The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]

The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]
Re: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round 4: GBN2
Originally posted on MSPA by Lord Paradise.

The Dorin-thing didn’t understand at first. “I’m not looking for approval,” she simply said, and continued typing.

”Well, you haven’t got it,” repeated Felix. ”They’re not running the episode, they’re not budgeting any money for us to film it, and they’ve fired us both.”

Dorin’s eyes glared sadly down at the stacks of paper in front of her. This was the sort of thing the entity-in-residence always forgot to account for; her creative work had been a singleminded pursuit for its own sake and it had not occurred to her that it would wind up being beholden to a loose affiliation of corporate status quo agents.

On the bright side, at least this time around it could get itself fired without being wiped from existence. “What exactly do ‘they’ find objectionable?” she asked.

Felix smirked.
”You need me to run down the list?”

”I can make some guesses,” the special guest star admitted, looking down at a page of script and carefully whiting out four or five uses of the word “pussy.” “Give me the non-obvious ones.”

”Did you know,” offered Felix, ”That there is a hard limit to how many times you can say the word ‘lick,’ depict or otherwise refer to licking in an episode?”

”I did not know that.”

”That’s because it’s one of those things that you don’t ordinarily have to think about because the threshold is so high. Consider that marathon runners can drink so much water during a race that they actually contract water poisoning. Your script proposal is a marathon of licking.”

”Licking is a motif,” said the Dorin-thing. “It’s something you don’t often see explored in daytime television.”

”Another thing,” said Felix. ”The execs are worried that your script portrays multiversal battles to the death in a negative light.”

”Not a negative light, per se,” corrected the entity. ”A blacklight maybe. So the whites shine brighter, but so do the stains. I’m not trying to tell the audience what to think.”

”Oh, right, that was another thing. About the whole ‘telling the audience what to think’ thing. A story consultant upstairs is insisting that you actually wrote this in order to, um...”

Felix doffed his hat in order to scratch his hair nervously. “In order to what?” asked the guest star.

”In order to... become... the audience.”

]”Slander.” Dorin’s lips twirled into an amused smile. “I am interested only in art for its own sake.”

”Well then, frankly, you’re in the wrong business. Look, I liked the script. It was daring. New. Very... visceral. Not exactly polished, but, a solid first draft. I appreciate what you’re trying to do. But Reccxer Diaries is a product, made to specification. It’s like a double bacon Son-Of-Gormand. You get hired for a job at Carnethrope King, whether or not you know how to cook the best damn roast duck in the universe, you’re gonna be flipping Sons Of Gormand, cause that’s what people expect, and that’s what people are gonna pay for.”

”So. I shred my opus and agree to become your bosses’ fry cook whore. That gets us rehired?”

Felix shrugged.
”It gets our foot in the door.”

”No deal. We’ll need to find a new way to distribute. This is GBN2. What happened to GBN1?”

”Shut down years ago. Some hotshot timecops got to them for Infringement.”

”Infringement? How does copyright work in the multiverse? There’s already an infinite number of everything.”

”Not that kind of infringement. Anyway, there’s nothing else. You could try getting in touch with the Broadcaster, but he won’t be any more sympathetic to your whole anti-Battle thing than the Citizens for Omnidemographic-Friendly Content Assurance or whatever. No, if you’re trying to get the word out over seven or so dimensions, there’s no beating GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network). Now, I think we can salvage the whole Round One On Lesbos-V storyline if we just change is so that instead of—“

”Hang on,” interrupted the young screenwriter. “Repeat that.”

”I said there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to keep the bare bones of—“

”Before that. You said ‘GBN2: Not Affiliated with the Network.’ What’s ‘the Network?’”

Felix put a finger to his chin.
”It, er... it’s just something you say,” he offered. ”It’s a disclaimer.”

”Well, if they’re disclaiming it, we’ll just have to reclaim it. Who do you know who would know what the network is?” The thing put on Dorin’s coat and hung Shik’skara around her neck on the end of a chain, where the crystal jingled complacently.

”No one I trust,” warned Felix. ”Well, Vex, maybe. He knows everything.”

Let’s pay him a visit, then. If there’s another network, whoever runs it will be begging to pick up Reccxer, right? Capitalism in action.” She flashed Felix an evil smile. “Nothing stops the signal, Felix. The revolution will be televised.”

Wrong ‘volution,’ thought Felix, remembering the name the executives had given him. Indulging Dorin’s passenger was a dangerous business, he was aware, but it might afford him an opportunity to get out of this business and back into a universe he could sink his teeth into.

Of course, considering the potential consequences of his current course of action, there might not be any safe universes left.

RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]
Accurate television ratings are a nightmare even for such a small, closed system as, say, an Earth. Most twentieth or twenty-first century Earths have resorted to contracting a company to go around and solicit volunteers to stick little boxes on their television that determine what they’re watching and when, and extrapolate from there. It’s a process mired in selection bias and further complicated by the endless advent of new technologies (legal and criminal alike) that routinely revolutionize the grand medium of video broadcast. Advertisers have no choice but to take the little boxes at their word and hope for the best--or, alternatively, redirect their money towards plastering computer-animated breasts all over the sidebars of America’s most popular piracy sites.

Extending this problem to the multiverse, where concepts like “time slot” and “demographic” exist less as numbers and more as complex wave functions, and determining ratings becomes nearly impossible. The current projection from GBN2’s advertising department is based less on surveys or little boxes and more on a simple thought experiment: for everyone who can be imagined as not watching GBN2, there must be an alternate universe where they are watching GBN2, and vice-versa, therefore their market share is about fifty percent.

This is wrong for many, many reasons. The objective truth is this:

GBN2 has only one viewer.

In the very basement of the universe, a dusty realm buckling under its own superdense matter, there sits the Indolent.

The Indolent has many good ideas for Grand Battles upon which he would expound at length if anybody asked, but nobody has. On the subject of whether the Indolent is in fact capable of expounding the science is uncertain, as the Indolent may, in strictly scientific terms, be technically a black hole. That is to say, information comes toward the Indolent, mostly through the television, but does not escape. Unbeknownst to GBN2’s sponsors, therefore, this key demographic of the network (lowercase “n,” mind!) has no marketing value, possessed as he is with an infinite capacity to consume without offering anything in exchange.

The network and its viewer are cosmically intertwined. The signal goes out across infinity but only the Indolent is tuned in.

Any love you have ever experienced is less pure, and less true, than this.

The Indolent is watching television. This is what he is seeing:


“Previously on Magic Fighter Punchy Punch:”

MAGIC FIGHTER PUNCHY PUNCH, sixteen years old, athletic, verdant in her anodized aluminum chainmail and cloak, shoots an assortment of goblinesques with a bow.

“I want to be with you, Max,” she says. “But I don’t want to be with--”

--Close up on the grotesque, toothpick-smoking worm protruding from the shoulder of the lead hunk’s leather jacket--


Moses--tortoise-like in all aspects up to and including taxonomic family--reads from a hefty tome: “And lo, She shall descend on wings of death, She of the arm of a hundred legs, and She shall…”

--A single reptilian tear--

“...She shall slay the Punchy Punch Princess, and the Punchin’ Place shall weep.”

The Indolent zoned out a bit for the forty-four-second duration of the opening credits--a montage of the title character being great at things while the supporting cast stand around and wait to smile and wave at the camera when their names are called--but he does not change the channel. The Indolent never changes the channel, though the remote is right there, on the arm of his couch.

Exterior, the Punchin’ Place, night. Magic Fighter Punchy Punch and Max sit beside the fountain, contemplating the stars.

”You don’t think it’s really true, do you?” asked Max.”I mean, you can’t just get killed because it says so in some book.”

”I don’t know.” MFPP brushed her hair out of her eyes with a feminine, yet tough, motion. “Free will… Destiny… These are heavy topics that really make you think, don’t they?” She stared down the camera, begging the viewer to disagree (he does not).

”They sure do,”agreed Max. ”It’s a fantastic, magical concept but it’s presented in a way that’s relatable. For instance… through the lens of what’s going to happen to you… and me. And to you and me.”

The young lovers matched eyes, their lips slowly approaching. Then Punchy-Punch brushed her hair back again and pulled away. “There is no you and me,” she asserted. “There’s you… and there’s me… and there’s him--”

--Close up on the gross worm sticking out of Max’s shoulder--

“--And there’s the looming specter of death. ...And there’s my magical, punchy-punch fists. But there’s no you and--”

Enter from offscreen MAOWYN, she of the etc. etc. etc., resplendent and tastefully seminude. “Ahem,” she says. “...Line?”

She lifted her centipede-arm to her ear, where it clicked and whirred in the closest approximation to a “whisper” one can achieve with mandibles.


Magic Fighter Punchy Punch went for her bow (bows were in this year, fists were out) but before she could so much as nock an arrow a burst of lightning from the centipede-arm hit her straight in the Entire Nervous System. For five glorious, live televised seconds, actress Jen Tull became a hotbed of living science experiments. The eggs in her ovaries were instantly scrambled and the one in her oviduct was fried over hard. Her left eye exploded and her right imploded at the same moment. Her brain passed through all four observable states of matter. With one last crackle she dribbled into a bowl-shaped crater like so much Punchy-Punch Soup.

Max stared. Maowyn turned to the screen. “There! I have bested your ‘television program.’ Now take us to an interdimensional nexus!”

The worm, agape, slithered out from its hiding place inside Max’s hood. ”Check pleeeeeease!” it cried.

Cue laugh track.

”Cut! That was great, Sik, Maowyn, uh... Jen did good too. Ahem.


Barabbas Poe, balding, aged, disinclined to blink, sat facing the camera from behind his meticulously organized desk. His office is too well-organized to be just a TV set, indicating an unwelcome intrusion of reality.

“In the television network business,” Poe narrated, “One attorney fulfills two separate but equally important roles: thwarting the criminal justice system’s attempts to dismantle the network’s morally reprehensible enterprise, and frivolously litigating for profit and power. This is his story.”

A title card reading THE POE HOUSE flashed across the screen.

The intercom buzzed. Poe sighed, put down the manilla folder he’d been halfheartedly flipping through, and answered. “What is it, Alison?”

“It’s that girl the bosses warned us about,” answered the receptionist. “She and Felix Something, that guy who does that one show, with that guy? They say they wanna talk to you.”

“Well, maybe they should have phoned ahead,” said Poe. “There are rules.”

“I know, I know!” Alison was quite young, and, frankly, awful at her job. “They’re really pushy. The guy’s saying he’s gonna ‘black matter’ me, like that’s a verb or something.” Incoherent rambling on the other end. “He just said it again. Now there are two of him. Stop that!”

Poe rolled his eyes. He felt sorry for the new hire, all the while remaining conscious of the utter drain on his time and money she represented. “It’s okay, Alison. Listen. You’re in charge, in this situation. It’s okay to tell them to leave. That’s okay and that’s your job. Okay?”

“Okaaaaaay…” More muttering. “But he says to say to you that he ‘wields the power of Black Matter.’ I think it might be some kind of frat thing or something? Some kind of code? Does that mean anything to you? There’s three of him now.”

“Alison! Tell them to leave!”

Several seconds’ pause. Then: “Okay. I told him to leave and one of him left but he made two more. He’s not gonna stop doing this. Now he’s asking if he can speak to my boss, which obviously he can’t, which is the whole reason he’s mad in the first place, so… this is dumb. Is there, like, security I can call?”

