around in the cool water. "There's a...thing in there." She shrugged. "Some kind of jellyfish"

The lifeguard lowered his sunglasses and stared at her over them. "We don't have any jellyfish in the pool, ma'am. Maybe you've been sitting in the sun too long."

She grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the pool to show him.

The jellyfish in question was experiencing a rush of happiness at finding himself in a mass of water teeming with life. After he'd been transported into a body of water he had thought that the cold thoughts that had pressed themselves onto him had been wrong - he'd been sent home after all! Waves of joy radiated out from him, and every creature in the pool immediately felt their spirits uplifted for reasons they couldn't discern.

However, this wasn't what had caused him to be noticed. What brought attention to Nizzo was when he started dancing, carving intricate patterns into the water that no one else there could understand. It was to this bizarre sight that the lifeguard found himself staring at, having completely forgotten that there was a bikini babe right next to him. "What the heck is that?" he said incredulously. "And how'd it get in there?"

Nizzo's dance slowly ground to a halt. Something was wrong. He cast his mental net around the pool, and to his dismay, found that the living beings around him were not familiar in the slightest. His joy quickly vanished and was replaced with disappointment, strong enough for everyone nearby to feel. Some occupants of the pool, realizing these mood swings were not their own, began to look around uneasily, trying to find the source of the telepathic influence.

Finally, a shapely, vapid-looking woman located him, and let out a squeal of excitement. "Look at this thing! Isn't it adorable?" Then, before the lifeguard could warn her not to touch it, she reached over to Nizzo and circled her arms around him, giving him a large and slightly squishy hug. Nizzo, mistaking the move for an attack, flailed his tentacles in panic, making them splash weakly in the water, which only elicited a coo of appreciation from the woman holding him. Other swimmers began to join her in admiring the strange animal that had gotten into the pool, while the lifeguard simply shook his head in astonishment.

[Image: zjQ0y.gif][Image: vcGGy.gif]
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Following the revelation that their newest patient was, in fact, conscious, the medical staff of Eta Carina's medical substation immediately threw themselves into a hectic pace. Hospital workers swarmed into the room she occupied, attending to whatever whims she had. At the behest of her cawing mechanical voice, the sedatives flooding her were quickly flushed out, allowing the avian to once again move.

Pushing away the orderlies that hovered around her, Kriok stood. She looked down, examining herself. The thick rolls of bandages wrapped around her torso and one of her legs immediately caught her eye. The injuries and mechanical damage had been fully healed and repaired, as far as she could discern. This reminder of her past misfortunes seemed extraneous-- as though the doctors supposedly responsible for her wished to draw attention to the prior attack.

Suspicions already heightened by the attempt on her life, the incongruous hospitality of the orderlies and the inattentive geniality of the doctors-- Kriok didn't like it here. Even as the doctors assured her the recent incident was abnormal, and that in a place such as this she had no reason to worry, the avian fretted. Her cold denial of their assuagement was quietly ignored.

As soon as she could, she left the clinic. The doctors insisting she remained convalescent were pointedly ignored. Kriok did not intend to become intimately acquainted with this place-- she had no intention of a lengthy visit to the clinic, nor the resort itself. Having marched through sanitized corridors, she passed through the hospital's exit-- and found herself engulfed in the main avenue of Eta Carina.

Countless spires stretched upward, reaching out to snatch and bottle the nebula above. The architectural edifices of a hundred universes walled the thoroughfare, displaying utter disregard for anything resembling a consistent aesthetic. The promenade stretched outwards in either direction, extending to display countless universes worth of collected wonders. Fighting to attract others amid the kaleidoscope of blinding color, neon lights promised the attractions and wealth of exotic worlds. Along the street, the denizens of Eta Carina drunkenly stumbled from one attraction to another. Vehicles flitted and danced in the air between buildings, forming long, winding processions. Further away, titanic vessels of numerous makes and designs sailed through the artificial atmosphere.

The concentrated spectacle was nauseating. Circuit-nerves simulated revulsion, desperately attempting to produce a facsimile of genuine disgust.

It reminded her all too much of the core of her civilization, the mechanical planets she had fled for the periphery. Suddenly being returned to chaos akin to the automated cities, after so long on the borderlands, was impossible to stand. The avian wished her robotic eyes would stop their incessant scanning and analysis and processing-- every sign, every inhabitant, every false wonder this world offered to her, all pried apart and filtered. The avian looked down, averting her eyes to regain some measure of composure.

She wanted to leave. The silent plotting of regulatory minutiae, the calculation background processes-- Kriok could barely hear these thoughts. The solitude of home was preferable to the thoughtless sensory overload of Eta Carina-- even if it meant coping with her now-dead species.

A subroutine reminded her that she still had yet to escape. Her mechanical sensors began again to investigate-- a withdrawal from this gilded, riotous prison had to be somewhere in the labyrinthine complex. In hopes of finding an exit, Kriok examined a few of the signs. A scant few directed visitors towards cross-universe transit hubs, and despite their obfuscated presence Kriok noted their directions. Veering towards the closest prospect, the bandaged avian walked.

Shuffling past the throngs populating Eta Carina's boulevard, she entered the terminal. Smooth marble worn from the march of countless visitors, elegant pillars supporting the immense burdens of above, lofty and expansive ceilings-- Kriok had entered another world, separate from Eta Carina's vivacious clamor. Distant signs noted exotic destinations, occasionally adjusting with shifts in schedule. The opulence of outside remained tangible, but subdued and masked-- it allowed Kriok to focus, to remind herself that she remained adamant about escaping. She pressed forward into the concourse, carefully navigating the dispersed congregations.

"May I have your attention, please."

The pleasant, faintly-automated announcement echoed through the platform. The concourse paused, waiting in jaded attention. Kriok paused.

"We regret to inform you that, as a result of Interstice sub-entanglement failure, all cross-universal transit has been deemed unsafe. As such, all dimensional crossings have been cancelled. We apologize for this delay, and wish that you enjoy your stay in Eta Carina."

With the message's conclusion, the signs far above changed to indicate new conditions. The travelers quickly dispersed, emptying the plaza. Kriok remained, dumbfounded at what transpired. Escape had been imminent-- and just when freedom was close, her opportunity had been stolen. A taloned foot loudly scraped across the marble floor as the avian cawed in frustration, a gesture ignored by the veteran visitors. Processes bitterly churned in response to the change in circumstances. Slowly concluding the new cycle of thoughts, the avian decided to lay low until the anomaly resolved itself-- she saw no other option. The outright confirmation of Eta Carina's dangers, the equal measures of violence and incompetence among her fellow contestants-- any other choice was suicidal.

With no reason to remain, the avian joined the wave of departing travelers. Once again on the main strip, Kriok searched the flood of competing lights. The attractions of a hundred dimensions beckoned, all of them ignored-- visiting any of them would draw undue attention, if not from the contestants then from Eta Carina's already-entrenched dangers. A single sign advertised a squat building-- small only in that it did not grasp distant stars. Seeing it as the most convenient bolt-hole she would receive, Kriok advanced towards it.

And then she entered The Traveler's Rest.

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Tschichold was sobbing - and also getting nauseous. The artist was getting dizzy from the plumbing changing about six different colors (plus a few dozen more). He would have welcomed the eventual blackout that came with vertigo package deal. However, there was some sneaky rat shuffling about in his emotional haven (reader’s note: a very expensive bathroom) - no doubt ruining his art. He would had a very good cry, but hey, sometimes things had to interrupt - things like rude people barging in without asking permission. Tschichold was not exactly happy with this. After all, rude people were the worst.

Tschichold frowned at the scuffling of boots (or whatever footwear equivalent) on the marble. Rude people! Rude people were not only disrespectful, but also very noisy. Being one of those unpleasant fellows whose wrath was proportional to the amount of trivial din in the air, Tschichold also hated noisy people. So rude, the painter cursed the intruder under his breath. Probably rude enough to vandalize my murals. That’s it. The crimes were too much to ignore. The artist needed to give that person a piece of his mind.

Meanwhile, Aaron was getting equally nauseous. Being a man of wizardly scholarship, the aurumancer was pondering the secrets of the universe (reader’s note: a very expensive bathroom) - namely “how long he can hold his lunch” and “why is the floor not obeying his legs.” It was hard to ponder these very important secrets when everything was going through every nanometer of the visible wavelength. As much as Change was a bit of a nagger sometimes, Aaron seriously wished that sentient pile of metaphysical cash was here so he could ask him for some advice - especially when one of the bathroom stalls spoke “HEY.”

“Yes you.” The bathroom stall demanded of his attention. Aaron became slightly slack-jawed at this daft violation of reality. How could bathroom stalls talk? Well, non-magical ones anyway. Even then, the novel phenomenon was incredibly confusing to the increasingly disoriented wizard considering even in his native universe, lavatories (very common in his civilization) do not even talk. Aaron was about to spew at this perplexity of this difficult ignorance until he saw a familiar-looking head hovering above one of those doors.

The painter frowned as soon as he recognized who the annoying visitor was. Oh wow, it was Aaron Abstract of all the seven or so whatever contestants. Who the hell was that robe-wearing pansy anyway. What was his purpose here anyway. He seemed boring. Oh, how Tschichold hated boring people. When was the last time he was forced to hang out with this stupid-also-boring wizard - some weird-ass jellyfish documentary followed with that sports fiasco...and lets not get started Trek Wars.

From what he could remember with his hallucinogenically-hindered mind, Tschichold fidgeted so violently on his makeshift perch. His wizardly observer though he was suffering a comically-placed seizure - clinging on the bathroom door stall of all places. The plastic door of privacy clattered violently on the locks, a cacophony that caused further distress (and additional nausea) within the two contestants - especially in this enclosed space (reader’s note: a very expensive bathroom). Eventually the noise was too abrasive for Aaron’s addled ears and he pleaded an auditory ceasefire with a very loud

Tschichold let out a surprised yelp - and a string of colorful curses as his body met the marble floor. Aaron just met this paranoid painter a few in-round minutes ago -and now that guy is squatting in the lavatory of all cases. The wizard did not quite know how to react or reply to this barmy fellow or why he was dwelling in a bathroom - a bathroom that Aaron Abstract could use.

“What you want,” The nasally voice demand of the mage.

Aaron could feel the paranoia ever-burning in that terse sentence. Coincidentally, his esophagus was ever-burning too - at least it was starting to burn anyway. “Why are you he--”

Tschichold did not bother to let Aaron finish. Why should he? His words were probably boring anyway. “Go away.”

“At least you can let me--”

“I said go away.” An awkward pause descended. “I don’t trust capitalists.”

Despite his hazy vision, Aaron felt slightly offended at that statement. Why he was an aurumancer - that was totally different from the shadowy man had accused of him being. So piqued by that slander that Abstract decided to give him an impromptu lecture on the title that he had spent so much time, tears, and taxes to rightfully earn.

“Listen, sir. There is a fine difference between economist and an aurumancer. First of economists are social theorists who concern themselves behind distribution of goods and services; they may or may not be magical. On the other hand, aurumancers.” There was much emphasis on that word. “aurumancers are magicians concern themselves with the meaning of value - a metaphysical application! Got it?”

The words practically bounced off of Tschichold. He had only a very basic idea of what economics was and he could not be positively arsed to care about Aaron’s little lecture. As far as he knew, boring-capitalist wizard worked with money - a sentient pile, no less (where was that so-called “moneybags” anyway) and capitalists worked with money too. It was simple logic. Aaron was a capitalist,

a filthy, filthy capitalist.

“That still counts as capitalism, you idiot.” The painter snapped. Aaron was slightly taken back at this statement. “Shouldn’t trust capitalists -- such liars and you are no different...”

The accusations degenerated into a smear of grumbles, dotted with the occasional meaningless phrase such as “Maynard Keynes” and “Friedrich Hayek.” It was pretty clear that Tschichold had no idea what he was talking about and he just wanted to vent his emotional frustrations into this pointless lecture of rage. Aaron on the other hand was getting a little greenish. After all, he was in the same place (reader’s note: a very expensive bathroom) as a guy who involuntarily shed toxic paints everywhere. The droning was making him angry and sick. He needed to get a receptacle - quick.

While Tschichold was bungling over the concept of mercantilism, he heard his door opening. Cursing that he had not lock the door appropriately, the painter spewed even more profanities as soon as he realized the intruder was Aaron himself - faded robes and all.

“Why are YOU here?” Tschichold screamed.

“Move outta the way.” Aaron groaned. He had never felt this sick since the week before finals.


The two men in the stall exchanged bewildered looks at each other. Tschichold was slightly shocked at the statement that just spewed out of his much. Aaron was also slightly shocked at that incredibly random statement. Not to mention, he had to also spew, eject, upchuck, disgorge, eject - you know, vomit. Regardless of the euphemisms, the wizard really needed to do a technicolor waterfall-- now. So, he did.

Unfortunately, Tschichold was in the way.

Freefall examined her costume in the mirror. Despite the comic-book level science of her suit, even the nano-tech repairs could not fully remove the vandalism by a certain someone - and the projectile impacts from the Television Land fiascoes did not help. Now, she looked like some sort of modernist art exhibition - yellow, orange, and green racing stripes along her right, with spattered polka dots of bare suit where bullet-holes had been nano-sealed. Her suit was arguably a complete mess. On the other hand, this was partially a happy accident. Freefall had to begrudgingly admit - the paints had a pleasing sort of industrial aesthetic in their application. She continued to ponder the logistics of the damage upon her equipment - until she overheard a particularly tense conversation.

“What...what have you done.” A person spoke - each word including increasing panic.

“Ugh, you.” A voice returned - gruff and low. The purpose behind that statement was ambiguous. However, the tone sounded like a demand - or a threat.

“Why. Why did you do this to me?”

“Shut. Up.”

“I didn’t deserve this. I didn’t ask for this.

“No, this is your fault. This is all your fault. So shut. Up.”

The sounds of the two voices layer upon each other, degenerating into an unlistenable slurry of babble and swear words - which Freefall could care less about. Her place of work had their fair share of drunken vagrants and even in this casino, this was no different. Suddenly, a shrill scream erupted and prolonged, punctuated with nigh-discernible phrases such as <font color="#808080">“oh my gods, please shut up” and “I think I am going to throw up again.” Someone was in trouble, her instincts whispered to her. Doesn’t matter the circumstances. That woman needed help.

Fury welled within her. Like an ocean crashing into the tide, Freefall sundered the wall, both of her eyes shining with heroic determination. She had completely wrecked the division between her and the distressed cry. Plumbing cracked, spraying water everywhere. Ceramic and metal shattered into powder. She was doing a lot at the expense of the local architecture, but collateral damage be damned! Time was of an utter essence; her obligations burning strong. That woman needed help. She needed to get there.</font>

To her surprise, there was no helpless civilian. There was no gun-wielding thug. There was two familiar faces: a wizard with faded robes and a sickly looking expression on his face, and a shadowy man - for some reason, covered in what Freefall guessed was vomitus. Both of these men had slacked-jaw expressions and wide eyes - no doubt from her dramatic intrusion into their portion of the room (reader’s note: a very expensive bathroom). Oh, so it was those two.

“YOU!” The painter screamed, pointing an accusing finger at her.

Freefall never felt this underwhelmingly disappointed before.

Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

"Let's move!"

"We can help him, hold on!"


"Wait, maybe I can lift him up without-"

If I'm not mistaken, his brain is spilling out of his head like a vandalized parking meter. Move, or we're leaving.

Ever ignorant of the nuances of reality, Freefall persisted in her attempts to find a way to lift the deceased Barry Barnes without further spilling the overturned bowl that was his open skull, reaching her arms in different angles around what she instinctively knew was - and thus, refused to actually touch - a stone dead corpse.

For Priced's sake, move! We're not picking up the tab if you get-

"Looks like we caught you..."

Her eyes finally turned to the static ones of Clint Gladwell, donning sunglasses beside a regiment of tommy gun wielding, genre-fused supercops.


At a gesture from the Lieutenant, a fully automatic storm of bullets cracked out of the firing line into a dense girl hiding behind blood-spattered hands. And a wizard, a painter, a transaction and a jellyfish alien got out of dodge.

Moments later, the firestorm's noise - the amplified crashing of falling nails - finally quieted.

Freefall glared up from behind her arms. "...Do you have any idea what your face is gonna look like after I-" *BZZZZZT*

She flinched back involuntarily at the crackling of a contact taser in Gladwell's hand. Oh, fuck.

"Heard you were scared of these little things. You shouldn't be so... shocked to see them, fugitive."

Some of the officers pulled out tasers, themselves. Others reloaded.


Four hands tapped impatiently on the surface of a console, bathed in dim light by towering monitors. The largest ones each bore a team member portrait, silhouette, and a slew of statistics and vitals.

Freefall's readout was currently devoid of useful data, the red term
Q-FAIL in its place.

"How's progress, finding her?"

"Oh, you know. Just lookin' for a needle in a multiverse." The Gadgeteer sighed, lazily pushing an enter key to launch another battery of fruitless searches.

"You sure it wasn't time travel?"

"Time's messy. Always showy, leaves residue sorta. Freefall was plucked clean, right off the street. Say, can't you and Maggie pull your strings at the Gremio de Magia? You won't hear me plug magic a lot, but their dimensional mages ca–"

"NO. No, no, no. The last thing we need around here is a bureaucratic mess of wizards getting their fat hands in our business."

"Amen to that, Ace-high."

...A few moments of uncomfortable silence. Holes in a group make silence more disturbing, even if the one who'd fill them wasn't much for casual conversation in the first place.

Then a big smirk crept across Gadge's face.

"Hey, we shouldn't have to worry about finding her at all."

"Hm? Why not?"

"'Cause if she's in real danger, she'll ~reach out with her heart~ and Maggie'll lock right on."

The two traded a look, then burst into laughter. Knowing Freefall? She'd rather slit her wrists.

Lucky for Freefall, the protagonist of an investigation show wasn't about to be shown onscreen killing someone who had no will to fight back.

Rounds of tasing and non-lethal waves of bullets in turn, though? Understandable. She'd given a black eye to an overly-invincible protagonist, after all; in the poorly-written, worshipping environment from which Gladwell hailed, that was clear justification for minutes and minutes of torture.

At some level - probably the one paying attention to that spare fleck of Barnes' brain on her suit - Freefall didn't really feel like she had grounds to disagree.

Then she was rescued in a daze to receive fresh news of her circumstances, and warped in to weakly, neatly collapse in a neon-lit Eta-Carina-brand alleyway puddle.

Freefall rolled onto her back, sputtering, and threw dizzy eyes up at her surroundings. The shadows of tall buildings, city noises, putrid alley water, being bathed in pink light (that bitch) when you're least in the mood for it... hell, it's almost like home.

She rested a bit more, sprawled out as the water soaked her hair and crept in through the myriad bulletholes in her otherwise waterproof suit. The remaining pain was tolerable; she'd been bruised worse. She just needed to wait out that tense, traumatic feeling that she was about to get tased again.

So, a comic book hero thinks she's hot shit, and gets thrown in too deep, she thinks.

Then she gets smacked around from place to place, thinking she's useful, making a difference. She accomplishes jack.

Then - now get this - she kills a dude and proves she wasn't fucking worth the title in the first place. And then she pays
(psssst!) for her stupidity by getting her worst weaponized fear jabbed into her a couple dozen times like birthday punches from an asshole who keeps losing count.

And then
– her eyes began to
(pssst! hey!) focus properly, noticing the too-tall towers and flying cars – a fucking bureaucratic police agency shuts everything down because she didn't even matter in the first place. Some hero, loser! You got upstaged by police!

(psssssssst!!! rachel!!)

She finally struggled upright, wiping a tear or two off her face with a knuckle covered in blood that wasn't hers. "Time to call in for pickup, I guess." She stumbled forward. It felt like the end, the end of a story or an arc or a career. The 'Game Over' epilogue on one of Gadge's more complicated video games.

(not that fucking loser, me!) (Would you just shut up?)

Freefall felt pretty tired.

(quit ignoring me)

(and ask yourself)

(what would tiffany do~?)

She walked further, apparently on one of the less bustling streets in the city. Odd aliens in odd shapes and odder fashions lumbered, strolled, and twisted by her – some Men in Black bullshit going on here – as she cast her eyes around for someplace suitable. The greasy lubricant that was money flowed like it was water here, she saw, evident in the architecture, the gilded staff uniforms outside high-class hotels and restaurants, the air of deceit and condescension in these aliens even as they shamelessly splashed intoxicating fluids into whatever the hell those orifices were. The city and its lying lights, all variations on violet. Revolting as upper Olive City. Wonderful.

Her practiced disdain for it all was more petty than she liked to believe. Nevertheless, it gave her an eye for how to avoid it.
(atta girl! [img]images/smilies/icon_heartbeat.gif[/img]) She browsed through the shamefully erect buildings as she staggered forward, looking for something seedier, something that hadn't had enough oil lately, squeaky from lack of cash. Maybe something a little less pink, too.

And finally, there it was. A sign of jet-silver light, "The Feedback Loop", its crookedness from disrepair rather than edginess, occasionally flickering to a different set of symbols as its smudged sensors to detect the race and likely dialect of onlookers - sending them directed images - failed briefly and intermittently. The marquee rested on a surprisingly clean white supertower that was too dimly lit to properly showcase its intended brilliance. "Rooms available," it audibly intoned with a quiet, directed blast of female sound to her head.

Perfect. Still moneyed, sure - unbelievably so, and enough to likely earn her ratty appearance scorn - but here, at least, she won't receive the bitter brand of condescension reserved for those who think or know they're at the tip top echelon.

Not that she'd be able to come up with those words for the situation, if asked. She'd probably use the words 'stuck-up' and 'fuckers' a lot, instead. It was a more innate, unexpressed understanding.

(do it, do the thing)

The layered doors of The Feedback Loop purred open, Freefall regaining her stance and footing as she dripped and stormed down a carpeted, wood-lined, insultingly long hallway in the direction of the reception desk.

Three small, robotic eyes at the far end zoomed in on the girl, cross-referencing her with all known individuals and species in Eta Carina's citywide tourist databases. A thin, wirey ultralight-steel arm readied itself to slam the 'reject' button under its desk at her disheveled image and attire; just as it was about to hit it anyway out of distaste alone, a hit surfaced in the city's "Short-Notice Invitees" list.

Rachel Brooks, business moniker 'Freefall'. Entry into the city reserved on behalf of the BSA (the who??). One of a handful in a group of invitees, each credited with a perpetually-renewing night's stay (a what?!) in any hotel in the city, and a complimentary "Kids' Allowance" of a measly 350 credit bar tab.

Welp, apparently someone thinks this organic piece of excrement is vitally important. Might as well milk her dry.

Freefall yelled from halfway down the hall, approaching steadily. "Hey, circuits! I need some information."

The mechanized receptionist consulted the hotel's species knowledgebank, calibrating a soothing, sultry female voice designed to be aesthetic to the visiting creature's ears.

"Good evening! Welcome to The Feedback Loop, Eta Carina's premier upper end value resort, gambling establishment, and entertainment venue," it fibbed shamelessly. "We would be honored to accept your complimentary stay!"

"Compl- Look, I just want some travel info..."

"Our rooms are stocked with databases of sponsors, guaranteeing you directions to the most exciting spots in Eta Carina. Shall I book you a room near our slots? We boast nearly half as many slot machines as The Republica." To bleed your sizable tourist cash reserves...

"I don't have time for this, you bucket of bolts. I'm a he-"

The word 'hero' stuck painfully hard on her tongue. It didn't quite fit anymore.

"...-in a hurry, and would like to get to my home universe and away from all this gaudy, oversold bullshit."

"Oh, but so soon? I believe you underestimate how much Eta Carina has to offer. Why, just a few thousand credits will get you an hour in one of our seven luxurious revita-thermal gel hot tubs, for example. You look like you want to shed that tattered skin protector and–"

She finally reached the desk, slamming her hands hard on the expensive nano-grown artificial wood surface. "If I had any credits, I'd pay something who knows what it's doing to–"

"Is that so??"

Freefall pulled back a bit, blinking at the receptionist's beige, VHS-tape shaped head. The robot's voice had abruptly switched to a hostile, masculine Bronx accent.

"Look here, you dirty little snivelin' broad of a fleshbag. You think this issa charity establishment?! We don't give out minimally city-compensated rooms to just any clown-faced piece of meat who manages to gedda free pass on some fluke. You think that's how we're keepin' this place breakin' even?" The sticklike robot reared up on the enormous magnetic rolling-sphere below its hips, waggling one of three hinge-like fingers in her face from a chrome hand. "It's side charges. Massages, room service, drinks upon drinks. Luxury benefits à la carte, at luxury prices. No credits? In Eta Carina?! You're practically radioactive." It shifted upright, folding its arms in a way that seemed to almost literally interlock.

She slid her hands forward, glaring and resisting the urge to start crushing the desk. "How about you clean out whatever shitty compu-whatsits pass for ears on that cracker box that passes for a head and listen to my god damn question. I want a way out of here. I don't want a room, I don't want a sales pitch, and I don't want your metal lip."

"Why should I give the time of day to a good-for-nuthin' sack a cells who looks like a red-diode district reject?!"

"Me?! You look like Johnny Five had sex with an exercise ball."

"Could'ya do me a favor and turn your head away when ya 'tawlk? Any more of that putrid exhaust from your sustenance valve and I'll needa replace my olfactory sensors."

"Could you answer my question before I take your rear end out for some beach volleyball?"

"I'm sorry, dame, could you speak up? My sensitive mics were busy bein' overwhelmed by the noise of all your nasty biological functions. Perhaps you'd consider shittin' yourself, it'd make your intestinal tract a bit less distractin'."

(punch the bastard's head off~)

"Fine, I'll speak up. HOW THE FUCK DO I GET OUT OF HERE?!"

On cue, a floating network news screen leapt into the air, startling the receptionist as clipped through one of its elbows; it took an interested look.

"...Ah, there's your answer! You don't."

"Excuse me?!"

"Sub-entanglement fail. Haven't seen one a those in the while. You missed the last dimensional crossing by twenty-six seconds."

"So what exactly does that mean for me?"

"Nobody gets in or out of Eta Carina for days. Means unless you're secretly fuckin' loaded, you're stuck and need a room..."

The robot paused, then burst out into well-simulated laughter.

"HAhahahaha!! And there ain't no way you're findin' it here! Got any idea how many stranded tourists a budget joint like ours'll net? We just hit the jackpot, no need to humor stenchbags like you with minimum room comp. Now get the fuck oudda here. You're gettin' organic all over my desk."

The bot gestured to draw attention to Barnes' blood, smeared over the wood surface by her palms.

Freefall drew back... then lost her patience.
She pulled back for a swing.

The robot was faster.

A quarter second later, she was twirling to the ground from a 200,000 volt backhand. She hadn't expected that from something with the physique of a parking meter.

"Seven cycles. Bouncer at the Exposed Wire." It rolled out from behind its desk, faux-cracking its sparking, electrified mechanical knuckles. "Dealt with one hell of a lot bigger than you. Uglier, too, almost."

She tried and failed to get up, exhausted, shaking, and hands slipping on incriminating plasma.


The receptionist faltered a bit.

"That's, uh... you gonna be able ta leave, fleshy?" It fidgeted and clinked its hands together. "Don't know my own strength when it comes to organics. Always leakin' fluid, makin' me nervous they're gonna explode, 'r somethin'... 'd take 'em ages to clean..."

Freefall rested on the ground, caught her breath.

After a minute,
she rolled over and sat up. Stared at her hands a bit.

"...Got a bathroom?"

The robot – 'Tammy', his nametag declared – pointed down another hall, shook his head, muttered some disgust about biological orifices and waste products, and rolled back to his desk to thumb through high-res, 3D images of exposed circuitry.

Freefall stared into a mirror. A fountain of warm, fragrant, detergent-enhanced water flowed through her hands, washing blood away. Not drinkable, of course. The hotel couldn't have people guzzling from taps – especially the real liquid-guzzling species – when there was a fully stocked, ready-to-charge bar so close at hand to serve up comet-harvested melted icewater at 6000% markup.

(you know what'd make you feel better~)

I've got this under control.

(you're lying~. do the thing, do it)

Fuck you.

(you know you miss me rachel)

So what if I do?!

(you know i'd know what to do here)

You're not a super. You're not even fucking street-savvy. You'd be dead a hundred times!

But you know I'd know what the hell to do, even if it was wrong or batshit crazy. You envy that absolute fucking certainty I have. You punch when you're scared, when you can't come up with anything else to do. If I could throw a decent punch, I'd do it just to see what happened~

What's your point? Whoops, she almost said that one out loud. Talking to herself was not one of the comic book hero facets she aspired to emulate. Damn subconscious friend voices.

Nothing! Just, you know, you've got a mirror there...

No. No, it's corny, stupid...

Just do the thing.

Rachel turned off the water.

Put your hand on the glass.

She looked at her hand.

Then imagine me on the other side.

She put it on the glass.

And draw a circle around it, because even if I'm not there, I care about you, I lo– *CRASH*

Freefall's hand crushed the glass as her superego gave a right hook to her id, knocking it off balance and sending Tiffany's oddly comforting, extremely irritating voice away with it.

"I'm not your bitch."


That bit of... oddness taken care of – (maybe I should consider meds) – Freefall somehow felt a little more into the 'hero' swing of things. She sat on the counter in front of the other, intact mirror, using a pack of nano-sealant hidden in her belt to repair hole after hole in her suit, thinking and trying to reconcile the last comic book issue of life she'd experienced with its future arc.

And then a wizard showed up, another mirror got shattered, and she barged through a wall after the sound of a woman screaming.

Magenta gave a small jolt from her midair meditation as the feeling hit her. No, not feeling... feelings.

She opened her eyes. A worried look forming, she let the pink sparkling shards of her levitation spell dissipate. Her feet alit gracefully on the ground, and began marching her purposefully out of her quarters.

The Eagles needed to organize. Whatever this was, it was serious. It wasn't enough to get a fix, but it felt like Freefall had nearly reached out with her heart.

There were plenty of healthy distractions for Freefall, now. A sinister looking wizard contracting people against a suit of armor, for one.

She wasn't quite sure where that was leading, yet... for or against Arrester, or whatever the clockdroid was called. But however it was going to unfold, the next comic issue's focus was much, much clearer now.

Tommy Potter and the armor thing were key. This issue's macguffin.

She needed to find them. After that... well, she didn't know. She guessed she'd play it by ear.

After dealing with this little spectacle in the mens room, of course.

"Did Drippy here eat the jellyfish and throw up or something?!"


"I'm feeling better, but your yelling is giving me a headache, Tschichold. Do you want me to throw up again?"

Tschichold began screaming girlishly again, prompting the others to cover their ears in agony.

"Whoa, whoa, what's goin' on in he–"

Tammy rolled into the bathroom, the three cameras on the side of his thin, boxy head widening in shock at the painter's dripping, vomit-soaked appearance.

"Holy SHIT no, an organic exploded!!!"

Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.




In a dimly lit room with a fan turning slowly in the background, a group of people were gathered around a table. Standing at the head of the table was a man with short hair that had been painstakingly gelled into some trendy facsimile of scruffiness. He had stunning blue eyes and killer cheekbones. He was dressed in a suit, though the fact that his tie had been loosened indicated that this was as close to being casual as he was ever going to get. This was criminal mastermind David Neptune and this was going to be the most daring heist that had ever been pulled off throughout the entirety of the multiverse.

No pressure.

“Okay,” he says, “here’s the plan…”


Cut to a shot of the lobby of the Lady Luck Casino. Through the door walks a pair of women, one with shining golden eyes, hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, and an ankle length dress to match, the other with far too much make up on and a dress so short it borders on immodesty.

“…First in are Venus and Fortuna.”

“Hold up there a minute bucko.” This is a different voice, one belonging to a man with dirty blonde hair and the beginnings of a beard. He looks genuinely scruffy unlike the artificial scruffiness that Neptune had attempted to cultivate. All eyes are on him for a minute before he feels the need to elaborate upon his issue. “Who the heck’re Venus and Fortune?”

Neptune sighed. “We’re using codenames,” he gestured towards the two ladies in question, “Venus, Fortuna.”

“I don’ remember bein’ consulted on this.” He replied, he took a pull of his cigarette and put forth a suggestion. “I’ll be Loki.”

“You’re Diana.” Neptune told him bluntly. “If you’d been paying the slightest bit of attention you’d know this already.”

“Diana?” Diana asked. “Man if the payout for this job wasn’t so good I’d be out of here already.”

“As I was saying…”

Cut to the gaming floor of the Lady Luck Casino. In the centre of the floor there is an elevator with three stops; the manager’s office on the floor above, the gaming floor and the vault deep below. As Fortuna passes it she slips a high tech sphere into one of the plantpots either side of the door.

“Fortuna uses one of Apollo’s home-made localised EMPs to take out the elevator and then takes a seat on a table with a good view of the elevator. Meanwhile, Venus…”

Cut to the security room. The focus of the room is a console with a bank of screens streaming footage live from the video cameras all over the casino. Sitting behind the terminal is a security officer and sitting upon his lap is Venus, her lips locked with his.