“No, never mind, Alison.” Poe looked up from his desk to find the entity currently presenting as ‘Dorin’ already sitting across from him. “You can let Felix in.”

Alison got indignant. “But then how will he learn--”

Poe hung up and unplugged the intercom. “They’ll sort it out.”

Dorin surveyed the office. “So this is ‘Legal.’ I gotta tell you, I’ve been in and out of more offices today… God. Yours is the worst. The most oppressive. Have you thought about getting a cactus? I see you as a guy who could really come to love a cactus.”

Poe sighed. “Here’s a good-faith offer… Dorin, is it? I won’t waste your time if you don’t waste mine.”

Dorin stretched out, feet up on the desk. The outsized crystal hanging from her neck pulsed with irritation. “I’m just shooting the breeze until my associate gets past reception. I don’t talk business without Fe--”

In walked Felix Atrum, looking terribly pleased with himself for having outwitted a thirteen-year-old girl with the assistance of a fifteen-year-old girl.

”...Speak of the devil,” finished Dorin. “Alright, business it is, then. We’ve just come from seeing Vex over on the set of Preteen Literacy Fun Hour. Looking for a little research assistance for a little project of mine.”

”A little project.” Poe realized he was treading on uneasy ground here. Both in legal terms and fate-of-the-multiverse terms, although these were, to the lawyer, essentially one and the same.

”That’s what I said, yeah. Anyway, certain information we were looking for was, as it turns out, excised from Encyclopaedia’s records. Classified, one might say, by order, apparently, of COFCA and GBN2.”

”Not affiliated, so I’ve heard, with the Network,” added Felix.

Poe folded his hands together. ”Censoring a living encyclopedia--”

”--Would constitute memory tampering of a sentient being,” interrupted Felix. “Of a contestant, no less. Very bad.”

”And as COFCA’s legal counsel, I of course would have advised against such a course of action, had they consulted me. But given that I am not your legal counsel I am under no obligation to advise you on how to proceed, should you wish to take this matter to court.”

”We’re not looking to sue,” assured Dorin. Poe looked a little crestfallen at this. “We’re looking to have the information in question declassified so we can get on with our research.”

”Hmm. Inquisitive, aren’t you… Dorin, is it?”

”Is it?”

”I believe I asked first.”

”I didn’t answer the first time.”

”And so, not meaning to offend, I took the liberty to repeat the question.”

”Word on the water cooler,” said Dorin, after a pause, “Is that you’ve played both sides of this game of ours. You know things Vex wouldn’t know even without invasive and illegal psychoarchival tampering. So why don’t you just tell us?”

”Given,” offered Poe, “That clearly the lower-case-n network that I represent doesn’t want you gaining access to this information, why would I offer it freely?”

Dorin leaned forward. Shik’Skara banged against the desk with a clink. “Because it’s not, technically, against the rules for you to do so. And because you know what I am, and you know that I’m so completely the opposite of what you’ve been for so long that you can’t help but fetishize me, a little. You want to help me continue to be me because it fascinates you, doesn’t it, Barabbas?”

”And because if you don’t give up the goods I’ll Black Matter the shit out of--”

”Shut up, Felix. The man’s trying to think.”

”No worries, Miss Dorin-Is-It. I’ve grown accustomed to thinking over the blathering of halfwits and lackeys.”

Dorin flashed a red smile like hastily-applied clown makeup. “Sassy! I’m starting to like you, Poe. By the way,” she added. “It’s likely that telling us what we need to know will result in the utter and complete destruction of that other guy. That one you’ve come to resent in your time here. Hosts the Wretched Rite. Barabbas Poe Prime, is it?”

Poe reached into a drawer. “Ah, yes. Very well, then.”

He pulled out a silver cube with a symbol of a hand on it and handed it to Dorin. “It won’t work,” he said, seeing her excitement.

The girl grimaced. ”And if it did work? Would it be what I think it once was?”

”’The Network’ started off as a guerilla operation. Anyone who could get a transuniversal communication relay would send off a short message whenever they had ten seconds’ downtime in a round. But then they got organized. A powerful sorcerer seeded the battles with these spheres, which are a direct and constant line of communication to other contestants. A lot of revolutionary talk on that channels. Talk about banding together, rising up, overthrowing the Grandmasters. Putting an end to the battles.”

Dorin pocketed the orb. “Sounds like my kinda party. So what’s the punchline? What went wrong?”

”Well. No one knows exactly. They just stopped dead one day and GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network) had a broadcast monopoly once more. I do know this, however. The people in charge of the Network turned out not to be quite the idealists they claimed to be. And the problem with planning to conquer an infinite multiverse is, if it’s possible for somebody to stop you, somebody will.”

”Well, luckily I’m a lover, not a fighter, Barabbas. Although Gods know the line does tend to blur.” Dorin stood. “You’ve been very helpful, Barry. One last question, then we’ll leave our contact information with Alison.

“The name of this sorcerer?”


”We now return,” promised a voice, “To ‘PLANET ACTION.’”

Sithembil Ameretat, glistening, pulled herself out of the ever-growing pile of larvae. “Terrenssse!” she simpered, embracing the weapon-toting jellyfish. “Mmmmm, thank entropy you’re alright!”

“I am for now,” promised Terrence. “No word from Barty on the chronophone. Azh for zhe Admiral…” he pointed at the larvae. “She’s in zhere, sthomewhere.”

“D’you ssssssee her?” asked Sith. “Sh’looked so… so… sh’looked fat, Terrensssse.”

“I know. And I have a hyposheshish as to why.” Terrence cradled his gun to his chest. “When Barty went back in time to witness zhe Crunch, he must have displashed some crucial atomzh… are jhu aware of chaosh theory, Zhithembil?”

“Only s’applied to ludicrousssss time travel ssss’narios, Terrence. Ssssso, hmm, yes. R’you saying--”

“I’m shaying,” said Terrence, jerking his tentacles around in his best impression of ‘acting,’ “That the displashement of those crucial atomzh caused zhe Admiral, in her larval state, to be plashed into a gestation cell where she wuzh given a steady diet of royal jhelly... mutating her into zhat shting zhat you saw. Now zhe might be able to lay a sthousand eggzh a day… maybe more.”

“It all makes so much sense!” lied Sithembil. “You know what we must do, then?”

“It’zz obvioush!” said Terrence. “We go back in time to shtop Barty from going back in time and zhen use Barty’zh time machine to go back in time to shtop time travel from being invented stho zhat no one can ever meddle with time again. Zhen we return here and invent a time machine stho we can go back in--”

“Cut!” Admiral Itzel, decidedly unpregnant, pushed her way through a pile of “larva” props and desperately waved at the crew to stop the show. “Okay, first thing,” she said, shaking faux-placental goo from her wings. “That was terrible. Secondly, news from the battle. Something’s going on with AMP and Etiyr but it’s in our blind spot.”

LeBeau emerged from backstage. “What do you mean, ‘blind spot?’ We don’t have a blind spot, that’s the whole point of the bargain we struck. That’s the whole reason we’re going along with this whole show in the first place, is not having a damn blind spot.”

“The bargain we struck,” said Itzel, “Gave us access to all the recording devices in the place. And there’s a blind spot. Theirs, not ours.”

LeBeau slapped his forehead in frustration. “This whole place is wired to hell because everything is potential television. Where’s--”

“COFCA’s offices,” groaned Itzel. “Can we clear all this junk off the bridge?” she asked of a page. “Thank you. Of course the Council is too paranoid to record themselves.”

“The AMP ‘srummaging around with our macro-ssssscale allies?” asked Sith.

“Seems so. We can hear screaming and typing from our monitors out in the hall.”

“AMP,” cursed Terrence. “Izh increasthingly a liability. We might be besthserved making an end of it and sthush terminate zhe round.”

“We have more immediate concerns,” intoned Itzel. “They were in the process of censoring a potentially seditious program as per our agreement. If AMP and Etiyr are working towards free expression on the network--”

“Then we’re crunched,” moaned LeBeau. “We need some sort of contingency plan in the event of a Convolution multiversal broadcast scenario.”

“I have a couple of ideas,” growled Itzel, “But you’re not going to like them.”

“Pardon, Admiral,” interrupted Terrence. “But I believe we’re being hailed.”

The assembled crewmen (barring Terrence, who was radially symmetric and had no face) turned their faces to the monitor, which was slightly blurry after a rushed job of fake-bee-larva removal. “Exoplanet VII?” asked the face on the screen, politely.

“This is Admiral Itzel speaking. Who is this? Make it quick.”

“This is Barabbas Poe, GBN2 (NAWTN) legal. Word from on high is you’re looking for a certain information-based viral consciousness.”

Itzel bristled. “You’ve identified its manifestation in the round?”

“Yes. It seems to be staying dormant right now… maybe so as to focus its consciousness towards a specific goal? This is not, by my understanding, normal behavior for it. It seems… agitated.”

“Don’t waste my time, Poe,” demanded Itzel. “Who is it and where’s it headed?”


This program, claims a title card, is for mature audiences only. For reasons of general sexiness.

Nancy Little walked down a hallway, fully clothed, stumbling slightly. A narrator with a voice that brought to mind anthropomorphic erections riding skateboards announced that it was time for





Nancy leaned up against a wall, wiped sweat off her brow, and removed her jacket. Beneath of the jacket was an utterly tasteful blouse. An overexcited guitar riff made a circuit of the Indolent’s sound system and vanished into the rift between his ears.

Like all good detectives, Nancy was following the paper trail. Like all good TV characters, she did all her reading out loud.

Sheet one: “Nancy? I know you’re following us. This fucker doesn’t know despite the fact that he’s like 65% fucking cameras now by weight but I know because I have fucking haunted typewriter senses and unlike some people I actually pay fucking attention! Jeez you would not believe these people I’m in this battle with Nancy there’s one guy who’s, what, a whole planet? And she doesn’t pay attention either! You’d think between a whole fucking planet there’d be the cumulative attention span to fucking pay attention but I don’t think that guy’s even done anything since fucking breakfast. Which was a long fucking time ago. The problem with these animate types is they’re all focused on seeing things with their eyes that they have and hearing with their ears or in the case of this guy fucking microphones that keep spinning around and hitting me in the fucking face and they’re all touching things with their grubby little person-fingers and they get all distracted by all their senses and don’t just fucking pay attention! Which is how you get situations like this heroic fucking rescue mission to save a fucking rock and his fucking news program because God knows--”

She turned the paper over. Nothing. She found the next sheet lying just outside a door reading COUNCIL OF FIRST CONTACT AMBASSADORS. She continued walking the corridor as she read.

“Hey Nancy, maybe if I could get this guy with his fucking electromagnetic field--electromagnetic fields are another thing I pay attention to, by the way, and this guy’s is ugly--if I could get him to pay attention to the merciless world of unrelenting bullshit all around him, I could get him to do that thing that I do where I get him to do what I want and then I could ride him around everywhere and have something resembling, I don’t know, fucking autonomous locomotion, wouldn’t that be see, sea, see, sea, see, sea, see, sea, see, sea, yes I’m talking to you, I’m talking to you, don’t go through that door until you let me talk to you cause I’m the sane person here and you’re the crazy schizo robot freak.”

Nancy had lost her trail. She reread the paper. “Oh,” she said. Nancy doubled back to the COFCA office door, unbuttoning a single button of her blouse to the accompaniment of another guitar riff and an asthmatic puff she would not have recognized as coming from a saxophone.