“…seduces the guard in the security room and plants an overwrite on the security panel giving Apollo access to the computers.”

“When you say seduce exactly what do you have in mind?” Venus enquired. “Am I going to need protection?”

Neptune hesitated for a second. “Just keep him busy enough that he doesn’t notice our tampering with the security feeds.”

“Can do.”

Cut to a dark room lit only by the dim light of a computer screen. Tapping away on the keyboard faster than any man could reasonably expect to be able to type is a man in a stained grey t-shirt, electric blue glasses and a pair of headphones that cover his entire ears.

“Hello this is Starways Elevator Repair.” He said in a voice that was remarkably professional and courteous. “A technician will be heading your way shortly.” A couple of taps on the keyboard and then continued in a voice that more matched his appearance, “Vulcan you’re up.”

“Apollo intercepts the phone call for a repairman for the elevator.” Neptune continued. “Then we send Vulcan in.”

Cut to the lobby again. This time the new arrival is a man in the plain grey outfit of a workman, he carries a toolbox, and has a pencil pushed behind his ear. Despite the disguise, the not very convincing fake moustache, it is pretty clear that this is David Neptune.

“I present myself as a workman here to fix the elevator and am given access to it-”

“I thought you said that Vulcan was doing that.” Diana interrupted.

“Yes.” Neptune replied. “I am Vulcan. It would be really dumb to use my own name as my codename wouldn’t it?”

“Somehow this doesn’t feel less dumb?” Diana retorted. “But whatever, lets hear it.”

Cut back to the gaming floor. Vulcan/Neptune is being led towards the elevator by a pair of burly security guards who are flanked by the manager of the casino himself (a beady eyed rat of a man with a bad toupee). Neptune levers open the doors and disappears into the elevator. After a second there is a sharp intake of breath, the kind that signals ‘this is going to cost someone a lot of money’.

“I see what’s happened here.” Neptune said in an unconvincing accent. “Your thermo couplings have come loose. This is probably going to take a while.”

“Fine.” The manager replied dismissively. He was about to walk away when the elevator doors began to close. “Hold up, what’s the meaning of this?”

“You want this job done properly?” Neptune asked.

The manager scowled. “Yes of course.” He shot a look to the security guards that quite plainly told them to keep an eye on him. He turned to leave and everything seemed to be going fine, when suddenly: “Mrs Neptune!” He exclaimed as he spotted Fortuna. He strode towards her a twisted grin playing across his face.

“I don’t know anyone by that name.” Fortuna desperately bluffed.

“I know that it is you Liz.” The manager snapped back. He turned to the nearest security guard and shouted him over. “Take this woman up to my office, I think that when I am done down here me and Mrs Neptune shall have a few things to talk about.”

“You monster.” Fortuna snapped as the security guard grabbed hold of her. The manager chuckled to himself as he walked away back towards the lobby.

“So… what?” Diana asked, “We get rumbled? Excellent plan, where do I sign on?”

“But secretly,” Neptune replied, “this was part of the plan all along.”

Cut to earlier in the heist, in the manager’s office of the Lady Luck casino. The manager is sitting behind his desk smoking a cigar and watching that new TV show about people fighting to the death.

“Actually that got taken off air.” Fortuna replied. “The zombie guy died and I guess there was a big fuss about it.”

“That’s not really the point.” Neptune replied dismissively. “Whatever it is that he’s doing, he’s quickly interrupted by a phone call from his secretary when Apollo streams that fake footage through the hacked security desk.”

Promptly the manager received a phone call and a stream apparently showing the heist team already in the vault (in reality some technical wizardry from Apollo) was put through to his desk. Immediately he shot up and darted to the doorway. As he pushed the door open he discovered a pair of men standing in the hall. The first is a heavily built man with a bunch of tattoos and a shaved head. The second, as if for contrast, is an incredibly thin and waifish man with a slight blue tint to his hair and a goatee.

“Mars and Pluto will be waiting outside his office.”

One punch from the larger man, Mars, and the manager is thrown against the wall so hard that it seemed to shake. The manager slid down the wall and came to an undignified stop in an untidy heap. At this point Pluto strode past Mars, his hands clasped behind him, his expression blank. He knelt down by the manager and with the very tip of his index finger he touched one of the unconscious man’s eyelids, pushing it open. This done he pulled back and within moments he had transformed into a perfect facsimile of the manager.

“Pluto takes the managers shape and then goes downstairs to greet Vulcan and expose Fortuna.”

Cut to the previous scene of the manager’s confrontation with Fortuna played again in full, but this time with the knowledge that it is Pluto shapeshifted and not the manager as was previously thought. This is followed by the security guard taking Fortuna upstairs to the manager’s office, throwing her inside and then standing guard on the door.

“Once inside Fortuna will look for the triple encrypted passkey that allows access to the lower levels.”

Fortuna rifles through the drawers of the manager’s desk, occasionally making a face that suggested disgust or confusion at what was inside, but quickly managing to find what she was looking for; an important looking CD with the words ‘triple encrypted passkey’ written upon it in red felt tip, and then underlined.

“With the passkey in our possession Vulcan will be able to send the elevator down to the vault.”

Cut to Neptune dramatically pressing the vault button on the elevator. It slowly began to make its way down to the underground vault. He removed his workman’s uniform to reveal he was wearing a suit underneath and opened the toolbox he carried with him. Suddenly standing next to him was a stern looking woman in a straw hat, a woman wearing an outfit that seemed to be made entirely from black lace, Diana and Mars.

“Now comes the toughest part; accessing the vault itself. At that point I’ll extract our ‘heavy hitters’ from the pocket dimension Minerva enchanted for us.”

“Okay, I think I’ve heard enough.” This was a voice that had not spoken before and was not amongst the people gathered around the table.


“CUT!” The director, Blockbuster, was a cloud of shimmering golden energy that had forced itself into the approximate shape of a human and put on a suit and tie. It had no head to speak of, and so when it shot Montcorbier a withering look, there was no way to tell from simply looking at it that it was intended to be a scowl. Yet somehow it managed to make itself understood with little trouble.

As soon as the word cut had left Blockbuster’s lack of a mouth, the heist team, or rather the actors that played the heist team, all broke character and turned to face the cameras, and Blockbuster and Montcorbier who were seated behind them, with looks of weariness and irritation upon their faces.

“What is it this time Montcorbier?” The actor who played Neptune demanded.

“Don’t worry about it Chris.” The director cut in before Montcorbier could reply. “I’ll talk to him for you.” Montcorbier rolled his eyes and folded his arms irritably. “Excellent read through guys.” Blockbuster continued, as if completely unaware of Montcorbier. “Just some notes; Josh as much as I like your attitude I think you shouldn’t try to undermine the film by calling the codenames dumb because if you start making the audience think that then they’ll end up questioning the entire film.” He paused and glanced down at the sheaf of notes he had been making. “Also important is that we’re changing the Last Thing Standing tie-in. It should have been in the revised script but someone must have fucked up. I’ll get to the bottom of that later. Basically we’re now cross-promoting this new talent show thing. There’s a new scene where one of the chicks performs a song to distract a guard or something and we’re getting in the judges to cameo in the crowd. For the moment just take out the stuff to do with LTS.” Another pause and glance at the papers. “That’s it for the moment. Everyone take five while I get some ‘critical feedback’ from our consultant.”

With that complete the cast dispersed. Most of them went back to their caravans to rest, while one or two rushed to the make-up room to have fixed the slightest imperfections that they had convinced themselves they had. Cameramen loaded new reels of film into the cameras and Blockbuster turned its attention finally to Montcorbier. The semi-retired thief looked good for his age, but that was not saying much. His hair was a distinguished grey; his skin was incredibly pale and wrinkled in places. A faded scar crossed his right eye, which had been replaced with an emerald green glass eye. He was clean shaven and dressed in an elegantly understated suit jacket.

“What is it Monty?” Blockbuster asked.

Montcorbier for a moment struggled to find the words. “Everything. Everything is wrong.”

“Could you be a little more specific?” The cloud of energy enquired.

“Nothing makes any sense.” Montcorbier replied. “For a start how did Mars get into the toolbox pocket dimension when minutes ago he was outside the managers office. How did he and Pluto get up there in the first place and why didn’t they just go into the office there and then?”

“mmm” Blockbuster replied. “Good points. I’ll have the writers throw in some explainers. I don’t think it was really worth interrupting the scene though. In future just make a note and we can talk about it afterwards.”

“Look,” Montcorbier snapped, “I’m not here to work as continuity for your film. I’m here because you wanted a consultant on how to write an authentic heist; because you wanted somebody who has actually been in a heist. I’m telling you that this is by far the least plausible thing I have ever witnessed.”

“Well, what do you suggest?” Blockbuster asked. There was a long moment of silence between the two, which Montcorbier eventually broke.

“Scrap the whole thing.” Montcorbier replied slowly. “Give me the budget to hire a team of professionals and we do this properly.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes.” Montcorbier said firmly. “We pull off an actual heist and you film it. If you really want this to be authentic then you cannot get more authentic than this.”

“I don’t know…” Blockbuster replied cautiously.

“Come on Blocky, you should know better than I do that reality sells.” Montcorbier replied. A minute of silence and Montcorbier continued. “You can just carry on as you are doing if you want. You’ll make just another heist movie and it will be okay I guess. It won’t break any records or anything but you’ll make your money back.” He paused for a second. “But put me in charge and you’ll have a heist film that is completely unique, unlike any heist film ever made. It’ll be a sensation one way or another.”

“Fine.” Blockbuster replied eventually. “But I want a Big Name Star involved.” He glanced down towards his sheaf of notes. “If you take Jill Traynor you can do whatever you want with the rest of your team.” Montcorbier scowled again and went to speak but before he could get a word out Blockbuster cut in, “Look, I am taking a massive risk here and I’m not asking a lot. Just find something for Jill to do in the heist. She’s a good actress and she has certain assets that I’m sure you could find a use for.” There was another pause; Montcorbier raised his gloved hands as if to ask if he was okay to make comment now.

“Which one is Jill?” he asked.


The fact that the Traveller’s Rest Hotel and Casino was smaller and significantly less vibrant than its neighbours didn’t really seem to put anyone off. Though it seemed unlikely that such considerations crossed most the mind of most people (using people in the loosest possible sense of the word) as those ready to retire for the night were usually drunk or coming down from the latest designer drug that was circulating around Eta Carina. It also seemed likely that the couple of people who checked in who were still fairly lucid might have chosen the Traveller’s Rest explicitly because it seemed slightly low-key in a city full of big flashy things.

Initially this unprecedented influx of guests was overwhelming, but things were made a little easier as a couple of guests managed to stumble all the way to their rooms and drift into unconsiousness. Down in the casino it had become necessary for Owen to try his hand at being a croupier for an eclectic group of creatures, which after a couple of hands he was convinced were cheating. As soon as he saw one of the newly recruited staff members, a bronze man whose uniform had been specially designed to allow him to vent the constant heat from his core, he called him over and had him take over the table, whispering a “watch out for the one with all the eyes, I am pretty sure he is cheating somehow” and then departing off in the direction of the bar.

Behind the bar Saint was mixing cocktails as though she was an expert alongside a creature that resembled a slender glass figurine with a bowl of dirty water for a head.

“Saint dear,” he said, “a moment of your time please.”

“You got this Laurencia?” Saint asked the glass person and received a string of bubbles in response. She seemingly didn’t have any trouble interpreting this as a yes, clapped Laurencia on the shoulder and left it to it. When she and Owen were out of earshot of their staff and customers Saint grinned and said, “This is pretty great huh, shouldn’t take long with all these people?”

“I would appreciate a little discretion.” Owen replied, no trace of humour in his voice. “And just so we’re clear upon this I don’t think it was a good idea to hire Wesley in the manner which you did.”

“Oh so you’d rather people just wander in and straight through to the vault?” Saint replied snarkily. “Speaking of which what is even in our vault?” There was a long pause as Owen considered this.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I think it would be wise to keep it there.”


The Traveller’s Rest Hotel and Casino was growing, slowly increasing both in size and also gaudiness. This process was happening in increments so small and infrequent that they did not draw the gaze of even the most alert and aware members of the Eta Carina crowds. This was already in motion as Kriok entered the inn. Maria was working on reception alongside what was best described as a sensory jumble of a woman. She had neon skin that was criss-crossed with winding vines and upon her cheek there was a budding flower the colour of a violin concerto. The lobby was currently empty save for a drunken demon struggling to make a phone call on one of the complimentary phones.

“Kriok!” Maria greeted her warmly. “Kriok this is my friend Yaelja. Yealja… well you already know of Kriok. Don’t worry she’s alright.”

Yaelja said something. It was a burst of pastel shades that seemed to mean ‘hi’.

“Hello.” Kriok mumbled a slightly confused greeting as her processors attempted to deal with the bewildering sensory input. She eyed Yaelja critically, absolutely certain that they had never met before. Kriok’s artificially enhanced memory meant she never forgot a face, but even without that she was certain she would have remembered a being as dissonant as Yaelja. “How do you know me?”

Yaelja spoke again. The taste of burnt toast evoked a memory of the introductions.

“But thank goodness that unseemly business has come to an end!” Maria said cheerily.

Kriok did not respond immediately, she was processing Yaelja’s presence during the introductions and realizing she knew very little about the inn. Granted she did not know all that much about the other contestants in this battle and she did not care to stick around long enough to learn, but that said she could at least identify them upon sight and she knew how many of them there were. All she knew of the inn was that it was an inn and that Maria was somehow affiliated with it. Now that she thought about it, she had been a little preoccupied when they had met with the Broadcasting Standards Authority but it had been different from when she had seen it in the introductions. Suddenly it seemed obvious that she’d inadvertently found her way into the inn. She glanced around her, as if expecting to see the secret of whatever made this building a suitable combatant, but all she saw was the same unremarkable hotel lobby.

The pause was long enough for Maria to ask, “Are you okay?” her voice filled with genuine concern.

“I am fine.” Kriok replied, bringing her focus back to what was going on here and now. “I am not so certain that this battle could really be classified as over.” She said. “I feel just as confined here as I did previously.”

Maria frowned and tried to work out the best way to reassure her friend. “I’m sure the Broadcast Standards Thingy will come through for us and we will be home in no time.” Though she meant well, her attempt at reassurance probably came over as naivety. “In the meantime if you want to stay your room is on the house, and I insist you let me buy you a drink!”


Montcorbier was a retired criminal. He had given up his life of crime too many years ago to count and lived a very comfortable life on the vast fortune he had accumulated. Eventually it had dwindled away until he was struggling to keep up repayments on his pocket dimension. This was the primary reason he had accepted this job as ‘heist consultant’ for the imaginatively titled “The Heist”, but the fact was that he had missed this. It was a fact he himself had not realised before he had said out loud the idea he had had.

Even the forced inclusion of Jill Traynor (as it turned out she was the actress who had been slated to play Elizabeth Neptune, codename Fortuna) could not dampen his spirits. Blockbuster had a point; someone as attractive and as apparently well known as Jill Traynor would make an excellent distraction if nothing else. And when she was told about the revised plan she was surprisingly enthusiastic; a fact that more likely came from the fact that she was going to get top billing in this revised version of the movie, more than any excitement to pull a heist.

Montcorbier had spent the last half an hour trying to get into contact with his old contacts. He had been disappointed to discover that in the meantime most of them had died, which he really should have expected given how long he had been out of the game for. Essentially by the time Blockbuster reappeared carrying a pile of paper filled folders, the only person he’d been able to get in touch with was his old electronic security specialist. Blockbuster dumped the folders down on the table they had been using to film the planning of “The Heist” and took a seat.

“What’s this?” Montcorbier asked grabbing one of the files and opening it up.

“Well you see, as much as I love your idea Monty, the board is calling the shots here and they still want us to do some kind of a tie-in,” Blockbuster explained, “which is going to be significantly more difficult given the nature of what we are trying to do now.” Montcorbier made non-committal noises in response, as he skimmed the many typed pages that had been jammed into the folder. It was detailed information upon a creature known as a Nerrin and more specifically upon an individual known as Kriok. “So what I thought was maybe we could make some use of the contestants of Last Thing Standing; they’re here on the Eta Carina strip while some processing goes on or something, don’t quote me on that I’m not one hundred percent on the details.” There was another pause in which Blockbuster cast his eyes over the five other folders. There had been seven but one of them had had so little information on the subject (an inn?) that he had tossed it straight in the trash. The weightiest of the folders was the one about the teenage superhero. “Thoughts?”

Montcorbier looked up. “Yeah, I think there is potential here.”

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Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Kriok stared at the cocktail in front of her.

An examination of its chemical composition proved inadequate at determining what it was-- a miasma of exotic organic molecules were dissolved in the beverage, all of which were unidentifiable. She dipped a clawed finger into the glass, stirring the drink. A rainbow of hues hummed from the liquid, changing in pitch with every stir-- the concoction was reminiscent of the living sensory scramble seated next to her.

"You should try it. It's got Yaelja's nectar mixed in-- well, not hers, but her species. I ordered it just for you, thought it might take the edge off things." Maria encouraged. Yaelja sheepishly blushed a trumpet fanfare at the mention of the drink's ingredients. The pair expectantly waited for the avian to drink.

The avian glanced back at the pair, gauging their reactions. Cracking her beak open, she poured some of the iridescent fluid down her open gullet. New displays on her visual interface lit up, notifying her that the mechanical scrubbers of her digestive tract had safely neutralized the chemical mixture. Kriok craned her neck to stare at Maria and Yaelja, angling her head downward in a reproachful stare.

Maria slumped in disappointment. "Apparently you're supposed to 'become the ocean' if you drink that, whatever that means. Although I guess it didn't work. Mm, maybe later?"

For a moment, there was a lull in the conversation. Maria silently waited. Kriok picked at a platter of assorted fruit, occasionally scrutinizing a piece before shredding it along the sides of her beak. After a hesitant cough, the receptionist began.

"You, uh, you said you were feeling confined?"

She apprehensively reached an arm out to comfort Kriok, only for the avian to adjust in her seat. The nerrin's tail feathers rustled, sweeping from side to side; her clawed feet tightened around the legs of the chair.

Kriok nodded. "The inter-dimensional transit mechanism is offline. Until it returns, I cannot leave--" Kriok waved her fabricator arm, indicating the entirety of Eta Carina "--this. I no doubt expect that there are other redundant layers designed to prevent movement."

Yaelja said something-- a brilliant topaz, clarifying that, while Eta Carina was not nestled within a pocket dimension, there was little travel out towards the distant reaches past the nebula.

Maria leaned forward. "You don't-- you don't really think the battle is still going, do you?"

Kriok warbled in disagreement. "No other explanation exists. No doubt the authority responsible for our supposed rescue could have isolated us, kept us on an indefinite stasis-- any one of many measures. No reason exists to have relocated us together. No readily accessible escape exists, isolating us here. No explanation exists for any motivations other than prolonging the battle."

"Don't you think you're taking this a bit too seriously?"

Kriok briefly glared at Maria, before turning her attention to the condition of her belongings-- chief among them, the kinetic accelerator. Hooked fingers pried at bits of its machinery-- securing cables, flicking at battery clamps, checking the superconductor coils, ensuring the device was intact and operational.

A hollow tap resounded on her metal shoulder, interrupting her work. Kriok angled around-- a robot, shrouded in layers of obscuring robes, held out a folded note in deferential politeness. She grabbed it, flicking it open and scanning it over, memorizing every detail.

Kriok looked around once more.

The messenger had vanished. Her cybernetic eyes danced over the note a second time, even though she had saved every letter, every phrase. Algorithms shredded through the information, processing it in search of an alternate meaning. The synthetic fibers accompanying her muscles twitched. Releasing her grip from the stool, Kriok left the bar, politely excusing herself from Maria and Yaelja. At a quick, nervous pace, she entered a nearby restroom.


"Yeah, I think there is potential here."

Montcorbier stroked his chin. His eyes rolled across the page one last time, before he grabbed its folder. His hand raced across the table, selecting several more dossiers. As he gathered his belongings, he casually addressed his backer. "Alright, Blocky, I think I know how I'll get you your heist. I'll be around, in the meantime I have a few calls to make. I'll let you know when you need to roll the cameras, just let me, ah, do my thing."

Blockbuster bobbed the incandescent cloud approximating his head, standing aside to let Montcorbier leave. Throwing open the door, Montcorbier strode out of the studio's office and into the brilliant Eta Carina night. He had been awash between its sandy shores and glamorous highrises for many years during his career, but only now did he once again feel attuned to its prestige, its decadence. As he walked, he felt himself slipping back into the ebb and current of the strip; every step brought him closer to its rhythmic pulse. The distant lights of once-plundered casinos illuminated the sky-- Montcorbier could trace out which ones had been particularly lucrative heists. He made a sly grin. This heist would be one to remember, one to put alongside the greatest capers Eta Carina had been graced with. With one last jaunty step, the master thief hopped into the back of a requisitioned armored van.

A canopy of monitors decorated one end, enough to give him somewhere to work away from Blockbuster's obsessive attention. An assortment of other equipment lined the walls-- not the specialist tools that would be necessary, but enough to get started. He pulled his smoking jacket off, settling in front of the array of screens. At the press of a button, several flicked on. He pulled a keyboard forward, sending out a handful of messages to what remained of his network of contacts in Eta Carina. Having set that in motion, he turned his attention to another monitor-- one displaying a familiar face. A warm smile stretched across the thief's face as he spoke.

"It's been a while, Tick. You ready for one last heist?"

Montcorbier's broadcast surged outward, forcing itself out past the snarling, tempestuous void surrounding Eta Carina and into a nearby pocket dimension. Communication arrays snatched at the signal, collecting it from its journey; milliseconds-long automated processes immediately set to work-- removing errors, filing away at encryption, piping the message to its recipient. Information traveled along lengths of cable, reaching a mind-impulse unit and translating itself into a series of neurotransmitters-- crossing from technology to biology, circuits to synaptic gaps.

Reaching back, Tick's hand pulled at the cables feeding into his cranium. His other hand twitched, as though typing at an immaterial keyboard; his eyes reflexively flitted back and forth with the constant communication between his mind and the banks of computers assembled behind him. He subconsciously paused several of the operations, straightening himself out to maintain a veneer of presentability for Montcorbier. His skin blotchy and wrinkled, his muscles atrophied-- the human supercomputer was a distant opposite from the sharp, aristocratic appearance of the gentleman-thief. He focused on the camera Montcorbier would see through, and spoke.

"Expected you had never fully given up. Anticipated an eventual return to crime, lifestyle far too glamorous to abandon." Tick's voice, despite its raspy tenor, was quick and frenetic.

Montcorbier raised a hand. "It's only this one heist, Tick-- and I assure you, as much I would love to return to that old life, we both know I'm well past my prime."

Tick's finger flitted back and forth, scanning an invisible database. "Transmitting this message from Eta Carina, intend to go all out." There was a brief pause, as neurons synchronized with the cycling of processors. "Committing a heist there tantamount to suicide, ninety-seven point three percent chance of failure. No cross-dimensional escape available with sub-entanglement failure, all casinos maintaining latest security protocols. Possibility of successful operation mini--"

"It won't be like last time, Tick." The thief interrupted. "We'll be able to assemble our own team, and I already have a few leads."

Tick chuckled. "Could have assembled any sort of team, would have participated. Aware of my propensity for beating probabilities. Challenge such as this impossible to refuse."

A smile cracked across Montcorbier's face. "I knew I could count on you, Tick. As it stands, I already have something that will require your, ah, technical expertise. There's someone here on the Eta Carina strip I need to talk to. I've sent her a message, but I think I'll have to talk to her before she'll be willing to help us, let alone meet me in person. That's where you come in."

A new packet of information sifted its way from the computer banks into Tick's cerebral network. Rolling through the pages of new intelligence-- his eyes restlessly squirmed, his hands trembled with the imperfect communication between flesh and machine. He finally re-adopted a modicum of normality.

"I can arrange this."


Within the confines of the restroom, the roar of the casino floor had been reduced down to a quiet din-- the clicks and whirrs of gambling were almost unnoticeable; the raucous conversations between aspiring socialites dulled to a murmur. Kriok stared at herself in the mirror, looking at the insecurities reflecting back at her. Worries surrounding the battle, the dangers of Eta Carina-- uncertainty had gripped her. Even the limited trust she had placed in Maria was called into question-- the avian had never met the managers of The Traveler's Rest; they were an inscrutable enigma with an utterly unknown course of action. All these thoughts rattled throughout her facsimile neurons, only stopped by a subroutine's reminder of her purpose here.

She glanced at the note again. It stated-- in no uncertain terms-- that someone was willing to help her escape, and that further information would be available anywhere away from the crowds.

The ruffled feathers, fidgety posture, the constant, meticulous scanning-- as much as the avian attempted to straighten herself out, her agitation was plainly evident. An inquisition of subroutines stressed the faulty reasoning in her decision to investigate the letter. A processor cycle noted that the missive made it explicitly manifest that someone on Eta Carina knew about her-- where she was, her motivations, no doubt other facets. The notion of placing trust in someone with such leverage over her was antithetical. Kriok tugged at her artificial limb, nervously trying to reconcile her paranoia with the hope that someone was willing to help her.

A universe away, neural machinery worked its way through layers of digital security. Twitching with each successive hack, the biological computer finally broke through-- and entered a peripheral section of Kriok's interface.

Kriok's vision sputtered-- layers of networks paused, then restarted and begun functioning once again. The avian tensed with the interruption, wondering what had prompted this glitch. After a brief lull, her embedded communication interface opened up. Super-imposed over her regular vision was a new optical feed, that of an elegant, confident human. An audial feed soon followed.

"Hello, Kriok." Montcorbier began, his tone collected and assured.

Whirling around, Kriok's hand seized her re-purposed mining implement, aiming it around the unoccupied room. Whatever was left her vision was jumbled-- scanning information scrawled across, alongside alerts and warnings. "How are you contacting me?" Kriok irately chittered, trying to veil her outright hostility.

"I, ah, had the help of a friend. I'm afraid this was the only way I could talk to you. You see, I want to make a job offer for you."

Kriok pushed the door to a vacant stall open, then immediately moved to the next to confirm that the restroom was unoccupied. She quickly retorted back to Montcorbier. "Yes, and I have had several groups clamoring for my attention or wishing for me to follow lockstep with their plan. How are you any different?"

The thief smiled in an expression of calculated warmth. "What makes me different is what I can offer you. Your freedom."

"I-- I see." Taken aback by forthright answer, Kriok paused, faltering over her precise, logical diction. Part of her-- the same part that decided to follow up the note-- wanted to take his brazen assurance and believe it, believe that someone was willing to assist her. More circumspect faculties, however, quickly reasserted themselves, pushing aside sanguinity in favor of paranoid cynicism. Subroutines vivisected his speech, finding faults and inquiries with every syllable. Kriok placed little confidence in anyone else, and this individual was no different.

"And how, exactly, can I trust your claim?" She demanded.

"You can't, but unless you think you can leave without my help, you'll have to--"

A indignant clack of the avian's beak interrupted Montcorbier. "You are presuming I am incapable of escaping on my own. What prevents me from merely waiting for inter-dimensional travel to become available once again?"

"Well, you could certainly try. I doubt you'd get that far."

Composed, unhesitating-- the thief allowed himself the luxury of a sly grin as he leaned back, slipping into his element. "Eta Carina isn't a place you easily leave, Kriok, surely you've noticed that. I mean, let's assume travel resumes. After that, let's, ah, pretend your passport is in order. You do have your papers, right?"

Kriok's foot scraped against sanitized tile as she uncomfortably shifted; she was burdened with the realization that navigating Eta Carina's bureaucracy would be next-to-impossible.

"Ah, I see. Shall I continue?"

Montcorbier took Kriok's silence as an indication to do so. "Now, let's assume you can pay for your ticket out; the fare can get quite, ah, exorbitant. Eta Carina's not the easiest place to leave. Far too many come here to become wealthy and fail entirely-- it's all too easy to accrue a lifetime's worth of gambling debts and find a return ticket impossible to afford. You no doubt didn't notice the debtors but they are, ah, everywhere. Eta Carina is an insidious trap, I'm afraid-- quite easy to enter, rather difficult to leave for all but the most affluent."

A moment passed-- Montcorbier withdrew a cigar and a lighter, taking a moment to smoke while his pronouncement sank into the recursive programs of Kriok's consciousness. A thin haze of smoke floated from his mouth, lazily drifting upwards with his beguiling words.

"Of course, even having made these generous concessions, you still aren't home. Finding your universe amongst a truly infinite number is quite difficult. This is to say nothing of the dangers for a green such as yourself-- even with your proper level of suspicion. Not every dimension frowns upon crime as Eta Carina does."

Kriok's cybernetic eyes tightened in an approximation of an irate glare. "This is--"

"--I am offering you a chance to circumvent all of these dangers, Kriok. You have a, ah, unique sets of skills that I am in need of. I have the capacity to ensure you're returned home." Montcorbier's voice took on an intimidating certainty, buried underneath its calm, aristocratic tone. "We both know you have no other option, Kriok. You can choose to wait for an escape that will never come, or you can take my offer. If you wish to leave Eta Carina, find me. The Resplendent Palace. Ask for Montcorbier."

The broadcast abruptly ended-- the flood of alerts faded, the scanning information died down to a baseline registry. Outside of the dull, background hum of automated processes, Kriok was once again left to herself. Her own thoughts and subroutines reasserted themselves, trying to piece together the exchange she had just had. Part of her wanted to flatly reject Montcorbier's proposal. He had her name, her motivations, the capacity to provide her utmost desire; an errant nerve-cycle markedly noted that someone with such leverage could not be relied upon.

And yet, with every impulse of neural circuitry came acceptance of the futility in refusing his proposition. Kriok had no alternative. She was talented, but lacked the acclimation necessary to survive in the turbulent climate of Eta Carina, something the thief could provide. Kriok adjusted her external implants once more-- the heat-sinks, the cumbersome reactor mounted on her back, the cables feeding to and from the fabricator apparatus. The prospect of escape, now that it was almost tangible, amplified her tensions and made the most minor of mechanical fluctuations causes for alarm.

Near-silence reigned in the restroom for several minutes more. Kriok strummed her taloned fingers against her fabricator's metal casing. Accepting Montcorbier's offer was the most logical course, yet more cautious faculties still queried and advised.

After another minute, the avian decided. She left the restroom-- unsurprisingly, both Maria and Yaelja were patiently waiting outside.

"Is-- is everything alright, Kriok? You were in there for a while, Yaelja and I were kind of worried." Maria began, her sympathy genuine.

"I am fine. I have something I will need to take care of, however, and I am not sure when I will return." Moving between the receptionist and the sensory jumble, the avian left-- rapidly advancing across the casino floor, until she was out of sight.

Maria frowned. Cold, dispassionate, logical-- as much as Kriok was all of these, the receptionist still cared for her. The impression of the bandages wrapped around the avian remained fixated in her mind; it was no doubt the handiwork of the battle. The thought of leaving Kriok alone once more, abandoning her to some fate only that only circumstance could save her from-- Maria refused to tolerate such an idea. She tapped Yaelja on the shoulder.

"I need you to follow her, as best you can. I-- I don't want her to get hurt. I can't let that happen, not again."

Yaelja nodded curtly, before going off on her own in cautious pursuit of the cybernetic alien.


"Neglected specific detail. Discovery of said detail likely to be, er, problematic."

Montcorbier swiveled in his seat, reorienting to face his hacker. Another cloud of cigar smoke drifted throughout the van. He tilted his head quizzically in response to Tick's remark. "And what would that be, exactly?"

"Eventual use of operation as entertainment. Subject objected to similar scenario, high probability of similar reaction in new instance." Tick's hand exhibited its usual spasmodic twitching-- yet it was purposeful, as neurons fired one after another in the dissection of electronic security.

"And we both know that she'll never discover that, now, don't we?" Montcorbier chuckled.

And yet, despite their assurances and the smiles exchanged, both men knew that detail did not sit right with them.

Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

Haha, okay, this here is a reserve. For serious this time. Promise.
Originally posted on MSPA by The Deleter.

He was the best there was at what he did.

Killing people was easy. It was like cleaning, or smithing, or any job really. You bought the right tools, you went through the proper procedures, and in the end the job got done. In his case, doing the job got you a fat sack of gold and ridded the world of someone who probably didn’t deserve to be there. It was a win-win for all sapient people at large.

Adhira shimmied up another drainpipe, then pushed off, grabbed a ledge with an arm like an industrial crane and hauled himself up.

Take this job, for instance. He put a bullet through the stupid shiny innards of some Switzerman, somewhere in this bright concrete jungle (and it was a jungle – Adhira had never been challenged by his climbs before), and it would get a problem out of his Lordship’s hair and set Adhira’s life on the track of easy living. Zippity fucking doo dah. Not a problem, you hairless mewling wretch.

A pidgeon spent the last few moments of its life wondering what had plucked it from its perch.

The thing was, though…

Adhira, still chewing, hauled himself onto an ideal rooftop.