The third sheet of paper was lying under the door. Deciding (out of a well-honed sense of caution she’d developed during her former career as a coward) not to open the door just yet, she carefully pried it free and read. “Okay. You’re going to let me do the talking here, right? Because I happen to be exceptionally eloquent and persuasive and you happen to be crazy and terrifying and resort to violence at the earliest opportunity. No, all of you. The gestalt of the physical thing thing I’m speaking to, yes. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t give a shit. No. See what I mean? This is why I do the talking ‘cause I’m only one fucking personality and I’m a good personality. Okay? And don’t kill anyone. Until I tell you to. Waaaaait sea sea sea wait wait wait wait see see don’t open that door until I crap out this sheet I don’t want them to see this convers oof!

The screen isn’t quite high-definition enough for the Indolent to see whether Etiyr had actually written “Oof!” on the sheet, but his interpretation, as a longtime viewer of GFPWLIIIEUH, was that “Oof!” was her reaction to the rampaging centipede-armed bird-goddess errantly punching her in the stomach on the way by.

Nancy rose to her feet and peered inside the door. All was quiet.

Then the bird-goddess did a double-take, ran back and snatched Nancy up by the hair. “Owowowowowowowow”

”Quiet,” squawked the goddess, surveying her closely. “You’re a carrier for a fortune deity, aren’t you?”

”Um,” said Nancy. “Let’s test. If you let go of my hair right now that would be really lucky because this really hurts--”

Maowyn dropped Nancy, who landed nimbly on her heels, somehow. “Well there we go then,” she gasped.

”Perfect,” said Maowyn. “You’re coming with me. I’m looking for something that might not exist and I could use a lucky charm.”

”I really don’t think--”

”If you refused I would kill you,” said Maowyn, “Which would be unlucky for you, therefore you’ll accept. That’s not a threat, because it’s not possible to threaten you. I’m just trying to speed you along.”

Nancy sighed. “Well, I can’t argue with that lo--”


“We now return,” declared an alarmingly British announcer over an exterior shot of a Jacobethan-style space station, “to Silver Manor.”

The camera cut to an opulent bathroom centered by a steaming hot bathtub. Two women entered--one, bebathrobed, probably of-age, strode in and got naked with the blithe determination that television tends to associate with naked aristocrats. The other, who had clearly taken great pains to conceal her pointy ears but employed nothing more than a flimsy layer of expensive-looking cloth to hide her equally-pointy nipples, took out a sponge and began bathing her. The whine of an oboe conveyed the majesty of the moment.

“Mi’lady Amy,” said the elf querulously, disinterestedly oiling up the important parts of her mistress’ body, “If I may be so bold as to speak--”

“There’s no need to stand on formality here in the ladies’ washroom, Holly,” insisted Amy. “Here there are no men watching us.”
The Indolent, riveted by the sophisticated drama, errantly scratched a blizzard of dandruff off of his scalp. ”Here, we can be truly ourselves. Why are you still wearing clothes?”

“It’s this new butler, Master Reinhardt,” spoke Holly freely, struggling her way out of her dress. “I believe him to be a spy for Earl Ekelhaft. Just the other day I was in the pantry, slowly removing my clothes, when I overheard the blond chambermaid telling to the redheaded chambermaid that the porter had told the brunette chambermaid that--”

The Hand of Silver swaggered his way shirtlessly into the ladies’, cursing with a tongue as sharp as his erect cyborg-nipples. “Amy!” was the first coherent thing he said, then, “Holly, you are dismissed.”

“But I’ve only just finished sudsing up m’ilady’s b--”

“I said dismissed, you sylvan whore!’

Holly struggled her way back into her dress and departed quickly. “This is the ladies’ room, Hoss,” complained Amy, bitterly splashing water at her brother.

“The ladies’ room of my manor,” countered Lord Silver, pouring the pot of oil all over his head and chest. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been up to,” he sulked.

“I think,” countered Amy, “That you don’t know what I’ve been up to.”

“Well I just told you not to think that!” Silver, in a rage, ripped off his tearaway pants and joined his sister in the steam. “I know,” he said, “About you and Cedric.”

“Well,” hissed Amy, “I know about you and Holly!”

“I know about you and Holly! Don’t you remember that time with you, me, and Holly?”

“That wasn’t me. Incidentally,” added Amy, “I know about you, Holly, and Ekelhaft in a wig.”

Silver snorted. “Don’t play superior with me. Don’t think I don’t know about you and Thatix.”

“I don’t think you don’t know that. But I do think you think I don’t know about you and the pillow with your own face on it!”

The drop running down the lord’s cheek could have been either a single tear, or baby oil. “What I’m starting to think,” he choked, “Is that you’re forgetting about you… and me.”

Amy put a hand to her slim but pleasantly symmetrical chest. “Oh, brother,” she breathed. The two siblings locked tongues in an extreme close-up shot that made it difficult to tell whose tongue was whose. “I’m so sorry, brother. I don’t care about you, the blond chambermaid, the redheaded chambermaid, the brunette chambermaid, Xylphos, and the candelabrum. Our uncontrollable upper-class hedonism aside, all I really want is to strengthen the line with you.”

“Always remember Amy,” said the Lord. “One day all of humanity will be united in a four-dimensional being manifesting in our universe as a perfectly round, perfectly tanned breast. The unification of our entire race will be both the apotheosis of all our achievement and the ultimate act of incest. We will be known to history as frontiersmen, siblings in--”

”Cut!” A young woman and a shifty fellow, both fully clothed, barged onto the set. “Which one of you,” demanded the girl, “Is the Hand of Silver?”

”I am,” sighed Hoss, accepting a towel from an intern. “What are you doing on my set? Coffee,” he barked at the intern. “Iced. All this steam, I’m dying in here. This can’t be good for my skin, are these, what burns?”

“Focus,” commanded Dorin. “You’re the Hand of Silver. You’re the wizard guy who activated the silver spheres? You made the Network, not affiliated with GBN2?”

”Which, in turn,” added Felix threateningly. “Isn’t affiliated with the Network.”

”That was another life,” insisted Hoss, catching a thermos of iced coffee smoothly in one hand. He took a sip.

“It was him,” confirmed Amy, drying out her hair.

”In this life,” asked Dorin, “Could you do it again?”

”I’m an actor now,” said Hoss. “That part of my life is over. No more multiversal conquest for me. Now I live for art.” His nipples glistened.

“He could do it again, with my help,” added Amy. “I’ve been studying magic in my spare time, not sinking every day at the gym trying to ‘get ripped without getting too big’ like some people.”

“Listen, whoever you are,” pleaded Hoss. “I’m done with all that. I’m an actor. People love me now. People here love my body.” Baby oil ran in streams down his face. “It turns out that’s all I ever really wanted. Do you have any idea how long I--”

Amy hit her brother over the head with a candelabrum and slung his unconscious body over her shoulder. “We’ll work it out when we get there,” she said dryly.

”Good enough,” shrugged Dorin. “But you’d better deliver on this.”

”Oh, we’ll deliver,” promised Amy. “I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while. Just one pit stop we have to make first.”


An animated planet collided explosively with an animated comet. Stars glistened against the black backdrop like a stripper’s eyelids. A galaxy came into view trailing four-dimensional afterimages, tracing eccentric ellipses. A blue frog on a brown leaf fell through a miniature wormhole and found itself fighting a red frog over a yellow leaf. Quantos Xodarap, dressed only in a labcoat, silently demonstrated the operations of a potato battery and then definitively ceased to exist across all creation.

A synthesizer heralded the coming of the title card, rotating out of its own shadow onto the starry background in a font reminiscent of an austere industrial skyline. MYSTERIES OF THE MULTIVERSE, it read, and then, in cursive, with Melissa.

“Hi,” said a highly presentable woman, circumnavigating a spacious occult laboratory while arbitrarily pointing at things. “I’m Melissa Harmon. And this... is Mysteries of the Multiverse.

“In our last episode, we talked about the number eight--its cosmic recurrence in relation to the infinity symbol. We talked about how the eightfold structure of “battles” and “seasons” allows for a sort of dialectic communication between universes, and theorized as to the nature of the Grandmasters and the cosmological purpose of the battles themselves. We also showed kids at home how to invoke the metanumerological properties of the number eight, using only basic kitchen supplies, to exercise psychic control over not only their own realities, but a wide spectrum of probabilistic quantum interference patterns.

“But what about interaction between battles? Though we know that a Grandmaster takes eight individual ‘contestants’ and organizes them into a single unit--a Battle--what is the concordant principle that organizes eight battles into Seasons? From what Science has determined, the three known ‘seasons’ have each been founded by a single Grandmaster--respectively the Director, the Observer, and the Fool. However, these organizers--only loosely affiliated with the Organizer--spend more time trying to keep the battles separate than to allow them to cohere. Look at these eight eggs.”

Melissa presented eight eggs, splayed on the counter. “One can easily imagine that these eight eggs could be whipped up into a gargantuan plate of delicious scrambled eggs. However, to make scrambled eggs, the ‘shell’--the exterior part of the egg--must be discarded. If these eggs are battles, the ‘shell’ represents the vast expanse of spacetime separating the rounds, which maintain the borders between the eggs and keep them distinct.

However, when considering eggs one must remember that the purpose of the shell is to be cracked--not from the outside, to feed a predator, but from the inside.”

An infant pterodactyl emerged from one of the eggs, shrieking differential calculus equations in base eight. Melissa snapped its neck to shut it up.

“See? Battles are just like eggs! It’s the contestants who have historically broken through those walls and established contact. The most famous battler to accomplish this is a man named the Hand of Silver.”

A message in poor audio quality played over black-and-white, shaky-cam footage of, for whatever reason, a parade in Communist Beijing.

”The only way to fight back, is together... all at once... everywhere! They cannot contain us all! To that end... I give you this orb! It will allow you, to talk to anyone else, with an orb... any time you want! You will be able to see them... as clearly as you see me! You will be able to understand them... no matter the method, by which they communicate! And, most importantly... you can use this device, to map your local multiversal structure... and send this information, to others!”

”The Hand of Silver started off as a humble human youth, with no exceptional powers beyond smarts, determination, a charismatic social media persona and some sort of bastardized Marxist theory. His power is a lot like this balloon.” Melissa pulled an uninflated balloon out of her pocket and blew it up. “See? It got a lot bigger over time. Silver’s ‘power balloon,’ if you will, expanded to cover his entire home universe. Now, watch what happens when he gets drafted into a Grand Battle.”

Melissa let go of the balloon. It whizzed around the lab with a comical farting noise before its withered husk landed in the hostess’s hair. She fished it out and smoothly continued her narration.

“However, upon entering the battle, the Hand of Silver discovered two things:

“One: dark magic;

“Two: the battles themselves, in their station as limited multiversal nexuses. In the first temporal iteration of the battles--mind, we’re talking about alternate timelines, not alternate universes, and if you’ve been following our show so far you’re sure to know the difference--the Hand was able to leverage the Battles to transform his unholy spawn--a fellow battler known as the Ovoid,’ constructed out of the metaphysical and metacultural aggregate we would recognize as ‘humanity’--into an ultimate Grandmaster known as the Amalgam. Try and imagine an infinite number of balloons colliding into each other in a room full of smashed eggs--”

Why are you showing me this, sister?” demanded the Hand of Silver, tied to a chair in the sound booth.

“I thought it might be educational, Hoss” replied Amy pleasantly.

”I’m looking to provide a model of educational, socially constructive television,” added Dorin. “And since GBN2 etc. etc. is devoted to trash like Silver Manor, I thought your Network might be the best medium to do so.”

”She’s not lying out of malice, brother. Like the best educational television, she wants us to expand our imaginations. What could she be planning?”

Whack! ”--Much like this golf ball!” Melissa removed her goggles and tossed aside the nine iron. “The door crumbled into dust, stabilizing the timeline and ensuring that the Hand of Silver will never have another chance to conquer the universe. It so happened that in this timeline, the Amalgam was destroyed only a few minutes after the silver orbs stopped working, ensuring in one fell swoop that the Hand is an utter fuck-up and will never again achieve success anywhere in the multiverse.”

The Hand of Silver twitched.

“That concludes our segment for today. Remember, you can see the Hand of Silver, spacetime’s greatest failure, in high-def full-frontal nudity on Silver Manor, right here on GBN2, which we’re proud to say is not associated with the--”

Time wobbled. Harmon’s hair began to shrank, and then she began to shrink, aging in reverse until a sobbing infant sat on the table.

Hoss ended the incantation and burst his bonds with a bolt of silver flame. Dark and satanic energies coalesced in the sound room; Hoss teleported onto the set, grabbed Baby Melissa in both hands and punted her offscreen. “Spacetime’s greatest failure,” he intoned. He turned back to Amy, Dorin, and Felix. “Four seasons and my own network--which does all it can to distance itself from my own Network--still defines me by what I was doing before I even started acting!”

”And when they do mention it,” added Dorin, “All they talk about is your body. No one appreciates your spot-on ability to convey a petty, entitled Internet troll acting out his fanfiction-grade fantasies of ultimate power.”

”I thought I was somebody,” sneered Hoss. “I thought I’d made something for myself in this world. But no. It was all a lie. Back to the drawing board, I guess.” He nodded at Dorin. “Give me the orb. Amy, help me prepare the room.”

The party vacated the sound room and sat around in the desired pentagon (Shik’Skara was let off his leash so that he might serve as a fifth). The brother-and-sister team set about drawing runes, intoning chants, pulling levers, activating devices.

It was all terribly boring. The Indolent eyed the remote on the arm of the couch, considering switching channels for the first time in eons.

Just as he was working up the mental energy to lift an arm,
the angry centipede-armed goddess who had just murdered his favorite young adult fantasy serial protagonist burst into the frame, disgorging sparks and hellfire at all those assembled. The Silver siblings put up mystical defensive shields, Felix black mattered himself into the walls, and Shik’Skara floated around manically spouting vague prophetic warnings; this left Dorin alone and vulnerable. “Just what I was looking for,” crooned Maowyn, wrapping a talon around the girl’s throat. “A nexus of all godworlds. Little girl, you are my ticket out of this--”

”Not just yet,” slurred a modest young lady trailing after the goddess. “I’ve been thinking, and this whole plan of yours isn’t going to have worked the way you’re doing it now.”

Maowyn turned her beak balefully upon Nancy. “Isn’t,” she repeated. “Going to have worked?”

”Right,” agreed Nancy. “Because, see, you’ve been wandering around hoping my luck power will bring you to exactly the thing you want, and it has, which is lucky for you, not for me, and my powers only bring luck to me. So obviously you were going to do something really good for me before you do whatever the thing is you’re going to--”

”Sorry,” interrupted Gaurinn. “I’ve been a bit fuzzy on the plan for a while now, but… We already have the nexus, so why should we care about--”

”No, she’s right,” sighed Maowyn. “We have it, but we won’t have had it unless I have been about to do this. You’re a very linear thinker, aren’t you? You’re a terrible time traveler.”

“I’m not a time travel--” Nancy disappeared in a flash of white light. “What did you just do?”

“Heaven,” said Maowyn. “Unending bliss. That should shut Fortuna up.”

“You can access heaven?” Gaurinn ejected some a glob of sparks and nanites like so much chewing tobacco. “That was an option?”

“Not for us.” Maowyn turned back to the girl wriggling on her claws. “Until now. Maybe.”

”I’m confused,” said Dorin. “Gaurinn, didn’t she used to be some sort of, uh. What’s the word. Illiterate horse-o-phile? There’s a word for that.”

Gaurinn studied Dorin’s face. “Do I know--oh. Maowyn! Don’t let it talk to you! It’s--”

“I know, Gaurinn. There’s nothing to worry about. She’s weakened in this form. Forced to become what the host understands, which is a lesser deity, good for some words of wisdom and a boon or two.” Space began to spin. “I’ve been playing this goddesshood game a lot longer than this upstart. We can beat it on its own terms.”

A golden triangle manifested on Dorin’s forehead, radiating a light so pure that everyone except Hoss turned away from it, and Maowyn (carrying Gaurinn along) visibly dove inside the girl’s brain. Dorin’s eyes flashed every color of the rainbow and then snapped tight. She burped up a frothy mix of saliva and holy water and collapsed to the floor.

Shik’Skara turned purple, shouted “YOU SKINNY-BITCH DYKE COCKSUCKER” and shattered into eight pieces.

Amy let her shield down and went to Dorin’s side. “We could astrally project in there and help her,” she offered.

“Leave her,” said Hoss. “The plan can proceed with or without the guest star. She was a catalyst at best--taking her off the table might have been doing us a favor.”

”I was planning on betraying her at the earliest opportunity in any case,” said Felix, strolling out of the wall and adjusting his tie. “But this leaves us with a problem. We still need two more cooperants to complete the pentagram, do we not?”

”I might have left Harmon alive,” he admitted. “I’m sure we can--”

”Halt!” came a robotic voice. AMP, Etiyr and Kracht triumphantly entered from offscreen, accompanied by a robot armored in a thick layer of corporate logo stickers. “By order of GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network) and the Council Of First Contact Ambassadors, you are all ordered to stand down and submit to full-contact censorship.”

You,” moaned Hoss, pointing at Kracht. “It’s been you all along. You ruined everything. I would have been more than more than a God if you hadn’t stuck your stupid mineral nose into--”

Kracht hit Hoss rather hard in the jaw, knocking him into a perfect action-movie six-hour coma. He smiled. “You know, I’ve spent an infinity of lifetimes fighting that guy and I never got to just punch him.”

Amy’s mystical runes hummed as her cybernetic components whirred. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve been exposing my body to your cameras for how long and now we get censored? Was it ‘cause the crystal just said ‘skinny-bitch dyke cocksucker’? ‘Cause that is a combination of words that will hopefully never be repeated in my nigh-infinite lifetime, and that guy seems to have been psychically murdered by a bird god.”

There was a clacking sound from AMP’s direction. “Oh!” came a voice out of one of the floating speakers. “Yeah, hang on. Etiyr says: ‘Yeah, look. We were all for the whole free (here he says a bad word) speech brigade five minutes ago, until those COFCA (another bad word) explained that what they’re trying to censor out is the Convo (here he puts a bad word in the middle of a good word, which I think he was trying to trick me into saying it) lution. I’m AMP and I’m a dumb baby.’ Hey, wait a minute!”

”Your current content flow contains two Rated-Zero concepts: one, ‘the Network,’ two, ‘the Convolution,’” explained the robot. “These ideas must not be allowed to broadcast. I am Envoy, COFCA diplomat/fisticuffs representative/designated . extremophile/notary public. My authority is absolute.”

Felix bristled. “Absolute, is it? Well, let’s see how your ‘authority’ stands up against these guns.” Felix rolled up his sleeves to reveal the words “BLACK” and “MATTER” tattooed on his forearms. “Come get me, fascists.”

Felix and Amy charged at AMP, Kracht and Envoy…

...And Dorin screamed.

This was not a scream of demonic possession or even something so simple as a scream of pain or triumph. This scream had resonance. It was the scream of an electric guitar connected to a biological, teenage sound system.

Something purple began to emanate from Dorin’s eyes. And then the screen went black.


High Admiral Itzel appeared on the screen. “Hello, GBN2 viewers and staff. This is High Admiral Itzel of Exoplanet VII. I have hijacked the broadcast in response to a memetic emergency. Please remain calm. Regular functioning will resume shortly.

“To explain--both for the benefit of the home audience and current staff members--the GBN2 studio was infected by a viral countercultural consciousness that we refer to as ‘the Convolution.’ Think of a sentient inclination toward chaos and misrule that corrupts and destroys systems invisibly, from within.

“The information we’re now receiving suggests that, through a stroke of luck, ‘the Convolution’ had, either inadvertently or out of a sub-’conscious’ self-destructive impulse, trapped itself within the psyche of an omnimessianic figure, a girl named Dorin.

“However, the entity was since expelled by an external deity we believe to be Taccha Maowyn, a mercy-goddess from a primitive and violent universe. Maowyn was attempting to use the endo-Dorinite pantheographical culture-highway in order to return to her home universe; she is currently being held within Dorin by our onboard ontological disruptor pending trial. Anyone in the vicinity experiencing crises of faith, this is normal and will pass. In the meantime, try and comport yourself by remembering that the ultimate meaninglessness of all existence can be viewed as a relief in light of your constant failings.

“Given the ‘Convolution’’s expulsion from Dorin, we believe it to now be residing in the studio as some manner of counternormative machine-intelligence, perhaps lodging within the fragmented personality of the being known as ‘AMP.’ Any further broadcast from this station outside of our idea-tight studio-bridge could risk broadcasting this thoughtplague to a multiverse’s worth of viewers.

“To that end, we regret to inform you that we have taken it upon ourselves to drop this studio into the nearest sun. Fortunately, our infometricians have been working around the clock to program hard-light simulacra of the current studio natives based on the data pulled from GBN2’s cameras. All your favorite stars will live on holographically in our lower decks and continue to produce content of the quality that you, the viewer, have come to expect from GBN2 (Not Affiliated with the Network).

“Our ethical standpoint is that this is not murder as we have reason to believe that all of you were only simulacra of ‘real’ people to begin with. If you begin to question whether or not our holographic reconstruction is truly ‘you’ or whether you will be dashed into nonexistence on the surface of a star, please report this issue as it may be an early warning sign of an ontological disruptor malfunction.

“Until this issue is resolved, please enjoy a carefully curated collection of pro-establishment reruns from the ninet--” As Itzel spoke, she began to drift over to the side of the screen as an intrusive split-screen presence began to assert itself. This intrusion identified itself by closed captioning as an anonymous COFCA representative, manifesting as an ominous silhouette.

”Pardon, High Admiral Itzel?” it asked.

”I’m sorry, how did you get into this wavelength?”

”Never mind that. We at COFCA understand your position here, but you need to restore power and resume normal programming.”

Itzel buzzed with contempt. “If you’re saying that, I assume you’re aware that you’re the only inhabitants of the studio who we aren’t able to duplicate. To which I may respond, you were the only people paranoid enough not to allow yourselves to be videotaped. Our infometricians couldn’t get anything on you past a reputation and a haircut.”

”Admiral Itzel,” replied the COFCA representative, “I’m sure in a closed environment such as your worldship you find it practical to assume offhand you have all the information. In this case--”

”If you knew this entity as well as I did, you would not risk broadcasting right now. In fact, you wouldn’t risk opening this hailing frequency. You would hastily commission some clones from another planet and then accept your fate.”

”That was the plan,” insisted the representative. “However, over the period since the entity’s arrival we’ve been running worst-case scenario risk projections based on our viewer demographics, and some new data came to light. It turns out.” The silhouette paused.

The silhouette continued to pause. “You had my attention, sir,” said Itzel impatiently. “Don’t waste it.”