Teus was elephant-shit crazy. You could see that from miles away. It was all that messing around with Death magic, rotting his brain or some daft shit that Adhira did not want to know about, thank you very much. Feeling his bones trying to jump out of his body had been horrifying, but you’d have to have a few bits of your brain missing to think it was a good idea to actually do it. And he’d seen the looks the Archmage was getting. Now there was someone on a shaky throne.

And he wanted a kid dead. Maybe. He certaintly didn't say to kill the boy, but Adhira could smell an order by ommission out from miles. Anyway, the kid wouldn't survive long without his guardian.

The rifle barrel gleamed a little in the neon. Adhira swallowed and made himself comfortable, an almost invisible blotch against the dark of the sky.

He had no professional biases. If he was told to kill someone, he wouldn’t argue unless the pay was too low, because money was money and that was the only advantage he really had back home.

But if he got a hit on Teus, he’d probably make sure a bullet hit somewhere painful first.

He was the best there was at –

“No, fuck shit fuck no no no! Damn it!”

An acrid stench, a sensation of purple, the suggestion of eldritch-ness.

“Hahaha, very fucking funny, assholes. A bunch of wards wrapped in a target-seeking carrier with a touch-off catalyst. How cute. But you’re not finding me.”

A lash of green, suffusing the dank air of the cellar. Shadows danced spastically on the wall, and not from the weak candles.

“I swear, whoever alchemized that shit for you should be fired. Fucking lowest bidders…”

The green stopped flickering and became a strong glow.

“Ha. Good. In. Here’s my card, bitches. And out.”

“Mister Toleth?”

The green flicked off.

“…Okay, asshole. You passed the sight wards I had at the door. That’s easy, any idiot with a sweeping device can do it. The door is on a motion-sensitive charm which should alert me to being open, but someone competent can dispel it. Each step down to this basement is hexed with a cumulative misfortune spell, so by the time to reach halfway down you trip, tumble down the rest of the stairs and break your neck. And then there’s the portal to… actually, I don’t know where it goes, but it’s triggered by one of the flagstones. So how did you do it?”

“I have my methods, Mister Toleth. I came to give you a business proposition.”

A greasy face, riddled with acne, scrunched up, eyes hidden behind thick goggles. Slick hair stuck to the teen’s brow, shiny with sweat. Effort, or just a malfunctioning body.

“You asked anyone else?”


“Good. There isn’t another Hackmauturgist on this stupid fucking rock. I checked.”

“Eager to keep on top of the ladder?”

“Eager to teach some amateurs how to protect their shit properly.”

“Well, you’re going to love this job.”

“…How much?”

“We’ll discuss it when you’re- ”

“Tell me now or I don’t do it. And I’m the only one who can, so you’re fucked.”

“We’ll get you home.”

“… Gods-fucking-damnit, fine.”

Timmy wasn’t very good at anything. Except eating!

All of the food here was… well, he didn’t have good words for it. But they saw a little building near the sea front whilst they were playing, and Alaster had given the nice man behind the counter a gold coin and gotten him some strange cold stuff on a cone that tasted like nothing he’d ever eaten before. And that made him remember how hungry he was. He hadn’t eaten in a while! So they’d found another place a little later, all white and smelling of strange food, and Alaster had handed some more gold coins over and he’d gotten a lot of food and it all tasted really good!

Timmy had spent the better part of fifteen minutes devouring the food in front of him. Alaster sat stock still in the seat, oblivious to the activity of the fast food joint around them. The boy paused occasionally to boggle at the occasional alien or strangely-dressed being that caught his attention.

Alaster was starting to get the impression that something was wrong. It was no longer under the illusion that it was the saviour of mankind - the effects had worn off a while ago, but it declined to mention anything to Timothy for obvious reasons - but it had no recollection of how it had arrived here, or what had happened after it had intitiated the plan. It also had the feeling - and if it were capable of having sinking feelings, this one was the Titanic - that it may have killed someone vaguely important.

On the other hand, no-one here was giving them hostile looks, and they were accepting the gold coins it used to purchase food, and Timothy was happy. Perhaps being here wasn't such a problem. They could lay low for a while and stay out of sight of anyone else for the time being. Alaster could fix the damage the hostile woman had caused it, and all would be well.

"Be Careful, Timothy," it intoned. "You Will Make Yourself Ill."

"Nh I whn't," retorted Timmy through a mouthfull of hamburger.

"You Are Unaccustomed To The Food Sold Here. You May Do Yourself Ill."

"Aww, c'mhn, hlshht-"

The guardian's name was too tricky to say with a full mouth, so Timmy gulped down his mouthful.

"C'mon, Alaster! I'm starviiiiing!"

"Very Well, Then."

Alaster's head swivelled, gaze taking in the exotic citizenship in the restauraunt. It wasn't sure what to make of them, but none of them seemed to be threatening, not even the man in the suit who had just sat at their table like he'd been there all along.

A gear ground as the clockwork sentinel suddenly realized what had just happened.

"Excuse me," began the man in controlled tones. "Am I adressing Timothy Yessic and Alaster?"

"That's us!" piped Timmy, before Alaster could order the boy not to respond.

A mask-like grin was the response. "Excellent! I ask because I have a job offer for the both of you!"

"Elaborate," snapped Arthur.

Montcorbier - for it was he - seemed to ignore Alaster for the moment and focus on Timmy. "I'm part of a, uh, acting company. Like the theatre, almost! And I need you and Alaster here to play a starring role in it! No-one else will do - it has to be you two. You've got just the right amount of talent and pluck we need to make this play a reality."

Timmy's eyes were saucers, his mouth agape.

"Cool," he whispered.

"This Is A Con," snarled Alaster. "You Have No Evidence To Back Your Claims, And You Have Nothing To Offer Us In Return."

"On the contrary. I know that people are... after you. Dangerous people. And you can't garuntee that anywhere in Eta Carina is safe - why, you only just arrived here! However, if you agree to take part in the production, not only will you have the starring role of your lives, then I will pull a few strings around here. There are plenty of powerful people in Eta Carina, and one or two of them have... good intentions. They can provide you somewhere to stay safe and secure until we can find a way to, say... get you home?"

A pause. Timmy stared in rapturement at Montcorbier. Alaster stared.

"...Elaborate On The Nature Of Our Role," it clanked out, eventually.

Montcorbier gave his falsest smile yet. He hated kids.

"Do you know what a heist is?"

Goddamn dog-fuckers. There were too many people here. Can't pop the Switzerman without everyone having a heart attack, and the stiff in the suit looked important. Best to tail them, find a spot where they'd be easier, less public targets.

Adhira slung the rifle on his back and brachiated away.

Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Several rooms away, Tschichold was incredibly displeased.

Could his luck get any worse? First, the artist had had the worst epiphany ever (HE WAS IN THE DYING GAMES). Then, some wizard chump came along and vomited words and other things onto him (Tschichold was considering suing). Now, some sweet lovechild of Power Girl and a Jackson Pollock dropped in without permission. Oh wait, that was Freefall - and some ghetto-ass robo-pal along with her.

“Who,” the artist demanded, punctuating his question with a finger-point. “Are you.”

“Wow,” Freefall condescendingly returned the point. “Did all the artsy stuff push out the rest of your brain or something?”

Nooooooo, you stupid bitch, I know who you are,” Tschichold swore, eliciting a glower from Freefall. It was hard to tell if the heroine was silently reprimanding him or the curse word itself, but he could not bring himself to care. “I mean the robot behind you.”

Woooooah” Tammy sauntered around the art gallery-bathroom. “What the fuck, man,” the robot practically strutted its stuff despite lack of proper legs. “What. The. flying fuck." Although he practically hated the walking can from the beginning, Tschichold had to begrudgingly admit: the robot had some swag."Who did this shit.” A finger jabbed at one of the many errant murals that populated the bathroom. “Who made this mess.” Tammy scanned the audience for a nonexistent answer. “WHO EXPLODED.”

<font color="#814444">“NOTHING EXPLODED," the painter snarled, his finger, still outstretched, dithering on the decision of which fist to point at. "Everything was fine until YOU fucking came in with those taser hands--”

The robot’s head glared downwards, “Who do you think you are.”

“Tschic…hold?” The artist chuckled nervously as he realized how ridiculously huge Tammy’s fist was especially when viewed in proximity of his face. At (very) close glance, the palm was like a military base and each digit was like a tiny nuclear warhead. Tschichold would have gone on with the comparisons but to be honest, he wasn’t feeling so cocky anymore – especially since the robot’s hand was a couple of inches away from flattening his squishy head. “Also I asked you first. You know. That.” His voice faltered along with his confidence. “Yeeah.”

“Chick. Cold.” Tammy jived each syllable of the mispronunciation with what looked like a gangster hand gesture of disapproval. “Fancy name for a fancy man. Say, how did these fancy pants got on a girl like you?”

“What,” Tschichold could not believe his ears. “What. What did you call me.”

“Chick. Lady. Guuuuuuuuuurl,” The robot cocked his head, snapped his fingers and pointed Tschic-wards. “Those hips don’t lie, pal.”

“Holy SHIT.” Tschichold stumbled backwards in bewildered shock. He simply could not believe his ears. “AARON.”

“Um. Yeah.” The wizard murmured, as he was frozen a couple of inches away from the bathroom door. Aaron decided it was prudent to abscond away from the hi-tech toilets to sweet, sweet freedom. Admittedly, that was a rather smart move on the wizard’s part considering that the hallways were the furthest away from the killer electric robot. “Don’t mind me. If er-" A wary pause. "If you don't mind."

<font color="#814444">“WHAT DID HE CALL ME.” The artist demanded at top of his lungs.

“Well,” Aaron coughed briefly, readjusting his robes a little more than necessary. The wizard was practically a poster child of sullen reluctance. To be fair, Tschichold felt the same way too. “A girl.”


“Well to be honest.” There was a scholarly (and wizardly) pause. “You do kind of look like one.”

Tschichold was shocked - incredibly so. He could have been more shocked if he exploded in a glory of randomosity or spontaneously gave virginal birth to the Lord and Savior’s Child but it was pretty drastic indeed. Slack-jawed and with palms on his ears, the artist slowly turned towards Freefall. <font color="#7474FF">The Delaunay-esque superheroine simply shrugged. Tschichold decided to interpret that as a “yes.”

“OH MY GOD,” Tschichold shrilled.</font>

“Are you okay,” Aaron asked.




“I guess you aren’t.”</font>

“YOU. SHUT UP,” Tschichold snarled. “You have NO IDEA. NO. IDEA.” He placed a lot of stress on the last word. “WHAT I HAVE BEEN THROUGH.”

“Well, from what I see,” Tammy waved his gargantuan palm daintily as though he had to call the sass taxi. ” This would have been pretty hilarious if the robot’s fists were not voltage hazards. “You just had a bad case of freaks like a sissy cuz’ an organic exploded on you.”

“YOU ARE NOT HELPING,” Tschichold snapped.

“Well, you are a little girl.”

“What the—THAT DOES IT.

For the purpose of petty revenge, Tschichold made the tactically suicidal decision to launch himself onto Tammy. It was a noble endeavor considering the odds were stacked against him, but it was also incredibly stupid considering the robot was about two times the height and size of him. The artist immediately regretted that decision as he soon as he found himself in the vice-grip of the enormous automaton.

“Woah. Woah. Woah.” The robot wagged his finger. “Hold your phone-horses.”

All Tschichold could think of was how incredibly lame the catchphrase was. He would have kicked its stupid face in punishment if his feet were a little closer. “I don’t have any phones.” The artist strained his bottom half in an attempt to do so anyway. “Or horses.”

“That’s a really lame comeback,” Tammy scoffed.

“I’m an artist not a comedian,” Tschichold continue to wriggle like a slippery black fish. “Get your facts rightckt.”

Tschichold found his breath shorter and his movements tighter as the cage of metal fingers tightened around him. The artist glanced downwards and saw the rather smug expression on the robot’s face – or was that the hallucinations again. However, the facts are there: that robot was strangling him. Tschichold would have protested if his lung capacity was larger.

“You better calm down,” the robot taunted. “Otherwise, the next person who’s going to explode is you.”

“No. One,” Tschichold gagged. “Exploded.”

“The evidence’s right there, lady,” Tammy pointed at the wizard vomit on his chest.

Tschichold open and closed his mouth as though he was a fish on dry land. If he did not get out in time, he would turn from Tschichold to Tschichoked-to-death – and a premature elimination was not a fate he wanted to ascribe to.

“Did you do this,” Tammy insisted.

Tschichold’s attention was elsewhere – namely on Freefall. Her expression was grim, her stance was very combat-like, and her skin was very, very dark. Honestly, the skin made an aesthetic contrast with her colorful super-suit, perfect for any art gallery or photo-shoot. However, this did not change the fact that she was very, very prepared to make a junk-heap of the robot.

“Oh no,” Tschichold found the oxygen to make his futile plead against Freefall. “No no no no no no no no—”

“I got lie detectors in my motherboard, pal,” Tammy jeered. “You can’t hide the truth away fro—”</font>

<font color="#7474FF">Tammy was explosively interrupted by the force of nature called Freefall. The aftershock was enough to shatter every fragile thing in the small (and very expensive) bathroom. Aaron flinched as every mirror, glass bulb, and toilet shattered at the same time. On the other hand, the exit was open (considering the entrance was a glass door). Careful not to get any glass snagged onto his robes, the wizard darted away to freedom.</font>

Meanwhile, Tschichold found himself being launched at a very high velocity. This was not exactly the most pleasant sensation - especially since the wall behind him was rapidly getting close at a painful pace. The end would not be pleasant and he was getting pretty angry. After all, this is mostly Little Miss Dense’s fault.

“HEY LADY,” Tschichold yelled to Freefall. “FUCK Y—”

Tschichold never finished that sentence.


Wizard robes were not designed for speediness but Aaron managed to get away – at least he rather want to think that way. Despite the countless amount of rooms he passed, the magician was not so sure if he was fully out of danger – especially with that killer electric robot. Aaron had seen what it had done and there was absolutely no way he was willing to let that robo-volt near him. The wizard need to get out fast. He could only escape --

– if he actually knew the directions, of course. In retrospect, he should have picked up a map or asked for directions, but on the other hand, everything in this damned casino was automated. Considering the behavior of Tammy earlier, Aaron was pretty sure that anything with even the thinnest wafer of artificial intelligence would turn him in a magical pancake.

The wizard had never felt this lost since freshman orientation. The bright lights. The multitudes of crowds. A whirlwind of confusion and unfamiliarity. All in all an incredibly unpleasant experience. Aaron’s heart began to pick up pace. He was getting desperate, he needed to run into someone, Someone to depend on. Someone to tell him the answers. Where was Change when he needed him.

Instead, Aaron found something else. The artificial sky was incredibly blue and the weather generators made things pleasant, but the suspiciously man-shaped hole nearby told something else. The tourists and staff were gawking around and in a needlessly spacious pool. A closer inspection revealed a rather spacey lady, a jellyfish…and a familiar looking person.

<font color="#099999">“Oh my gawd!” The lady’s blonde curls bouncing in unison with her excitement. “I think he’s dead!”

“I must be dead,” Tschichold groaned as he floated miserably. “Because I feel like hell.”

Aaron was not quite sure how to react.</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by Agent1022.

Aaron stared. It was pretty much the thing to do; everyone else seemed to be doing it, it didn’t have any immediate repercussions, and above all, it didn’t draw attention to him.

Nizzo did that instead.

A wave of impressions spun its tendrils and centered on this-male-one-of-riches, announcing his presence and Nizzo’s recognition-happiness to all those present.

Oh, no.

The impression spread like a tidal wave across the Feedback Loop, pooling in the gravity wells of minds like golden syrup. Here is this-male-one-of-riches, it said. I recognize this-male-one-of-riches, it said. To those not on the scene, it faded without a reference point to affix itself to, lending itself to dinner guests convincing themselves of a momentary confusion. To those there, however, by the pool and more importantly Aaron, some things stuck in the minds of a hundred compulsive gamblers, moderately rich executives, and even one vapid blonde starlet as the impression drained away: Riches.

“Ohmigod, are you, like...” Blonde curls shook as the starlet focused her baby blues on the grey robes and mussed hair. “Like...” Rich people didn’t look like that, her deceptively shallow internal monologue was going, ...not unless they’re really rich. “Loooooaded?!”


Change panicked as he felt numerous minds beginning to cluster around Aaron’s, obscuring and muddling the mental waters. We’ve got to go get Aaron! We’ve got to-

<font color="#AAA555">The two of them had ended up crowded in a workroom the size of a large closet. A bench dominated the room, with a partially-disassembled slot machine sitting on it. “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Artemis held up the hand that wasn’t fishing in a toolbox. “Hold on there, moneybags. We don’t need to be getting ourselves into any more hot water. Aha.” A dented thermos pulled free from the detritus within. “Speakin’ of which...”