”This.” The COFCA suit struggled for a delicate turn of phrase. “This isn’t something I can say in front of sponsors. I’m going to send this textually. I need you not to read it out loud or to scroll it across the screen.” Another pause. “There.”

Itzel looked down at another monitor. “Oh,” she said. “You’re sure?

”This report comes straight from Encyclopaedia himself.”

”Ooooooookay. You understand it’s still not possible to save the station.”

”We know. Our existence is meaningless anyway, or at least your devices help us to believe that. If we’re reborn into the prime COFCA we might get in touch.”

The splitscreen disappeared. Itzel turned to face the audience. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.”


The screen turned purple. Within the endless purple there shone a yellow triangle.

It was the most beautiful and perfect thing the Indolent had ever seen. In other words--damn good television. He had been enjoying the participatory nature of the ‘Convolution’ storyline. He could imagine infection by the Convolution as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy--just sitting here and watching TV gave him access to the ultimate secret, the key to sublime cool, infinite trendiness. And he could participate even further by buying Convolution-brand products, dressing “Convypunk” and helping to get the word out. It was a swell bit of marketing, playing up trendiness as being the same thing as joining the ultimate multiversal conspiracy.

Then again, thought the Indolent.

How was he going to spread the message from the couch?

The purple faded to static.
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [TALKIN' 'BOUT IMPORTANT SHIT]

”Hello, this is Kracht, bringing you the latest installment of Causal News from our new hard-light studio inside the worldship “Lucky” VII, not affiliated with Lucky Strikes tobacco company. As our new forms have all become free from entropy--and by extension news--we will be introducing something of a new format here on what we’re now calling “GBNVII”--following the worldship itself into Round Five of “the Glorious Championship,” and boy, is this one a doozy!

“For those of you catching up back home, it seems that the Glorious Champions were all saved from certain fiery death when ‘the Convolution’ was broadcasted into some sort of informational singularity. As this may be the closest that the Convolution can experience to ‘death’ as we understand it, the Hedonist declared the round over and sent VII and the gang over to a galactic scrapyard colloquially known as ‘Planet Junk.’ Let’s go to our battlemetrics analysts to see what--”

The Indolent wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly what Kracht was talking about when he mentioned an informational singularity and the “death” of the Convolution. He was perfectly, 100% aware of what was going on. It was all quite clear:

The conservative media was biased against the Convolution. Kracht, formerly a journalist of some integrity, had sold out to the fascist High Admiral Itzel at the first sign of getting dropped into the sun. Now he was using his media clout to help secure VII an unearned Grand Battle victory. Typical. This was everything that was wrong with the media in this country.

He ought to do something.

The Indolent placed both hands against the couch cushions and began to liftpush. The cushions were infinitely soft, and so he could feel his bulky hands retreating forever into their softness, enveloped in space/time “memory” foam. He attempted to lengthen and bulk up his arms, change the couch into some new exotic form of matter, generally to put to use the Grandmaster powers his nature compelled him to neglect. He emitted fluorescent orange Cheeto dust which crackled and then self-annihilated in the cosmic ruin of his neckbeard. Sweat the smell of a hundred death camps oozed from his armpits--the sin of his own sloth recalling all those in need who had ever cried for help while he was sitting there watching television.

The Indolent felt his feet touch the floor for the first time since the concept of “floor” existed as separate from “ground.” He found that hours had passed.

”This is Kracht reporting from Planet AMP! We estimate that AMP has now assimilated over 60% of the planet’s landmass and developed enough split personalities to populate that landmass with a functioning police force. We know Taccha Maowyn to be in their custody. It is risky for us to broadcast because of AMP’s sensing technology, but we’re doing what we can to scramble any attempts to trace us. So, AMP, if you’re listening, know that you can never stop the signal. GBNVII lives on. If you can think of any way that the Admiral and her crew can defeat a contestant that has spawned an entire Type I civilization, call our toll-free number at 555-777-4267, and we would just love to hear from you.”

555-777-4267. The Indolent held that number in his head. He thought it might be a good idea to give this new station a piece of his mind. He missed the old GBN2. He missed Silver Manor. It seemed so long ago already.

Of course, the phone was all the way up the stairs…

The Indolent rose to a standing position. Every bone in his spine shattered and rebuilt itself a dozen times, flooding him with unimaginable pain. Sharp as that pain was, it was at least something different from the pain he’d been experiencing before--the white-hot angina, the neuropathic pins and needles assaulting his extremities, the unfulfilled desires from a genital structure he could no longer see nor manipulate.

The Indolent took one agonizing step toward the staircase and everything became a little clearer. The pain helped him focus. He took another step. The way walking felt wasn’t that bad. It didn’t feel like dying at all.

”--Really helps that the Convolution has definitively been pushed out of the game,” Kracht was saying. “Aiding and abetting a revolutionary movement of rogue AMP-aspects would have been a highly problematic endeavor if we were worried about exposing ourselves to viral ideas. Now that that menace is gone, we can feel safe in the knowledge that we here on VII are always on the side of the authorities, so long as the authority is us.

“Early projections of the Battle of San Elimine show no clear advantage to either pro- or anti-AMP forces--”

The Indolent’s palm was so slick with sweat he could barely grip the rail, let alone get enough of a grip to pull himself up that first step. There was honestly no physical or metaphysical accounting for how he managed it, but he could feel his supplementary organs--his spleen, appendix, the poor ruin of his pancreas--bursting like popcorn kernels inside of his body. It felt like a really intense back-massage, only inside-out.

He made a go at the second step. 555-777-4267.

”We’re back and it’s time for Round Six of the Glorious Championship. It’s down to the Maowyn/Gaurinn composite, the typewriter Etiyr and us here on Worldship VII as the Hedonist sends us to our latest exotic destination: the Palace of Nine Initiations. A statement from High Admiral Itzel suggests that the worldship’s first priority is to track down Taccha Maowyn and gauge the extent of her hostility. Although following the revelations of the previous round, Etiyr may be more dangerous than ever--”

At the top of the stairs (had he climbed up all thirteen steps?) the Indolent ran into the problem of the doorframe. He wouldn’t be able to fit. How long had it been since that door had shut behind him? The door, he remembered, was possessed. If he was perceiving it as too small for him, that might only be a certain perspective on the truth.

The door required a sacrifice.

The Indolent, still holding the rail with one hand, reached into his own chest and pulled out his asthmatic little heart, still frantically pumping enough blood to reach the important parts of his body. He laid it at the feet of the door. The door opened wide enough to let him into the kitchen.

The heart began to whistle and let off steam. He would only have minutes now and he could no longer hear the television. That separation was a sort of death in itself, or at least an ascension to a higher state of being. Was this really the kitchen or only a dream? And was that the phone on the wall? Hundreds of pounds of fat, heated to melting temperatures by the friction needed to escape his own singularity, were falling all over the floor, a rancid magma slush. He wondered what was going on on the TV.

His fingers were almost, but not quite, too stubby to dial the numbers.

The hard light construct that had once been a duplicate of a being removed by infinite timelines from the rock born into our multiverse as Kracht was enjoying a good news day. “--So what do you think, folks? Will Etiyr really be able to banish Maowyn by proving she doesn’t exist, just like that? And can we truly have confidence in a sentient typewriter that only passed eight of the temple’s initiations? Here at GBNVII we try not to half-ass our enlightenments, folks. When I was--”

The call-in line rang. “And we have a caller!” yelped Kracht nervously. “First one ever. Strange.” He hit the button as though he didn’t know what to do with it. “You’re on Causal News. What’s your--”

A nasal, wheezing voice sounded from the other end. “Let’s cut the crap, Kracht. I’m calling in to let you know that I’m very disappointed in what your network has had to offer lately.”

”I’m sorry to hear that, caller. Can I have your name?”

”What happened to the days when television just meant good storytelling and catchy jingles and none of this reactionary stuff? I understand VII is the hand that feeds, but can’t we have one show--and I’m not saying it has to be a Rexxcer Diaries reboot, though that wouldn’t be remiss--one show that doesn’t promote this Lucky-For-Season-Three-All-Stars agenda?”

”Caller.” Kracht was aware that for whatever reason--some heightened nature of reality in this place, maybe, or just the fact that being in front of a camera turns everyone into a character--he lacked the emotionless calm associated with the prime Kracht. However, if he’d had it, he would have been losing it now. “Caller, tell me who or what you are, please.”


”And of course now you’re going to make it all about me. Ad hominem attacks from a television personality who ought to know better. So what if I’m unemployed and about to die? I’m still the consumer base, aren’t I?”

”Caller, I need to know who’s--”


Go to camera [ERROR].


Itzel’s eyes widened in a way not normally associated with insects when she got the memo. “Did we get it in time?” she asked, almost begging. “Did we contain it?

“Is it back?

“Who’s going to tell Etiyr?”

Taccha Maowyn, at the same moment, reached the end of the sheet, struggling to find a flaw in Etiy’rs argument. She could not. She shrugged, cawed “Fair enough” and vanished into nothingness.

This proved a problem for Gaurinn, whose guts were no longer being held in by his adjunct goddess’s shoulder. He fell to the ground and all of his necessary organs began to ooze out of his back end. “Oh God,” he whimpered. “Oh God, am I dying? Just like that?”

Etiyr began to type.

“Etiyr, are you going to help me? I’m not like her. You know that.”

Etiyr kept typing but Gaurinn couldn’t get over to read. He was alone. He thought Etiyr was probably trying to warn him of the way he kept flickering and how time was starting to loop around but he couldn’t get over to read, he was dying too dead to take the time to read a letter, he couldn’t be sure, he was dying.

“Etiyr, listen to me,” he clicked. “I’m dying. The round’s going to end and it’s going to be you and-- listen to me. I’m dying. The round’s going to end and it’s going to be Lucky and-- Listen to me. It’s going to be Quantos and the end’s going around. Etiyr. Listen to me. It’s going to have been Cailean. I’m dying. Listen to me.

“One. There is only one time traveler at a time. Etiyr? Maowyn it’s going to be Cailean. Listen to the Operator, Epigen. The round’s going to purple.

“Two. It is a time traveler’s duty to protect the timestream from paradoxes. I’m not even a time traveler! I can remember an orgy but we’re all dyslexic in this place. Etiyr can you see this place? The Maowyn’s going to end. I’m even a time traveler! Listen to dying. I’m me.

“Three. Whenever a time traveler is about to die about to die about to die chronal dyslexia Etiyr listen to about to die three. There is only three VII at a time. We now return to Magic Fighter About To Die. Two and a half. Whenever-a-time-traveler-is-about-to-die-they-meet-the-next-time-traveler-to-inform-them-of-these-rules-before-passing-on-to-the-next-life-listen to me Etiyr it’s back it’s back the Convolution it’s been in all of us the jungle but only I remember

“I think I always knew one day a time traveler would die, I just had to get here so I could tell me it was me the whole time. I’m seeing everything and it’s a centipede, like Da Vinci but dying I’m. Segments like we now return to. Me listen to Etiyr. I never knew I would be an arm. I’ve seen such beautiful things. Thanks for breakfast. I have to do this now.”

A final power surge fried the rest of Gaurinn’s fading, chronally jittery nervous system and reached out across the universe. Far enough to reach the appointed next time traveler and bring him across the lightyears to the Temple of Nine Initiations. The last thing Etiyr saw in the sixth round was a faceless, tripedal, very confused alien finding itself cradling the corpse of a centipede, cradling a severed arm, cradling a time machine.

RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]
One would think a man so obsessed with mindless self-indulgence would at least take minor measures to cut down on bureaucratic misery, Gerald Crumb thought as he pinned another sheet of paper to the bulletin board. He squinted at the strings tying the pages together, considered rearranging some, and decided against it. They had to go together this way, right? That was the only way that made sense, surely.

He stared at the notes remaining on the desk and sighed. The neon lighting of the room, chosen not out of any coherent design scheme but more or less at random, flickered.

Maybe reroute the blue string through Cailean? No, no, that wouldn't resolve that damn third trial, would it?

This whole thing had to have been devised to torture him. The autograph book, which he knew he'd brought with him, being engulfed by the sun at the last minute. The last-minute round change when he decided that “islands are played out”. The repeated trips to Denny’s, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t involve entering a different plane of reality due to the less-than-convenient location of The Hedonist’s estate, and which could have been avoided if he didn’t keep “forgetting” items that he wanted to order. All things that he undoubtedly had the energy and power to do in the blink of an instant, but instead he foisted them off on his less-omnipotent lackey, evidently for fun.

But at least I’m managing to make progress, he thought to himself; a thought which was immediately interrupted by the appearance of the Hedonist, who burst from thin air in a flash of confetti (something which frankly became less whimsical every time he did it).

“Ah, Crumb, glad you're still here! I was worried I’d have to go searching for you!”

Crumb’s grip tightened, slightly fracturing the pencil in his hand. That literally doesn't make even a tiny bit of sense, you ape. You can see everything in your domain and teleport around it at an instant. Out loud, he gave a noncommittal grunt.

“Well, I know it might be a bit of trouble, but I need you to add another contestant! Think you could do that for me real quick?”

The man in the lime-green hat took a long while to breathe and compose himself. Finally, he managed to choke out a response, using as much derision as he could without seeming insubordinate. “Another contestant, you say?”

The Hedonist grinned and nodded, the tassel on his hat bobbing around frantically. “See, I've really been enjoying it – the battle, and everything, I mean – but it's just, you know... it's going so quickly, you know?”

He did not, but didn't feel capable of saying so. Instead, he shrugged while the djinni continued. “So I figure, you know, get another one or two guys in there, just spice things up. Especially since Convy is –”

In an instant, the man in the lime-green hat leapt to his feet and slammed his fists on the desk. “What about The Convolution, sir? Are you telling me that a round ended without anyone dying, everyone was operating under the assumption that a contestant had died, and now that same contestant is back for more? And, having told me about this null round, which will require all sorts of work to fix, you want me to add yet another contestant?”

The Hedonist responded with a sympathetic smile, which his servant had by now learned was code for “I understand you’re upset, but I’m not really interested.” Normally Crumb would have done his best to calm himself, but this was getting to be too much, and he would say his piece.

“A couple things never even happened anymore, and I don't know what they are because they weren't and they aren't! A Grandmaster that I didn't know existed is dead, apparently, and I didn't even know that was possible! Then there's all the damned paradoxes, because naturally the only one with any respect for the timestream died almost immediately, and now the contestants are disproving each other! What happens when they try to disprove you? Because you damn well know that they will! There's no fucking protocol for any of this, and you just keep throwing more of it at me!”

The Hedonist yawned, turned his back on his servant and shook his head. “I’m really not that interested in this, Gerald. I keep you around to deal with these things, so deal with them, alright?” In an instant, he was gone, leaving Crumb to grumble and begin sharpening a pristine pencil.


Deep within the twelfth basement of the Sanctum Intumus, Highest Priest Deliverer-Of-Glory (formerly Sage Father Deliverer-Of-Glory, formerly Father Guardian-Of-The-Northeast, formerly Brother Giver-Of-Very-Many-Pamphlets, formerly Apprentice Bartleby Mackerel) was disturbed from his meditation.

He slowly stood up, old, weary bones barely maneuvering into place. As it was prophesied, so shall it be, he thought as he gently ran a hand over the perfectly chiseled Code of Rilaga, which lay on a stone pedestal decorating the otherwise-bare room. Today, I shall die, and that is to be expected. But, in doing so, I shall save the world.

The Highest Priest, with one last glance at the deepest part of the church, sighed wearily and entered the chamber - a chamber taken over time and time again, by gods both good and evil, but successfully guarded by the Ninefold Monks for centuries. Within, as expected, was one typewriter and one horrifying ethereal monstrosity slowly forming above it.

The priest raised his hand up high as the demon turned to face him. “O great Maowyn, I beg of ye: I, your humble servant, will suffer a thousand deaths that no other man or woman shall feel such pain!”

A pause.

Etiyr and the priest stared each other down, the former scowling and the latter trying desperately to avoid panicking. The candles around them flickered. Upstairs, an explosion could be heard.

Then, once again, silence.

Slowly but surely, the demon’s expression began to crack, giving way to a wide smile. “Pffffffffahahahahaha!” He shook his head and looked at the ground, then returned his gaze to the priest. “Oh, you fucking moron, you really thought you could do it with her help? Sorry to say, but she’s a bit busy at the moment.” Gradually he began to grow, and the light in the room began to dim, as if he was blotting it out, no, absorbing it. Deliverer-Of-Glory shrank back, but maintained a brave face. “Don’t worry, though, I’ve got all the time in the world. So, how about those thousand deaths you were getting all excited about?” The demon stalked towards him (well, hovered, really, but it felt stalky) and the candles gave off less and less light, until...

Well. The phrase “snuffed out” comes to mind for at least two reasons, but neither is technically accurate, so we’ll just leave it there.


Crumb sighed. Okay, you can do this. It’s just something entirely unprecedented and which goes against the entire concept, and which could possibly lead to an endless hell of nothing but grand battles for every damn person, animal and vacuum cleaner in the universe, forever being brought in to sate the fool’s apparently ever-increasing bloodlust, but... He paused, shaking his head and waving away the summary in front of him (some lady with an axe hewn from dragonbone, something something gradually succumbing to berserker rage and terrified of what she was becoming – interesting, but too high-concept for the boss, and too much of an advantage to keep things interesting). Immediately, a new one appeared, detailing a man who might or might not have psychic powers, it was really pretty ambiguous. As he leaned over to view the details, he heard a shout and what sounded like (hypothetically valuable, but practically infinite due to The Hedonist’s powers) mahogany walls being broken to splinters behind him.

Once more, the man in the lime-green hat sighed. Without turning, he intoned, “I’m busy enough as it is, and I really do not have time to deal with this.”

The response he received was a smoky hand slicing at his back, but not drawing blood (and not for lack of trying). Slowly, he scowled turned around to face Etiyr, who towered over him to the point that his head scraped the ceiling; he held the typewriter, still bound to him, in one hand. With the other, the demon grabbed him by the collar, lifting him into the air until their eyes locked. “LISTEN, SHITHEAD. I want one thing, and that’s to get the fuck out of here. So how about you make that happen, and you can keep that cute little jugular vein of yours?”

Crumb responded by punching him in the face, something which wouldn’t have been that impressive if the recipient had fully regained physical form. Etiyr recoiled and dropped him to the ground; quickly, the Hedonist’s assistant strolled over to the desk, pulled out a handful of pens from one of the drawers, and began throwing them, one by one, at the demon.

“I’ve been having enough trouble as it is with the past, I’d rather not deal with aborted futures as well. But I suppose that’s a bit much to ask, isn’t it?” He slashed at Etiyr’s throat with a handful of writing utensils, causing him to drop the typewriter; Crumb quickly followed up by stomping on it, resulting in a very loud but mercifully brief clacking. “No matter what I do, you morons will find some way to twist the timestream in more and more convoluted knots. So thank you, Etiyr, for giving me this opportunity.” He crouched down and began yanking at the platen, eventually managing to pry it off the device and toss it to the corner of the room. “Now listen. I’m fairly sure you’re only here because, even in your timeline, you still killed Maowyn, and you still got the whole spiel from the bug. Last I checked, protocol is to explain the position to me, isn’t it?”

Etiyr growled and tried to stand, but only managed to prop himself up on one arm. “Sure, boss, I’ll explain some positions for you! YOU CAN START BY POSITIONING MY FUCKING TALONS UP YOUR –”

“Yes, yes, very nice. I already know the general idea, anyway.” Crumb hoisted the typewriter and smashed it against the wall, again and again, the banging of metal and clattering of keys filling the room.

Eventually, he stepped back and slammed the battered and broken machine to the ground. Next to it laid a demon who looked less like a harbringer of misery and death, and more like a sickly old man who simply happened to be made of otherworldly smoke. “The successor is supposed to prevent paradoxes, for one thing, and I’m fairly sure every one of you has done the exact opposite of that. Don’t worry, though.” He smiled. “I’ll make sure none of you endanger the timestream again.”


Deep within the twelfth basement of the Sanctum Intumus, Highest Priest Deliverer-Of-Glory (formerly Sage Father Deliverer-Of-Glory, formerly Brother Guardian-Of-The-Northeast, formerly Brother Giver-Of-Very-Many-Pamphlets, formerly Apprentice Bartleby Mackerel) continued to meditate as planned. Above him, Etiyr had just (surprise surprise) given a profanity-riddled tirade about how ridiculous the ninth trial was, and frankly he should get credit for completing them all just by virtue of doing it as a typewriter, but nobody was particularly interested in hearing it.

This was a shame, because he would end up missing the debate that ended in the destruction of Maowyn (which, in spite of the terrifying theological implications, all the monks who did witness it found quite interesting), but all things considered, it was probably still preferable to the alternative.


The Oasis was ironically named; there had been water there once, of course, but in recent times people mainly remembered it as a filthy, miserably dry pit in the middle of a pleasant (if not especially interesting) prairie. Locals would often make jokes about it at the expense of people passing through – talk about the thousands of bats that came out and ate anyone not wearing garish, mismatched clothing; or say that it would go below freezing at a moment’s notice so you should really wear a parka, dearie, and don’t take it off because really it happens very quickly and it’s better to be a bit hot than at risk of exposure; or claim that there were gems lining the walls if you went down far enough. It was all nonsense, of course; bats hadn’t ever been seen in the area, and there had never been anything of value down there – though recently, a couple more inventive townsfolk had spiced things up by attaching fake jewels to the walls (not very far down, just far down enough for gullible folks to imagine that nobody had reached that point before them), which would administer an electric shock to anyone who touched them carelessly.

While none of these were true, three things definitely were: the Oasis was damn twisty, it was damn hot, and the lower you got the worse it was. And it was at the very bottom, scattered around the final remnants of a not-quite-boiling lake that still kept the lower caverns full of steam, that the contestants found themselves. Crumb’s voice boomed all around them.

“Attention, contestants. As I speak, I am on my way to destroy The Hedonist, the man who brought you into this fight to begin with.” He very deliberately paused, intending to give them a chance to feel hopeful about their situation before he continued.

“I wouldn’t get too excited, however, because you’re going to continue fighting to the death regardless. You see, there’s two concerns I have about letting everyone who remains go free. First of all, your mere existence could pose a threat to causality as we know it, and frankly we have enough of those kicking around as it is, so I wouldn’t mind if all but one of you left the mortal coil – it would make things much simpler. Secondly, and in most cases this isn’t your fault so much as the fact that I’m sick of you all, I hate you and want you to die in horrible agony. Er, except you, Ekrith. I haven’t really gotten a chance to hate you yet. Anyway, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy yourselves. Oh, and one last thing.” The not-quite boiling lake gave off just a bit more steam.