But Aaron-

“Don’t you think your pet human can handle himself, sugar nellie?”

The banknotes fluttered disconcordantly for a moment as the mechanic poured coffee into a stainless steel mug. ...Sugar nellie?

”It confuses people, and I don’t have to argue with them anymore.” She took a sip. “Aah. I’m sure he’ll do fine without you, moneybags.”

The last time he and I were apart, he ended up on a power-mad massacre. And I believe that was just the tail end of what he got up to.

“Uh-huh.” She took another sip, and followed it with a swig. “Had a robot do that once. Slaughtered half a city, I think it did. And at the end of it all, turned out I’d just slipped in a G-56aVB multilevel transistor the wrong way round! What a laugh!” And she did - not a mirthless laugh, a well-bodied, happy laugh - the laugh of someone who had actually found something funny to laugh about.

The transaction boggled, as best as a bunch of banknotes could. That’s...not...I mean, economically...

“*snrk* It grew back.” She emptied the mug and poured herself another.

But...half a city! That’ inestimable cost of repair! And the lives-

“You know as well as anyone, moneybags - life is cheap.”

Fifty-three cents. But that’s the value of a human body, not- A thought struck him. What is that you’re drinking?

“Space Caff. ‘One sip and you’re outta this world’. Probs cause there’s enough booze in it to make you keel over.”A hand went up, another swig was had.

I...see. I’ll just be...going, then. Wait, how does that even work?

“It’s the secret ingredient. Damned if I know what it is.”

Change rippled in consternation. But you don’t seem drunk. Not one bit.

“Nope.” She got up from her sandbag seat, perfectly steady on her feet. “Meant every word I said. Guess I’ve just been drinkin’ it so long.”

I. Uh. Okay.

Artemis rose, and took Change by the paper ribbon. “Come on. Let’s go a-walking.” She opened the steel door once more, and stepped into the dreary service corridor beyond.

”We’ve still got lots to do.”


Aaron stood bewildered in a haze of glamor and sophistication. There had been a manager, a man wearing a suit with creases crisper than a cracker and a manner smoother than refined petrochemical. He’d said, my word, one of my assistants tells me you’d like to partake of the entertainments we have here, and that you have the means...? And Aaron had nodded, without really knowing why or what was going to happen...

He’d done a lot of things in the past hour without really understanding them. He’d stumbled down gilt corridors, holding Nizzo in his arms while half-hearing the shadowed painter - Tschichold - complaining behind him (he’d at some point designated them both as his aides, apparently, entitling them to come with him down halls that, the manager had said, were reserved for only the finest of customers) -

<font color="#814444">Tschic didn’t think so, not really, the carpeting was threadbare and all the wrong color, often three at the same time, and that ‘authentic’ wooden detailing didn’t look like it at all and didn’t suit the drapes anyway, and speaking of the drapes why don’t you just fucking set fire to them they’d be an improvement especially with some singe done to that wallpaper as well oh my god what were you thinking do you have a design specialist this place needs a complete overhaul look at that dust how many people come up here anyway do you even get the right clientele I can see why, I mean come on who’s going to want to look at this...

Behind him (her?), several designers scribbled maniacally in notebooks to the tune of neverending criticism.

The room they then came to was palatial, with pillars and paneling and splendor oozing from the walls. Tschic hated it in twenty thousand words, and Aaron...barely noticed.

He let the words wash over him, like a haze of indignation and paint fumes, while an army of smarmy tailors spread tape measures over every limb and bodily feature. He changed wordlessly from his greying robes into a sparkling night-blue suit, compliments of the house, of course, not a problem Mister Abstract sir, and perhaps sir would like to come down to the games now and let these fine gentlemen take care of your old things, hmmm?

Very well, Mister Abstract, as you wish you can hold on very tightly to those ratty old things if you must, sentimental value, you might say? Oh yes, I understand fully, but those won’t look distinguished on the games floor, you see...what’s that, sir? They’re important to you? Yes sir, I do important...they...

Yes, Mister Abstract. I understand. And perhaps your jellyfish could use some water and a tank?

Tschic wasn’t sure what he had seen, having seen it amidst waving arms and tape measures attempting to gain purchase on his own oil-slicked body. But the wizard HAD stepped up to the manager. He’d stood there and - and Tschic had missed something there - looked at the manager silently, or something. And then the manager’d become all sweetness and light.

Something strange was going on. As an artist, Tschic could feel the subtle flows of value traversing the room, and something was painfully wrong with the tattered leather bag and the bundle of old robes that Aaron was handing to the manager. It was the way the ratty man held the equally ratty items: carefully, as if he’d been handed crown jewels. Even Tschic’s disdainful eye caught the overspill of Aaron’s wizardry, and only barely managed to recognize that the (ugh) grey robe and worn bag were just as ordinary as they had ever been.

It really hit home then how dangerous Aaron was.


The troupe stood on a balcony, overlooking the floor upon which money flowed and circulated like blood sacrifice to the House.

Blue chips, fifty credits, enough for a meal and maybe enough left over to pay off the cop trying to rustle you out of the gutter. Blues skittered on the tables under other colors, the lowest denominator filling in the gaps between larger transactions.

Green, five hundred, a night in the...less prosperous end of town. Seedy rooms, peeling wallpaper, a neon confusion through the windows at all hours of the night or day.

Purple, two thousand...

And up, and up, and up to the reds and whites, a hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, the topmost layer of the swirl of multicolored money ebbing and surging on the tides of chance and fate, candy-cane colors the cornerstone of finance.

Theoretically, on Eta Carina’s system of commerce, the scale rose ever-higher to the fabled billions and trillions, where the chips were gilded with platinum and titanium and various lacings of other exotic matter, though no one in the Feedback Loop had seen such currency in living memory. They were colored in subtle shades of golden-yellow and silvery-grey, by some psychological necessity that history had long relegated to forgotten shelves.


He’s doing it again! He’s practicing aurumancy without any thought as to the fiscal responsibilities-

<font color="#AAA555">“Moneybags! What did I say about not worrying?” The two of them reached the end of a large row of steel boxes, each one fitted with a complex electronic lock.

Change riffled his notes in indignation. Remind me of the worth in following you around, as opposed to that in stopping Aaron?

Artemis keyed in a code into an electronic keypad and wrenched open the nearest box. Inside, electronics wittered and glittered to the music of chance and lottery. “Cash. Cold, hard cash.”</font>


Aaron stared at the roulette table, watching the little white ball roll around and around, spelling thirty-eight fates for the chips laid out on the table. In his daze he saw his own lonely blue sitting amongst stacks of red and white, standing on 19...


The croupier reached for the blue across the table, hand outstretched, and in that moment Aaron saw the sneer plastered under that croupierly nose. I’ve got to pay out a fifty, it said, a bloody godsdamn fifty. Man could have played any number of colors and he stuck a friggin’ blue on there. Idiot.

Perhaps it was that sneer that prompted Aaron into doing what he did next. Certainly he didn’t know himself.

“What’s your name?”

Peter opened his mouth to snap back at the stupid suit, something snarky like ‘read my badge’ or ‘we’re not people, you don’t need to know’, or even...but he realized all he’d said was ‘Peter, sir.’

“I want you to look hard at that chip, Peter. I want you to really see it.”

There was something to what the suit was saying, though. The chip did look pretty weird-

Aaron concentrated, pushing his influence through the mental plane like molasses, “Does that look blue to you, Peter? Surely nothing that precious could possibly be blue.”

People were noticing, murmuring, and without hesitating Aaron tuned their minds into the deception as well...


Artemis looked up in amusement as Change did little frustrated somersaults in the air. <font color="#CDAD00">Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no oh no...

“Relax, moneybags. We’re almost done here.”</font>

In an office deep inside the Feedback Loop, Richie Rickshaw, proprietor, was having a minor heart attack. “Five billion credits, Harrison?! Five...billion...credits?!”

The head assistant tapped wildly at the tablet set into the synthetic redwood desk. “I ran the chip twice. Robot passed it for inspection both times.”

“I didn’t even think the valuium chips still circulated!”

“They aren’t, not this side of town!"

Richie was not a healthy man to begin with, and this wasn't helping his 200-pound body one bit. Because one didn't become a entrepreneur in Eta Carina without a few tics, his hammy hands slowly crept to the edge of the desk and began kneading at it, like dough. "What're we going to do?"

Grimly, the assistant set his face into a crude approximation of a smile. " out, sir." He spat the phrase as if it were poison.

"Can...can we cover that?"

"We should. Oh! Look at it this way, if news gets out, then we'll see a spike in popularity, and then-"

Irritably, Richie waved a hand. "That old biscuit. No one believes that anymore. We'd never make enough to cover paying out this once in what little interest we could generate." He heaved a sigh, sending interesting wave phenomena down the collar of his suit. "I been in this town a long time, Harrison. Bought into the Loop ten years ago, when it was still uptown. And in a decade, if there's anything I learned, it's that this is one hellhole of a city. If there's any magic, it's all uptown, where all the real bastards run their houses. You gotta be a real bastard to run a casino, if you're lookin' to survive."


“It takes a right bastard to do what we’re doing, moneybags.” <font color="#CDAD00">Change watched as Artemis artificed her way inside the humming steel box, attaching clips and pieces of wire to circuitry with bits of solder, hot glue, and what the Transaction could have sworn was bubblegum.

And...and what are we doing?


A river of money flowed in the cybernetic world, lapping against its banks, splitting into tributaries that invaded every nook and cranny. Here and there, cashflow slowed and pooled in vaults, safes, socks under the mattress.

Among them lay the Feedback Loop’s accounts, a transient pool on the fabric of Eta Carina’s financial spacetime, barely endeavoring to keep its depth amongst the outflows and displacements. A closer look, and the individual transactions between machine and man could be seen in a web of nodes, pushing money to and fro between customer and house.

Slot Machine #238 was paying out. It was the strangest thing, since #238 was currently lying disassembled on a workbench, its payout mechanism connected directly to the nearest banking network. A creatively rewired control computer a few floors below continually sent it the command to win, opening a drain in the bottom of the Feedback Loop’s electronic vault.


The office door burst open, its inset glass cracking between ‘Richie Rickshaw’ and ‘Owner'. A meaty hand slowly withdrew from the doorway, its owner stepping aside to reveal the comparatively smaller frame of Aaron Abstract, millionaire.

“There wasn’t any call for that, Alistair.” His voice was different now - colder. More businesslike. Much more professional than the wreck that had first washed up in a workroom behind the casino facades.

“Sorry, Mr. Abstract, sir.”

Richie Rickshaw stared, hands working away at the desk, as Mr. Abstract stepped into the office as if he owned the place. Behind him, an entourage wittered in the hallway, muffled slightly by the muscle blocking most of the doorframe.

True to his credit as an assistant, Harrison recovered first. “What’s the meaning of-”

Aaron held up a dismissive hand. “You’ve got something that belongs to me. A lot of somethings. A lot of meals and hotel rooms and perks for underpaid coppers. A lot of what really makes the world go round, Mister,” he peeked at the cracked etching on the door, “Rickshaw.”

“Well, why didn’t you claim it at the exchange, Mister,” Harrison mock-stared at an imaginary clipboard, “Abstract?”

“I did try, but the staff behind the desk...directed me up here. Over their shoulders, in fact, as they were...what’s the word?” Aaron’s face lit up in a cruel smile. “Hightailing it out of there.”

The chair behind the desk screeched as it skidded across the floor. “What?! No!”

“You can’t pay, can you, Mr. Rickshaw? Not so rich as your name suggests?”

A brief hesitation colored the proprietor’s speech, but Rickshaw still hauled himself as tall as he could manage. “O-of course we can! Pay the man, Harrison! We can do a wire transfer, right here, right now!”

And Harrison’s voice rang clear like a bell into the sudden silence of the room: “No. We can’t.”


Artemis slammed shut the steel locker’s door, pausing only to hear the satisfying thud of bars shooting home. “And now, moneybags - we haul ass.”

<font color="#CDAD00">But-!

“We. Haul. Ass.”</font>


There was a tableau of perfect stillness in that office. Aaron simply stood, basking in the desperation, anger, sadness, despair - the emotions that fought before the backdrop of Rickshaw’s face as Rickshaw’s body fought to keep standing.

Then the silence was broken by two sounds: Harrison’s screams, and bone grinding on bone as the meaty hand of Alistair squeezed the pistol out of the assistant’s.

“Oh, is that how they do it this side of Eta Carina, then?” A sardonic smile slid its way onto Aaron’s face. “You wouldn’t have done it, Harrison.”

It was to his credit that the assistant’s voice never wavered, issuing calmly from white lips. “I would. I would and I’d have shot you twice more to be sure. What makes...what makes you so sure?”

“Really. Am I the only one here that sees the way out of this?”


“Apparently, I am. Five billion credits? You’re standing in it.”</font>
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

Lotsak'ash was remarkably old. He had a special kind of longevity, the type granted to those who had chosen to bind their soul in pursuit of an unending existence. The lich had existed for a virtual eternity, surviving through the innumerable rises and falls of Eta Carina, weathering the times when its flow of limitless wealth had nearly been stoppered. Myriad intrigues and hatreds had been refined over the centuries-- and after so long, no one on Eta Carina doubted his position as one of its most influential and respected citizens.

Today, however, Lotsak'ash was demonstrably furious-- a rarity, considering that strong emotions tend to wither away after a millennium of patient intrigue and scheming. After a decades-long retirement, Montcorbier had shown up once more. While many had forgotten the immortal who had stripped Eta Carina of its collected wealth, the lich had not. The notion of him returning, nonchalantly walking along streets he had no right to be on, planning some new caper to extract the wealth of Eta Carina solely for the thrill of such escapades-- the lich would not stand for such an affront.

Montcorbier would not be likely to empty the vaults of his previous victims; as much as Lotsak'ash smoldered with petty hatred, he was more than willing to concede that his foe possessed the acumen to not commit such blunders. But that wasn't going to prevent the lich from intervening, from interrupting no-doubt carefully orchestrated plans. After all, word on Eta Carina spread quickly-- rumors and secrets were just as much a currency as the casino chips drifting through circulation. And, were someone to accidentally slip a rumor that a heist was imminent, in short order it'd trickle down-- moving from the upper echelons of wealthy socialites, down to the ambitious gamblers attempting to win a position at the top, down to the ambling masses of tourists and even further down to the debtors living in the cordoned-off alleyways and gutters. In anywhere from hours to days it would be near impossible to find someone unaware of the upcoming caper.

There were quite a few groups who would be interested in such a development-- the cardsharp demons of the Scarmaglione family were one such party, but there were others. He was not the only one who remembered Montcorbier, and there were a great many cliques that would be more than willing to assist in pushing along his pernicious rumor.

The lich smiled-- or approximated a smile as best a skeleton could. Montcorbier's heist was going to be interesting.


Kriok's scanning algorithms were adjusting. The heuristics routines disseminating the wall of sensory input no longer bombarded the avian with a thoughtless deluge, but had filtered the countless denizens and gaudy wonders of Eta Carina down to a small sampling of useful tidbits. The indulgent excess was still present, but it had been reduced to something tolerable-- Kriok could at least walk through the endless promenades without wanting to pulverize her visual sensors. Hesitation still kept the avian in check-- in sieving through the sensory cavalcade, some of Eta Carina's dangers were obscured. A twinge of uneasiness still permeated every step.

Her journey into The Resplendent Palace had been marked by the transition from the gilded, ostentatious wealth and violet haze of Eta Carina's arterial passages into a subdued, sophisticated air of refinement. She stood in stark contrast to its aloof patrons-- while they had adorned themselves in luxurious accoutrements, the avian had marred herself with utilitarian augmentations and layers of industrial-grade cybernetic grafts.

Just as she paused, automated processes reminded her to keep moving-- that she was squandering time subjecting herself to the scrutinizing gaze of Eta Carina's nobility. A taloned hand brushed against her head plumage, as Kriok made a half-hearted attempt at presentability. Taking a brief moment to process the crowd, she approached one of the casino's servants.

"I was sent here to meet Montcorbier." She said, trying to subdue her disdain for the omnipresent glamour.

The servant silently nodded in response, motioning for her to follow.

The invisible air of condescension around the waiting staff seemed to evaporate, replaced with an atmosphere of clinical hospitality. As she moved across the casino floor, attendants seemed to intercept her, their routines and patrols adjusting to incorporate her own snaking path. Waiters would deferentially proffer plates of finger food, others attempted to provide sophisticated libations. Kriok waved them aside as best she could-- their politeness put her at unease. The trust she had placed in her decision to come here was tenuous; her trust in its occupants was even less assured.