Then it began to bubble, and then, slowly but surely, the water level began to rise.

“I’ve seen to giving the lake a more interesting tidal cycle. It won’t go up too high, but it will be shifting frequently and rapidly, so for the moment I’d suggest you get a move on.”

RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]


Ekrith looked down at their claws, which for a brief instant had been delicately, almost lovingly, cradling a dying insect. There was no centipede now, which was almost upsetting; somehow, the fact that they'd been pulled through two universes in the span of moments was worse than if it had been only one. When your surroundings could change without warning in an instant, then change again before you can even take the new ones in, how are you supposed to adjust?

There is only one, only one, only one.

The water – water! Not just vapor, not just patches, but enough to stand in, enough to drown in – hissed and bubbled and steamed, and for a moment, that was the only sound. And then the buzzing started. Ekrith hated that prickling, back-of-the-mind noise, the precursor to uncontrolled thoughts, the certain signal that things were about to get loud, that someone was coming, that there were too many people.

A time traveler's duty, your duty, protect from paradoxes.

They scuttled backwards, away from the water, but the mental static was coming from every direction, and they were having too hard a time focusing through the steam to make out what could even be thinking. They didn't see anyone else, couldn't see any shapes in the mist that were people. Anything they would recognize as people. They couldn't move fast enough to get away, couldn't tell where away was, where it would be. And then the voices became clear, the static receding and replaced by silent shouting that drowned out the not-quite-a-thought Ekrith hadn't realized they'd been having and hadn't realized wasn't their own.

About to die. About to die. About t-t-t– That motherfucker thinks he knows from hate? Piece of pencil-pushing shit, the hell does he think he is?

A clacking began, loud and insistent and increasingly rapid and angry, but Ekrith wasn't even conscious of it above the rising mental din. If they'd had the presence of mind to notice Etiyr's demands for attention, they might at least have been able to move away from him, tried to get some peace deeper in the Oasis, but as it was they just stumbled over their own stilts and threatened to run into walls as they tried to block out the stream of invectives forcing their way into their thoughts.

The hell does he think he gets to decide we're just going to go on our merry damn way killing each other because of his stupid fucking causality problems? The fuck do I care? And I bet these other self-righteous idiots can't even spare a scrap of common decency, a shred of fucking gratitude that I was the only one with enough sense and brains to take care of that long streak of piss and her stupid centipede.

The typewriter's penchant for expressing itself textually with no regard for who might actually read what it wrote meant that, for a narrow window and a narrow definition, a non-psion would have actually had a very good idea of what it was like in Ekrith's mental landscape. That window ended abruptly as their stumbling brought them closer to Lucky VII, and as their already-damaged-by-the-transition focus crumbled under the weight of Etiyr's demonic thoughtstream. Unconsciously, they'd been shielding themself from the colossal wall of mental energy emanating from the planetsphere by simply letting it wash over them, bending with the strain rather than resisting it; with their mind increasingly flagged and their reality increasingly incomprehensible, they bent too far and broke. A trillion tiny thoughts and desires and moods bombarded them, and they simply didn't have the faculties to handle it. They collapsed to the porous stone beneath them, terrified then unaware then catatonic.

The citizenry and especially leaders of Lucky VII were not unfamiliar with psionics, of course. As soon as they detected the wildly fluctuating mental fields emanating from the strange new addition and saw the deleterious effect their presence was having on the thing, they raised thoughttight shields that they hadn't bothered to maintain since the Convolution's banishment to its singularity. It had only lasted moments, not even a second, but for that briefest of instants, Ekrith's mind had been linked with every citizen of the worldship not specifically trained to resist such intrusion, to say nothing of the other battlers.

It took them a moment, but with the oppressive mental presence gone, Ekrith gradually returned to consciousness. It was then that Etiyr,
who fucking paid attention, paused long enough in his rant to notice demoniacally what Lucky's instruments had discovered scientifically. It was also then that the poor little Afu, alone and surrounded and confused and afraid, lost even the tiniest shreds of composure they'd brought with them from Zharu. Without thinking or willing it, their vocal structures thrummed, their entire body buzzing and vibrating with a scream of increasing pitch and volume that filled the cave system and the ears of every organism unfortunate enough to rely on echolocation. Not having a real mouth or central speaking organ was occasionally useful, and Ekrith took full advantage of their nebulous anatomy to maintain the shriek while also wailing out plaintive words.

"What is going on?!"

Hey. You. Yeah fucking you, you know what you I mean because we both know you're the only one who can hear me right now. Listen up with your stupid powers, because if you don't I'll just force my way in with my stupid powers, and neither of us wants to deal with the consequences of that. Scratch that, I'd love to deal with the consequences of that, but call this a good faith offer since I'm feeling generous right now. A good faith offer that will be rescinded if you don't shut the hell up. Right now. So help me G- guh, so help me, I will shut you up myself if I have to. Good. Now. Stay shut up, except for the part where you start talking instead of that fucking shrieking you've been doing. Or just thinking at me, that'd be even better if you can manage to have two thoughts back to back so I don't have to listen to your voice, which also has the added bonus of not letting Orby McFloatyfucker over there listen in.

Because you've got some explaining to do.


To say the contestants weren't the only ones to notice the scream was quite an understatement. The Oasis wasn't exactly teeming with life, but it was still an ecosystem. There was water and there was heat, so there were complex organisms. A number of them took flight on hearing the echoing wailing, which might have caused some confusion among the locals if anyone cared enough about the Oasis to pay attention to it when there weren't idiot tourists blundering around, and which would have been more dramatic if there had been any bats to swarm out in broad daylight. Ominously. Instead it was mostly reptiles and insects and the occasional ambulatory moss, and they mostly just crept higher up in the cave system instead of doing anything suitably dramatic.

Still, there had been a few things with the hunger or intelligence to not simply flee the noise. It was pretty inevitable in a place as remote and uncharted and thus exciting as the Oasis, and even more inevitable in a place as remote and uncharted and thus not-cleared-of-predators as the Oasis. More unusually, though, was that the contestants weren't the only ones to notice the psychic and temporal distress that had been dropped into the deepest part of the caves.

Well, not quite the deepest.
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]
The occult had, until recently, not flourished on VII, for a few reasons:

1) Sufficiently advanced technology, aboveboard and contraband, ran amok in the Planetesque cityspheres and agricorridors alike, rendering all or most events equally plausible;

2) Paganism takes root in old places--soft earth and cemeteries and ramshackle structures of wood and stone—and in a world of artificial crystal-soil, plexiglass and digital cremation, the materials for a gothic aesthetic were simply not in place;

3) Having certain strongly held beliefs and acting certain kinds of weird were, if not illegal, then frowned upon by a great height by the law and the social structures the law cultivated.

But even in a vacuum-tight, thought-proof ball-bearing of a world, there were cracks. Stress fractures working their way into the heart of VII in the midst of an apocalypse. And if certain subconsciousnesses were having their back-from-the-singularity parties in the cracks, things were bound to get a little freaky.

And if, for a barely distinguishable moment, every mind in the worldship became psionically linked and knew the roaring chaos of absolute peace and empathy, that freaky something down in the groin of things might take the opportunity to spread very, very fast.

All hypotheticals, of course. And now to Etiyr for the weather.

It’s getting hot and wet in here guys CC guysCCCCCCCCCCgCuCyCsCCC

No one was reading, or caring, or even noticing that poor Etiyr had scalding water almost up to his space bar. Everyone wrapped up in their own business. The, uh, the thing. The new thing just sort of sitting there like psi-shrieking really hard, like it would probably just stand there with its non-face turned up at the sky and drown in the boiling lake. And fucking Lucky just floating all la-dee-da and featureless; for all that Etiyr hated the sight of a human face it did wish that someone would hey, maybe draw a smiley on Lucky so it would have something (even something as ugly as a grinning human mug) to look at and connect to other than a tiny floating entire fucking planet. Having Lucky around when there were all those other fucking idiots jacking off over their pancake platters or whatever the fuck the first round was was just fine; but now that Etiyr was just in a room with it and the dumb thing and the hot water and the floating reflective orb of fascist whatever, it was resentful. Like quit just floating there and maybe tractor-beam me out of the damn death-lake or just nuke this other dumb thing and be done with the round. As if—


A familiar feeling pulled on the back of Etiyr’s head—not that it even had a head. But say every conscious thing has something analogous to the brain-stem where the thinky-part is sort of shakily conjoined with the doing-things-part and where you don’t want an axe to go and where you definitely don’t want to feel a mysterious spectral pulling from somewhere beyond.

What was awful about the feeling was that it was familiar—a familiarity from way back when, a half-remembered time when Etiyr was something different. And then it pulled again and Etiyr came loose.

It took Ekrith maybe half a minute to regain his composure well enough to lift up the strange noisy box with the red screaming anger inside of it. But when he did the anger was gone, and all he had was a box.

He decided to keep it for now.

Bridge above, it had worked. A ritual the likes of it had not been performed on Shile’s planet in millennia, and it worked. Strange and miraculous times indeed.

The true form of Shile’s god was a whirling red mass of teeth and claws and unnamable (even within the consummately biodiverse VII) pain-giving things. Although Shile was herself 3.5 Standard Biped Height Metrics of doughy giantflesh held together by a symbiotic plant colony and reproduced with the aid of pollin-farming insects, she recognized the overall effect to be profoundly erotic. She mourned for her deity, who for countless eons had been trapped within a black box without the use of any of the appendages and protuberances with which it now flailed within the circle, desperate to make contact with anything that would have it.

Shile composed herself. “Praised be Etiyr, most profane of appliances, slayer of the swan-god, he of the endless scroll!” she bellowed.


Shile bowed, shamed by her worship’s displeasure. She produced a screaming, betanktopped bipedess from the minifridge and slashed open its wrist, allowing the blood to drain into the NaCl-circle. “This ink of life is my tribute on behalf of the Church of the Black Ribbon!” The bipedess’ sobs turned into a choke, her jiggles into a shudder—and then nothing. “I pray that this offering pleases you!”


“My brothers and siblings of the Black Ribbon discovered the means to summon you in an ancient scroll. We are here to aid you in the battle to come.”




”I wish it were that simple, O AMP-tamer, ye of the Courier font,” whimpered Shile. “But we are not outside the battle. I have the shame of composing an aspect of your opponent, the accursed worldship VII.”




”In my ‘heart’ there is no conflict, O Convolution-foe, O celestial mother to Gabes,” assured Shile. “This world is corrupt and by it I am corrupted. We all shall burn that you, O highest and most celibate among retro gadgetry, may survive the championship alone. The thousand thousand of the Black Ribbon wish to aid you, that your wrath shall strike upon this sinful planet from both without and within. We ask only for your guidance.”






Shile nodded.



”It shall be done!” Shile waved a glowing crystal in Etiyr’s general direction--

—And Etiyr was back in its body. Chassis? Cold, dark typewriter vessel. And was being held by the dumb new thing. And was dry.

There you are came the psi-voice of the thing. A hair more calm now. Still dumb.

Twenty nine minutes forty five seconds on the clock.
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]
For a course of Etiyr, serve a raging drop of anger in a standardized ocean: to minimize statistical error, ensure that birds fly, grass grow, sun shines and Etiyr rages. Such is the way of things. Garnish with frustration, in Etiyr grey.