Cybernetic relays deliberated as she walked. She could still hear the murmurs of contemptuous socialites, but their conversations had shifted-- moving from whispered comments on the casino's newest guest to idle dispensations once more. Kriok filed away many of their conversations as being irrelevant, but a few caught her attention. Mentions of recent events and important people could be gleaned from the stream of insipid pleasantries.

The servant stopped, holding open a door to a private room. Kriok could see the human who had invaded her communications interface-- his emerald-green glass eye reflected light off of the chandeliers and sconces.

"Ah, Kriok. Come. We have much to discuss."

Kriok stepped inside, pulling the door closed. As she examined the room's occupants further, a partitioned subroutine idly wondered just what it was she had gotten involved in.



Owen and Saint stopped their patrol of the casino floor, turning around and adjusting to look at Wesley. The mercenary was still adorned in heavy plates of futuristic armor, only barely refined to match the sophisticated aesthetic of the casino. To someone almost-blind, his armor might resemble a tuxedo-- it had been repainted in black and white, and a bow-tie was crudely affixed to the collar. An assortment of weapons were still attached to the back of the metal carapace, most of which Owen could not recognize but unhesitatingly assumed were some variety of illegal.

Owen reflexively straightened his tuxedo before addressing the security guard. "Yes, Wesley, what is it now?" Owen said. His walk throughout the casino was helping him adjust to the flow and vibrancy of Eta Carina, and Wesley's interruption broke the rhythm he was beginning to establish.

"I don't know if you're aware of this, but I'm hearing rumors of a heist going down somewhere on Eta Carina. If you want me to keep whatever money is inside that vault yours, I'm going to need more than the pittance I have right now."

"I... see." Owen replied. Owen's mind began calculating how to best approach this situation-- being situated inside Eta Carina was an opportunity he could not miss, and a successful heist would be disastrous. "You're sure about this?" He asked.

Wesley smiled his impeccable smile, flashing his well-polished teeth. "Call it a reporter's intuition. I used to live off rumors, I think I know when we're dealing with the genuine article."

"Alright then. I'll see if we can arrange something."

Wesley nodded as he left, evidently pleased with Owen's response.

As soon as the mercenary was out of earshot, Owen began again. "We should close the casino. We can't afford the risk, not with what we have down there."

"And lose our customers? We can't afford that, either." Saint sharply retorted.

"I know, I know. But if there's going to be a heist, and we're unfortunate enough to be its victim, there's no way we can--"

"What you don't know is that a heist is just what we need. The people here are cracked, they treat heists like a show or something. If they hear we have a heist on our hands, they'll come."

"Hmm." Owen responded. Deep within his mind, cogs began to churn as he thought through how to best exploit this new opportunity. What Saint had proposed was a risky endeavor-- if he made even the slightest miscalculation, the infinitesimally small chance of a successful heist would be amplified. At the same time, the thought of the rewards to be had was beguiling. He almost chuckled at the irony-- just as the visitors and socialites chanced away their fortunes, now he was getting involved in a gamble of his own.

"And if we play our cards right, we'll have more than enough tourists, the vault will remain safe-- and we'll be all the better for it." Saint bluntly finished.


Room schematics, occupant information, details on countless overlooked trivialities-- a simultaneous wall of senseless data bombarded Kriok. All of it was irrelevant in light of two of the room's inhabitants.

Her eyes refocused, adjusting to stare at the diminutive human and the unwavering metal sentinel guarding him. She had not encountered either of them; outside of a chance meeting with someone intent on recovering the mechanical armor, she knew nothing. Her observations drew no revelations-- Timothy was distractedly gazing at the other occupants, while his protector remained utterly still while its clockwork quietly ticked away. A probability simulation transmitted its results to her synthetic mind, assuming them to not be a threat to her, but she remained cautious. Her steps further into the room were hollow and evasive-- malignant doubts festered, installing in her a sense of defective vigilance.

Alaster ever-so-slightly stirred, its inter-connected web of gears ticking a fast-step faster in response to the avian. Kriok's presence had not gone unnoticed by the clockwork machine, but she had not posed an overt threat to the child and the knight was content to solemnly watch over his charge. Somewhere within its memory crystal it recalled the only meeting the two had; it recalled the psychedelic proceedings and the yells of an announcer ecstatically proclaiming their demises.

But that had been in the past-- they were free now. She would not harm the child, Alaster's machine logic decided.

"What are they doing here." She said, vaguely indicating Timothy and Alaster. Her statement was intended as a question, but came out as a dull, emotionless monotone.

"They're here for the same reason you are, Kriok-- the same reason we're all here." Montcorbier replied, furtively shifting his stance. "I intend to break into one of Eta Carina's casinos and empty its vault, Kriok, a task that I'll need a variety of specialists for. Most of my associates are already gathered here." He gestured to the others gathered in the room.

The avian followed his gesture, looking at the other three individuals present with them-- a pimply juvenile, a bored socialite, and a floating television monitor displaying a sickened human. A subroutine questioned just what made them skilled-- at least on an initial scan it did not seem readily apparent.

Montcorbier continued. "I need to perform one last heist, and-- should you be willing to assist us-- I'll utilize your expertise in this endeavor."

Kriok continued examining the others. "And should I ref--"

The thief's gaze lowered, going from a cordial expression to a mask of politely-veiled menace-- instantly catching Kriok's attention. "Then you'll likely never escape Eta Carina. At best, you'll be an indentured servant to a casino, working without pay or thanks-- and at worst, well. I don't think that needs to be discussed, yes?"

Kriok sharply clicked her tongue. Cortical circuitry wanted to reject this arrangement and settle for waiting-- either until she could pursue escape on her own, or until a new location arrived. And yet, she was wholly cognizant that this would be possibly the only chance she would get at freedom-- until an alternative avenue presented itself, this would be the only fruitful course of action. Her neck straightened from its usual curve as she postured herself. "Very well then. What expertise is required." She bitterly responded.

Montcorbier's face changed once more, returning to its mask of calculated goodwill. "There are-- tools, shall we say, tools that are hard to come by on Eta Carina. That's where your fabricator will come into play. It'll give us a means of acquiring the, ah, implements necessary to enter the vault."

A soft crooning was the avian's response. "I need more than just that." Kriok paused. Synthetic neurons shifted routines, moving from the processes of a paranoid survivor to the nearly-forgotten cycles and run-times of a deep space engineer. "If you want me to assist you, I would need technical specifications, scrap material, workshop space, molecular schematics for any tools I don't--"

"Those all can be provided easily enough. Tick?"

The hacker stirred, twitching slightly. "Workshop arrangements prepared momentarily-- studio backlot, should be isolated, eighty-nine point three percent chance of scrap required for fabrication. Schematics being transferred now."

Kriok's communication interface hummed with a quiet notification. Information now traveled, chunks of data moved from one cybernetic world to another. A cursory examination revealed the download to be packages of atomic blueprints, alongside an assortment of other information .

"Very well then. I'll return once I am finished."

As the avian began to leave, Alaster likewise started to move. In a single fluid motion, one of its arms picked up Timothy, stowing the child onto its back. Gears and torsion springs sprung to life as the contraption walked. Clockwork logic had decided the child would need to be placed somewhere secluded, if only for a short period of time-- and the machine itself needed somewhere to repair.

"We Will Be Accompanying You." It clanked out, its posture clearly announcing it had no regard for whatever Kriok's preferences would be.

Timothy, now hanging off of Alaster's broad metallic shoulders, smiled timidly. "S-sorry miss, but I don't think he'll take no for an answer." He sheepishly said.


Aaron paced across the casino floor, taking note of the many minor renovations that would be necessary to bring his new acquisition into order.

The casino had been neglected under its prior management; it was not so much a betting house as it was a mausoleum, bereft of the proper canals of wealth draining in towards the house. Aaron's mind ran through the details necessary to bring his affairs into order-- from trivialities such the choice of decorations, to the arrangement of slot machines, to grander schemes to remove himself from this comparative slum and be amongst the high-rollers of Eta Carina. As he walked, he could hear whispers amongst the miniscule smattering of tourists and gamblers that had deigned to visit The Feedback Loop. At first, he disregarded their murmurings-- after all, he had designs on a different strata of customers, not the rabble washed up from Eta Carina's gutters.

It was after one of them briefly mentioned rumors of a heist that he rethought his policy.


A few minutes had passed since the contestants had left the private room. Montcorbier and Tick engaged in their own discussion, occasionally joined by Toleth-- moving from reminiscing about their earlier heists to detailing just how they would conduct this new caper, how every intricate component of their operation would fit together.

"And this is the part I'm supposed to play in this?" Jill Traynor sharply interrupted.

Montcorbier turned to look at Jill Traynor-- she had spent the entire meeting somewhat indifferently watching, and had only now spoken up. If it weren't for the green skin and tentacle-like strands of hair, the willowy actress would be indistinguishable from any of the countless varieties of human the multiverse possessed. There was still a vehement resentment of the executive meddling responsible for her position, and he saw no useful talents in her-- there was no point in acting on her complaints.


Montcorbier smiled deceitfully. "Well what? I don't see how this is my problem."

Jill responded with the hard clack of shoes against marble as she angrily left. She had been marginalized in far too many films, passed aside for less-talented leads. Even if Montcorbier had forgotten this was intended as a film, she had not-- and she had every intention of playing an actual role in it.

Originally posted on MSPA by BlastYoBoots.

The Feedback Loop was transforming.

Hundreds of stranded tourists were flooding into Eta Carina's supply of vacancies, and under Aaron's leadership, the Loop was ever hungrier to accommodate them. Matter pumping through feeding conduits, modular walls and floors unfolding, automated fabrication drones humming. Slowly, its maw expanded. Eight wide entrances bloomed out of its one, bright glass doors showcasing the influx of customers as shining silver jaws. Their tongues unfurled inside, staffed by fresh, robotic blood to taste their prey, plus an old standby struggling to admit patrons in 80 languages and 90 different genial tones while restraining a cantankerous girl half-coated in dried paint. Expensive bathrooms, wrecked or otherwise, were remade into even more expensive, absurdly gleaming shrines to privacy. Sleeping guests groaned as their floors hummed into the sky, empty duplicate rooms filled as quickly as they were grown.

Aaron's will was leaving its mark on the decor. In every gambling area, every public space, colors were sucked dry from the walls and fixtures to be replaced with chrome, showy was replaced with silver, kitschy with karats, ritzy with rich, gaudy with gold... but, without creativity? That would end up rather tacky, Aaron had rationalized.

"With all due respect, that isn't high-traffic carpeting. It'll be ruined in under a week, especially with all these new patro-" AHEM, COUGH COUGH.

So he would have tacky replaced with Tschichold.

"Exactly what part of FLOOR BOSS don't you understand? I have complete artistic license over the FLOOR, and everything standing on the FLOOR. Are you on the floor, you color-blind sycophant?!"

"Yes, ma'am-"


"My apologies, sir, it's a joke going around. Couldn't resist."

Tschichold straightened his... augh... TIE, making sure to get as much paint from his exposed gloves onto the constraining, corporatist silver suit as possible. As necessary as a suit was to communicate the esteem of his position, it was no excuse not to mock it as much as he could. Customers bustled around the pair to and from the slots around them, wary of the paint dripping from his sleeves and ankles.

"Little lady, are you aware of the concept of gender discrimination?"

The man leaned back a bit. "Er..."

"Tell me something, you sissy girl. What effect do you think words like 'bitch' and sayings like 'go back to the kitchen' have on society? When you call me a 'slut', how does that make women AROUND us feel, you dumb whore?!"

"I don't quite understand gender norms myself, as I'm of a different species. I only look male, and-"

"You don't get what slurs do to women, do you?! They make them cry, that's what they do. The poor girls just cry in a bathroom stall and get thrown up on by wizards."

"We were only calling you that because it seemed to anno-"

"Under whose damn authority do you have the right to talk me into a metaphorical bathroom stall!?"

"My contract, sir."


"My race is notorious for its poor socialization skills. That's why I handle logistics and don't speak directly to customers," he lied.

"Oh. Well, order this carpet already, then!" Tschichold held up a mostly-holographic projected tablet; a clawed, dripping digit plunged through it to toss carpet options around. "Now, don't you agree that this is the only one that looks like one of those crazy alien three-legged types over there hasn't vomited all over it? That's my priority. I am SICK of vomit, you have no idea."


"As you ordered, Mister Abstract, every solid object the Feedback Loop owns has now been leveraged. At standard Eta Carina emergency lending rates, of course."

"Remind me what those are?"

"Normal rates would have been approximately fifty-eight percent hourly interest." Harrison stood stoically across from Aaron and gripped the polymer cast around his hand, a resigned, glassy look about his eyes. "But with the increased demand we receive at sudden travel lockdowns, that's now eighty-seven percent."

"And the first payments?"

"As requested, we argued for payments to be delayed until forty-seven hours from now. Few argue with a stranger wealthy enough to bet a valuium chip for a hotel."

"Good... that should be almost enough in liquid assets to cover the renovations."

The interest would be millions and millions of credits more than the Loop could possibly profit in forty-seven hours. Aaron carried the blithe lack of concern of a man who was either too wealthy to be worried, or had never intended to stick around to pay in the first place.

"I think we should cut some costs. What are our largest expenditures?"

"The ones we can stand to lose? Or-"

"The largest expenditures."

"That would be Al Merk'l Defense, one of the city's private security contractors." Harrison pulled out a holographic information tablet, switching to a bored reading voice. "Boasting the ability to deflect even a guerilla war, they-"

"Fire them."

"And replace them with a cheaper-?"

"No. We'll hire our own, lighter security team."

Harrison winced. "Sir, the local protection rackets would descend upon us within minutes. We'd end up paying far more."

Aaron blinked in surprise, and then smirked. "Will they, now?"


"No, no, no, no NO NO NO!!!"

Tschichold's arms flailed in frustration behind a pair of six-armed, five-eyed purple painters, flicking paint droplets all over their work.

They turned around in dull, confused surprise. Or at least it looked that way... one couldn't tell with those ovular, permanently-gaping mouths. One spoke up, vocal organs deep and trilling:
"Drevor Tschichold, is Nyphetium Roses. No beauty hass yet been known what surpass." His brother (sister?) nodded stoically.

"I wouldn't be surprised you don't know any, this whole space city looks like Christmas swallowed a bomb and a watermelontini and exploded. Look, this suit may be awful, and it might make the paint I'm leaking pool and dry REALLY uncomfortably around that big bulge of... whatever it is that's in front under my pants, but if there's one thing it's doing, it's making me less high off the fumes of my own paintblood. And that means I can see straight enough to tell that green roses are an AFFRONT to everything aesthetic!!!"

The other brother spoke up.
"But, Drevor... is orange roses!"

"Alright, that is IT-"

Tschichold thrust his pointer fingers quickly at both the brothers' exposed tongues, sending dual drops of blue (or was it amber?) paint into their taste buds. And moments later, of course, their brain stems. Their arms ceased dawdling, frozen, each alien's five eyes all combinations of wide and beady at the dose.

"Paint what you see. I'll check on you two later."

Swaying a bit, they got back to work with enthusiasm, bored poker players looking on with interest.
Tschichold's assistant ran in, flanked by a suited delivery robot.

"Sir, a receptionist has been messaging for your attention frantically about a girl detained downstairs, says he can't drag her down to city law because his 'arm needs a tune-up', or some such. Anyway, the new machines for the thirty-first casino floor are here, so if you would sign for it and then address the rece-"

"TAKE ME TO THE MACHIIINES!!! There is NO way I'm letting a bunch of unimaginitive robots lay them out in a floorspace-maximizing borefest of greedy...."

The painter dashed off on his oddly inhuman legs, assistant sprinting behind him with an unsigned delivery tablet.
But as they reached the elevators, they failed to notice the pudgy, hardened, hatted crew entering the lift pods, nor the frightened looks and distance they received from anyone with a week's experience in the Feedback Loop's neighborhood.


"Ahh, Alistair!" The burly personal guard allowed Aaron's uninvited guest in without a word; he seemed pudgier and shorter than Alistair himself, but no less burly. "How long has it been?"

Alistair moved submissively, opting for silence as he guided his former 'friends' in front of Aaron. Harrison kept his distance, not keen on losing another hand.

"So, Mister, er... Absinthe, was it? We work for the Guido. I think you know why we're here."

"Ah yes, to negotiate protection? I'm looking forward to striking an economical deal with you."

"Everyone's been hearing about your valuium chip stunt, rich boy. We figure someone who dismisses security has got something big to hide. And quite frankly, the Guido isn't going to allow you to operate without a nice little slice of the pie."

"Oh, my friends..." Aaron stood and leaned into them, tongue silver behind his growing smile. "I don't expect you to without what you and - 'The Guido' - would consider a fair exchange."


"Well, uh... that went... well?"

The Guido's men left the lift-pod confused, but with no reason to be. I mean, they'd gotten a deal in a half.. hadn't they? They'd even had an anti-mind-reader with them, they couldn't have been fooled. So why did the price tag feel so unsatisfying, yet so incontrovertible?

They shook their heads and headed out of the building, the pressure-crews of two other gangs pushing into the Loop past them to repeat their mistake. A line of robots delivering casino machine after casino machine flanked them, a line of ants to the freight elevator.
Two casual, blue-scaled onlookers watched the procession.

"Well, that ain't something you see every day."

"Yeah, Guidos pushing past Quetzels and Quantums without so much as a stink-eye. Wonder what happened?"

"No, not them! I mean the slots, the luck machines! They're Phoenix brand!"

"What about 'em? They're good? Or shit, or?"

"Naw, Phoenix sells rentals! You pay a third of the price of the whole machine every goddamn day for a month, but the payments don't start 'till a week in. A sucker's deal. Seen 'em be the death of a good few dumbass casino owners. Literally, I mean. Suicide. Never seen this many of 'em in one place before."

"So whatddya think that means?"

"Means either the new management's dumber than a purple chip slipped down a gutter... or they've got a plan to get more money than God, real fast. And not some half-assed god like Blockbuster. I'm talkin' the metaphorical Almighty."

The two creatures paused. No man with a piece of property in Eta Carina gets to take it away with 'em before paying their debts. So if this was real...

"I think it's time to shell out for some chips. How does the thirtieth floor sound?"

"You said it, sister. Heard there's a heist coming up somewhere. Wonder if this is the place that's got the tempting grease they want to skim?"

"Nah, they wouldn't waste their time on anything that's not uptown. Would they?"


Tschichold eventually returned - pushing past dazzled, gaping onlookers - to a twenty yard mural of a nude superstar, one 'Jill Traynor', he was told. Silver and gold coinage was depicted spilling like waterfalls from her teats and groin, almost completely censoring them. Her eyes were nebulae full of gold and silver stars, and a long, green tongue stretched from her lips to the sky to catch a diamond drop of poisoned nectar from the finger of a massive, rainbow-patterned, one-eyed demon.

The six-armed brothers finished the final touches on her ruby toenails, one collapsing and the other bowing in supplication beneath the single white eye of the esteemed Boss of Floor.

Said Boss of Floor considered it, but had no choice but to nod in careful approval. "...Not bad!"

In the background, a gawking staffer almost misdialed the newest set of holographic fliers he was plugging into the Loop's building-wide advertisement system... An ad for the latest scheme Aaron had devised to get massive amounts of liquid cash into the business all at once.

Mixed fighting matches. Half the entrance price of other matches throughout Eta Carina, thanks to having only a third of the security. Fiftieth floor, above the ceiling of the vault. No bet is too high.


"You're baiting open robbery."

"Whatever gave you that idea, Harrison?"

Aaron stood with his assistant on a balcony inside the Loop's vault. Its newly-expanded vault.

Its newly... transparent vault.

Fabrication drones sped through the air around the inside of the massive column in straight lines, as if on rails, arms sparking in blue with the energy for the walls' finishing touches. The hotel's most sacred chamber was now an absurd opening from the first floor through the forty-ninth, clear polymer walls displaying its contents for every patron on every gambling level.

And, what contents!

Chips and chips and chips cascaded down and up a massive rotating helix, a rainbow of colors for a rainbow of credit amounts. Floating drones dipped into it with what looked like wheelbarrows, shuttling winnings off to lucky gamblers, pouring in the lucre lifeblood of the most recent loser, or filling up a monetary discharge for the next batch of fresh equipment. The lift-pods were exposed inside the column... you could see the slavering new customers dirtying the thin elevator glass with their palms and appendages, that thin film all that was separating them from more wealth than they could dream of possessing. Even the arena under construction above it had a crystal floor... the contenders would be fighting above the very chips that were placed on or against them.

It was a forty-nine story fountain of money. A hoard with no dragon to guard it. And it was growing by the moment.

"If anything, this is more secure, my fine assistant. You mentioned yourself the recently-discovered irregularities in our former, electronic payout system."

"Why so much, so quickly, Mister Abstract?"

"I'm building another engi-... You know, never mind. You'll see it in due time."

They stood a bit longer, listening to the high-pitched whines of drones installing new projectors along the vault walls.

"It won't work, you know. You'll get some spectators... but nobody expects the heist to be anywhere but uptown. There just aren't big enough fish in this part of town, to b-"

Harrison caught an almost glowing smirk from the wizard, realizing his mistake.

"Ah, of course you would... you know, the move would be the perfect occasion to rename the hotel. I always found the name rather... uninspired."

"No, I like it."

The pair strolled away from the balcony. "I mean, think about it, Harrison. A "Feedback Loop". It's rather fitting, don't you think?"

"What do I think? I think we should find something to brace ourselves with. Modular relocation tends to be a... shaky affair."

As they vanished into the hallway, projections blinked to life across the vault's glistening, see-through walls. Gamblers were presented with a massive slogan, scrolling back and forth in all languages, gold lettering shouting its message unmissably to all who would glance at the vault's ostentatious show:


"Look, I'm tellin' ya, I've godda busted limiter in my right arm! I can't take her back to some station or the scanners'd have 'em lock me down for forced maintenance! I can't lose a full 70-hour shift over this fleshy brat, let alone cover the mistakes they're bound to make! I'm a rare line of factory work, get whaddi'm sayin'?"

"It's fine, Tammy, this isn't about that. We've got orders for reassignment from the top, you and her. The new floor boss is taking care of the details."

"Wait, her?!" Freefall dangled unresisting from one of Tammy's claws, rolling her eyes. "And what'd the bastard new organic management do with Demitrix?"

"Promoted her, actually. You might be getting lucky. Unfortunately, it's up to the new manic-depressive-excessive semi-human oil painting."

"They can't be crazier than Demitrix."

It was about then that he rolled in to the scene of Tschichold in a now heavily-paint-stained suit, dancing more stains in celebration on top of his beautiful new carpet.

"Oh screw my circuits."

The painter stopped his impromptu celebration at the sight of the receptionist, first cringing and emitting a short squeal of fear, then standing and fixing an intimidating stare as if it'd never happened.

"So the tables have turned, old friend."

"Uhhhhh..." Tschichold's assistant ditched his companion, disappearing almost instantly.

"Say, that arm of yours. You have a rather strong right hook, don't you?"


"We're starting a series of no-holds-barred fighting matches, and given your resume, the management believes you'd be a... colorful new contender."

"Oh, haha. That's nice! That's nice. But no. No no nonononoNONO-"

Tschichold handed him a holo-tablet. "And here's your new salary."

"NOOONONO-... wait a sec-" Tammy's flat digits grabbed the tablet, cameras bulging out of their receptacles. "Stinkin' circuits, this's ten times my salary!"

"Wait, it's a lot? It's a lot, isn't it? Dammit, I didn't check. Could I just have that ba-" "Not on your life, shorty." "Wait, wait, you have to work with Freefall! I know you two don't get along, that's revenge, right? That's how it works, you knock me through a wall, I make you-"

Their conversation was interrupted by a lurch, massive rumbling, and the warning --THIRTY SECONDS TO RELOCATION-- projected across everything in deep, flashing red.

"Ohh, ho ho. Hold on to your new pants, meatbag. Sounds like the fresh asshole in town has plans!"
Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

In scientia veritas, in arte honestas.
Originally posted on MSPA by Pharmacy.

Montecorbier was fond of cigars. Underneath his space-teak desk, he had a box of those carefully-cured and fermented goodness – all hand-wrapped, of course. He loathed to had them done by machine; that method was simply not expensive enough.

Right now, he had the choicest-flavor on his lips. It was blend of space-tobacco (grown in the closest technical thing to zero-gravity), starwhale ambergris (came from the finest bowels of those celestial cetaceans, also extracted alive), and the space-remains of his fallen enemies (so he claims) all wrapped up in thinnest, freshest, and greenest square of skin from a Tender. It tasted sweet like victory with a wonderfully bitter aftertaste of vengeance. It was a custom blend. His blend. Montecorbier’s blend. The best blend. He would have treated the cigar with a little more respect but right now, he was doing a number on it – what with the spraying ash and the passionate chewing of the soggy, spit-soaked end. It was no surprise. After all, he was tremendously pissed.

“What.” The cigar twirled like a ballerina in Montecorbier’s mouth. It was a rather distracting sight –especially under the spotlight of his flared nostrils. “What. Is going on.”

“Let’s just say,” The woman cooed with the consistency of a cheerleader. She was a pretty thing with a nice figure, a nice pairs of heels, and a lustrous cascade of platinum blonde curling around the edges of the chair she lazily lounged on. She smelled faintly of chlorine and secrets. After all, she was at the pool. “There might be variables.”

She smiled. Her face was vapid honesty but her eyes told otherwise.

“Variables, of course. Of course,” the former mastermind grumbled between puffs of noxious smoke. His nicotine-tempered tone was smooth as whiskey and bitter as vodka, but it was pretty clear that he was getting increasingly frustrated. “Like how the Feedback Loop just jumped from five billion to five quintillion.”

“Mhm.” A small feminine cigarette appeared in the woman’s fingers. It was a clove cigarette. A fairly mundane addiction when juxtaposed to the upper-scale echelons of Eta Carina.

“And it’s still climbing,” Montecorbier snarled.

“And it is.” The woman blew out an elegant plume of smoke. “I suppose you have a job for me, Monty?”

“Go there, come back alive, and tell me what is up with the Feedback Loop. I want everything. EVERYTHING.” Expensive ash flew everywhere, landing on his desk, on the woman’s dress, and other difficult places. “EVERYTHING to know about this whole damn place.”

There was a period of heavy silence, a silence that was later broken by an “understood.”

“Well,” Montecorbier clamped down hard on his cigar, nearly slicing the poor thing into two. If there was one thing he hated about heists past and present, it was the lack of control over his situation and he needed to make sure the Feedback Loop was under control. His control. “GET TO IT!”


Tschichold lay splayed on the cushions of exotic comforts. He had a sort of look on his face that brings to mind a catatonic hospital patient but still, he managed to carry it in stride. What milquetoast mediocrity and irritability he had was supplanted by a charisma astounding enough to make celebrities weep. His charisma came from many sources. One source was his suit.

As everyone knows, suits make everything classy – just like the cabaret of womenfolk surrounding him.

Around the shadowy painter, there were ladies. Lots of them. All buxom and beautiful to the point of scarily suspicious uniformity that brings to mind factories and capitalism. They were wearing more mascara than they were clothes and judging from the needlessly close proximity of their bums to his face, Tschichold highly doubted they wore underwear at all. It was kind of obvious the point of their job was to show how awesome and rich he was, but could they not get too close. He was getting uncomfortable – and slightly aroused maybe. But mostly uncomfortable.

“Well,” Freefall threw up her arms in frustration – or at least Tschichold thought she did. It was hard to tell from the distance – especially since psychoactive substances and blinking do not mix very well but he was going with his gut feeling. Little did he knew, the gut feeling was just his paranoia. “I really don’t want to know how you got here.”

“It’s complicated,” the painter slapped yet another manicured hand away from his shoulder. He was fighting a losing battle against the advancing army of close-contact sycophancy, much to the chagrin of his no-touchie policy. “Very complicated.”

“I guess.” The superheroine’s face was not one for plausibility.

“It’s weird.”

“Yeah.” Whatever conviction she had for his excuses was rapidly dwindling.

“It’s boring.”

“Uh-huh.” She obviously did not believe him. At all.

“Listen. The point is I am your boss and you don’t ask bosses questions” Tschichold hissed between his teeth. He was not enjoying the advantages of his job. At all. “Especially if they are covered in bitches.”

“Uh, sure. Listen,” Freefall was speaking like someone who wished she could spend her time at another place in another time. To be fair, anything would be a lot better than dealing with an anal-retentive trainwreck of a painter. “Can I speak with your manager or Aaron or something?”

“I AM THE MANAGER.” It was quite impressive his screeching managed to pass through the choking thicket of giggles and perfume.

“Well, that’s just great,” Freefall snapped back. “Don’t you have someone to answer up to? Like you know, a certain wizard?”

“Well yeah, he’s kind of is my boss. He did drag me into this,” Tschichold admitted she had a point but he was not exactly willing to let go. “BUT I ANSWER TO NO MAN.”

“Then, why did you call me over?” The superheroine’s tone was getting a bit more demanding with every word. “You do have plans for me, do you.”

“Why, yes.” A slash of a smile appeared on the artist’s place.

Freefall did not like this at all.


Harrison watched the masses below shrink to incomparable ants as the machinery droned to a deafening crescendo. The view of Eta Carina was quite impressive – to a newcomer. However, the consultant had ascended-and-or-descended so many times that the showgirls and spolights had become yet another thing to ignore. It was a pretty easy viewpoint to ascribe to especially how hinky casino protocols can get. Plus, he had other matters to attend to.

“So,” Aaron pursed his lips to a thin line. It was emotionally concealing but Harrison swore he could almost see a smirk on the corners. Almost. “I suppose I have no more matters to attend to.”

“Y-yes,” the consultant found his mouth going a bit dry. How could this man unnerve so much with a sentence? It was like he was some sort of wizard. “I think there is no more.”

“Good,” the midnight-suited man uttered just below his breath. He only had been on this position for a short while yet he already had the charisma of a mastermind. The juxtaposition was quite intimidating. “Because I have a bit of business to take care of.”


“See for yourself,” Aaron dropped a thicket of manilas and papers onto Harrison’s lap. Harrison was…not quite sure how to react to this. It was a mélange of business contracts, stocks, company dossiers, and blueprints. Tons of them. The mere sight of its scintillating complexity was enough to make the man’s head swim. It seems all these various papers and red tape…they were pointing to something. Aaron was planning something.

“That’s impossible!” Harrison could only exclaim.

“Yes,” Aaron narrowed his eyes and lean forward. “And I want all of this done.” A pause. “Soon.

Harrison could only stammer in return.


“What. The fuck.”

Tammy was not a fan of organics. They were feeble, mechanically inefficient, and were an offense to his olfactory receptors. However, the emotion currently running through his circuit-boards was not revulsion but rather shock. Well, the artificial-intelligent equivalent of shock, anyway.

“I hired her.”

“What the flying fuck.” No alien language in this world could describe what the robot experienced. He was not exactly surprised at Freefall’s sudden employment. Eta Carina was seedy as it was annoyingly rich and it was rather commonplace for various establishments to hire criminals to do grunt work. However, criminals are not usually hired to psychoanalyze managers – which was what the superheroine was doing right now. Hell, even the room was gussied up to look like a therapist’s office.

“She’s my emotional counselor now,” Tschichold explained from across the couch. “Don’t worry it’s all legit. I even got her a psychologist license.”

On Freefall’s neck there was a placard with the words of <font color="#814444">“EXPERT PSYCHOLOGIST” hastily scrawled on as if by a painter on psychoactives. On Freefall’s hands, there was a lined notepad – all unmarred and clean and other analogues of pristine. On Freefall’s face, there was an expression as if she heard it all – and she wished she had not.</font>

“Okkkkaaaaaaaaaaaay,” Tammy was not really sure how to react.

"oh god why" Freefall mouthed but no one could hear her at all.

“I guess I’ll go…guard the bathroom. Or something.” The excuse was flimsy but the former roboreceptionist was willing to take any chance to slip away from the door and roll frantically down the hallway. He was trying not to think too hard about what he saw and to be honest, it was a good idea.


As the cash keeps coming in – so does the mess. Thanks to Aaron’s little economical stunt, the bowels of the Feedback Loop were getting more difficult to clean –but someone had keep it under control. Someone being the small army of custodians. It was a difficult job especially when everything else was autonomous (artificial intelligence was and would always be a trend), but at least it paid well.

The maid had work for ten years. Ten damned years in this casino – and that was not including the overtime. She had replaced many towels, unclogged many toilets, and vacuumed more bodily fluids than she cared to think about. In short, she was prepared for everything – so she thought. A rag in her mouth was not exactly part of her job description per se.

“Sorry hon, need to borrow your uniform for a bit,” a woman purred close. The maid had no idea who the stranger was and how she got here especially since the casino was still in mid-flight. The one quality that stuck out was how blonde she was, but it was hard to tell when you were succumbing to the symptoms of chloroform.