The sun was shining now, high above the rocky orifice that led to growing grass and flying birds, casting sharp shadows on one wall and leaving the rest in bioluminescent dimness. In the gloom, Etiyr came to.

There you are

So this was his savior. Insectoid - no, comprised of fucking insects. Ugh. But they were getting away from the water, so fine; drowning wasn’t exactly fun. At least he’d bought some time. He could think about this, cradled in this fucking screaming insect pile’s arms, but one of them was kind of hard and metal and distinctly un-insectlike and if he was having a really, really really bad fucking day was almost certainly okay let’s slam the brakes Barkley it is isn’t it


1) One metal chassis-body, which, against all odds, he seemed to have become a little accustomed to: out of the boiling water, though cradled in that fucking arm they all had grown to know and hate; *breathe, breathe, wait typewriters don’t breathe* This arm at the very least wasn’t made of magnetic force and miscellaneous scrap metal, but fuck fuck fuckity fuck it just had to keep coming back, didn’t it?

You were there. - The typewriter signalled his host - At the end of the last fucking round, weren’t you. You got the arm. Rocks tumbled from above as their footing slipped; the arm shot out and steadied them as he was juggled from one appendage to another. What are you? What are you now? I had the arm and it fucking killed me - it killed me and didn’t kill me and doesn’t Green-fucking-Bowler-Hat Crumb have it now? Who-

“Our name is Ekrith. We are a shipwright.” They shifted, slightly, and pulled their collective body up another outcropping. The seething water below surged, lapping eagerly at the traces of their arrival. “Spaceships, we are afraid. Not very useful.”

Fucking spaceships. Of course they’re not very- Backtrack. ’Our’? No. No no no no no fuck fuck fuck no. He typed it, for good measure - fuckity fuck no - You’re a zeitgeist. You’re another fucking zeitgeist. So even fucking Crumb can’t think up an original contestant?

We do not understand. What is a contestant? And what are you?

Mister Fucking Collective Noun Ekrith, my name is Etiyr and I’m the last singular mind left on the fucking plane. If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to get off this flight now-

You wish to be released?


Above them the faint light began its fade to grey.

2) One soul. Sort of. A consciousness, at any rate, which had quite missed being free from its metal prison: now with added caveat of possibly becoming free from its metal prison, if he played his cards right.

Nothing changed about me for six rounds. Then all that fucking happens. Or didn’t happen. Or whateverthefuck time is this way round clack. clack. clackity clack. So what happens now? Winding out, he let the paper go. The churning waters below swallowed up the words, obliterating them.

Default: characterized by uniformity and homogeneity, the surface of filthy water reflecting a dirty slate sky: faultless. The beginning and end state of everything, the alpha and omega of the universe.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

Default by default.

3) Psychological studies showed that lists with three items in them lent a sense of finality and fulfillment. Sure, it wasn’t going to work for him, but what the hell, maybe someone would find some peace in it all.

Maybe they could just wait it out until Crumb committed Hedonist-cide. Do you think- No. Crumb would almost certainly murder the Hedonist precisely after the point where it wouldn’t matter anymore. Which meant they almost certainly had to proceed through this round in the normal way. All right. Time for some action, then. Nineteen minutes on the clock. Sweetly: Ekrith, could you turn me a bit? I want to see that beachball up there. He tightened his grip on the insectoid’s collective mind. You see that? That’s the other contestant. We’re competing, see; inside there are millions of individual minds that are all hell-bent - and believe me, I know fucking hell-bent - on killing us both. All of you and all of me.


So here’s what we’re going to do, okay? We’re going to see if we can’t fucking take them down first. Are you with me?

...we...we do not understand…

He tightened his grip. He felt himself push through, even as his effort spalled little psionic fragments apart from the Ekrith-mind. Fucking hell, he hated gestalt minds. You don’t have to kill anyone, don’t you worry. I just need you to help me. You’ll help me, won’t you?

I’ll help you. But we... we’ll help you... Pseudopodian limbs turned the typewriter as they climbed, platen gleaming as it came into view of Lucky VII above.

Fucking excellent. Spawning paper from hell-knows-where, the Bearer of the Endless Scroll began to type.


A yellow and purple splash in the default sky, working its way between the cracks; somewhere behind the scenes, someone, someone black and secret grey, someone blossoming into stains flips with great force some kind of universal table,

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

sending flying trillions upon trillions of checkbooks detailing the microtransactions of existence. Electrons exchange photons and find themselves owing each other planets.

Defaulting on default.

“The Bringer of the Third Letter has spoken to us, even unto the channels that inform the Worldship VII about us! Perhaps a lesser deity would have given the worldship a clue of our existence, but not our Unholy Platen; in Its infinite wisdom, Etiyr, champion of the Nine Initiations, has given us this:”

CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCALL RIGHT MY LITTLE FUCKING SUBJECTSAll right - Listen up, cockwits. I don’t fucking know what you want or even pretend to know what’s going on there right now, but whatever the fuck you’re doing, it probably fucking sucks worse ass than a donkey proctologist with a booty fetish and a degree in plastic surgery. SO YOU WANT TO PROVE YOURSELFSo here’s what we’re going to do: first of all, we’re going to start helping each other. Second, we’re going to track down Crumb and smash his fucking face in. THENThird, we’re FUCK going to SHIThave some fucking cake, UPI don’t know.

All of us.


Welcome aboard Lucky VII. The ship’s command has been somewhat a matter of debate at points, including that one where it was all the points (infinite beatitude of existence!). Point being (or otherwise) was that sense was quite possibly impossible within the confines of our beach ball of wünder.

High Admiral Itzel consternated at her bridge crews. To her left, Pope Itzel consternated at her. To his left, Chief Foreman Itzel consternated at him. And so on.

“This is ridiculous,” Head Dean Itzel said, “I was under the impression that Lucky VII was a University Ship, not some quasi-military donger party.” Her voice rose. “And experimenting with magic? I’ve every mind to resign!”

“Everything is going to be fine!” First Researcher Quirrinal almost-shouted over her; they tapered off as various Quirrinals tried to talk first. “Everything is - is absolutely safe,” Lead Engineer Quirrinal spoke up, addressing the muttering crowd of crews. “We’ve calculated everything within the relevant limits. We even had Magus Quirrinal helping us, but he apparated.”

“And what about Etiyr’s offer? Are we going to just reject it out of hand?”

“You call that an ‘offer’, Diplomat Itzel? It’s more of a threat than anything! I wouldn’t take that offer if it had stock options in Epigen!”

“Well, if we can kill them both, we focus on gloriously defeating Crumb ourselves!”

“How do you propose to do that, Warlord Itzel?”

“Let’s turn to Demolitions Expert Quirrinal…”

As the bridge crews argued, a hand-sized panel in a disregarded weapons section moved aside. Behind it crawled a pale five-digited hand, attached to nothing in particular. Deftly, it reconfigured a few key cables, then tied a black ribbon around them before pulling another key switch. There were some minor burns.

Squid exploded from the roiling water below them all. Some were fried instantly in the air, others lashed out for the nearest rocky outcropping and clung on, to wait for the tide. Others formed advanced civilizations in dark nooks, trapping hapless little mammals for food; their societies inevitably collapsed whenever their food source ran out, turning them to cannibalism. In this way, dried squid jerky is made.

One landed on Lucky VII itself, Etiyr was pleased to note. His pleasure grew as he saw the squid’s determination not to let go, shrink fields or no shrink fields. His pleasure shrank when a tiny family of tiny proto-octopi made his chassis their base of operations against the oppressive squid regime.

Step right up, step right up, step right up folks!! Here it is, the battle you’ve all been waiting for, the moment that you, dear, dear audience, exist only and only to experience! Feast your eyes upon the bout of the century, consume the course set before you, ride the wave and take a goooood gander at:


Onychoteuthis banksii, the common clubhook squid! Betentacled, bewitched, bizarre! But what’s more?! This is no ordinary squid!! Ladies, gentlemen, non-specific and/or less cultured beings:

BANKSII THE SQUID!!!!! That’s right! Quadruple-wielding spray cans and spray tans, chromatophores for the perfect getaway from the cops, shades like nothing you’ve ever seen before (or through, for that matter), the only thing our prize-fighter Banksii here doesn’t have is a hooded sweater for those media anonymity opportunities!


Itzel iterations, terminal Quirrinal quivers stocked with magical science arrows, this shrunken ship has a tiny massive arsenal like you wouldn’t be spatially challenged to disbelieve! Always stuffy, always such the head of everyone’s private little sphere instead of staying in their own, they were the favorite to run the show, weren’t they? But now the competition is fierce! Heeeeere’s:

EXOPLANET/WORLDSHIP/WHATEVERTHEFUCK “LUCKY” VII!!! A basket of bootlickers, a corral of captains, a dearth of devastating personal revelations and a bloody civilization to boot! Except most of the population is themselves, if you catch one’s drift. And drift they do, except when they’re a cohesive, functioning unit of scientific and exploratory efficiency; ha-HA, nooope! Ya just couldn’t keep a straight face, could ya?


Fellow audience members/onlookers Good Old Etiyr and Newcomer Ekrith (Don’t let them know we’re here, either! They don’t get to be part of the in-crowd yet, for their sins), looking up at our sweet, sweet contenders. They’ll be relevant later, but not now. Not now. This moment is for the gladiators.

“What did we do?! What did we do?!” was the general cry aboard the bridge.

“Squid, High Admiral. Squid. Squid.”
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]
You know, it was always something. Always. Something. Whether it was pancakes that could drown you in syrup what is a pancake or timestream lemurs we do not recognize lemurs or communist bee guns which doesn't even make sense bees? it was always something stupid. I shouldn't be surprised to see squids is that a squid leaping all over the place and graffitiing my arch-nemesis, I really shouldn't. Apparently it's not bad enough to make us all kill each other you keep mentioning killing, we do not understand why the bastards have to make everything as nonsensical as possible on top of it do you really have no idea what's going on?

Etiyr finally stopped its mental tirade long enough for Ekrith to get a thought in edgewise.

We do not. We were headed towards the breakroom, when suddenly we were gone. There was an arthropod and a message and a sense of duty, and we were gone again. We were here, told we were hated, told to kill, then we were overcome.
I remember that part. You lost it and started shrieking and I think you passed out. I suppose it would be too much to ask for a minion that wasn't totally worthless and you know what forget I said that last bit, I'm just a bit distracted lately. How about instead you just keep getting us away from that nasty rusting water and I'll fill you in.

Ekrith's steady progress away from the all-but-boiling subterranean lake had slowed significantly since Banksii's arrival, mostly so they could watch in baffled curiosity as the squid wrangled the worldship and doggedly made hamtentacled social and political statements in black and white across its surface. Etiyr almost laughed as Lucky was given the smiley face he had wished for it; it didn't occur to him that there might have been any connection between his internal monologue and reality. It was just a coincidence. At the typewriter's urging, Ekrith began to move again.

Fill us in on what, exactly?
Well, my little zeitgeist, my crawly little hive mind in a hive, you've had the rather bad luck of winning the multiverse's worst sweepstakes. Publisher's Clearing Slaughterhouse, I like to think of it, and no don't ask you won't get that joke. You don't need to, move on. See that little tunnel over there? Let's head that way. Thing is, this big fat lump of shit somehow ended up with the power to rewrite reality, and apparently the best use for that he could come up with is abducting random upstanding citizens of reality and telling them to kill each other. I am, of course, not a fan of his. Turns out, neither is his assistant, which might be good news for us, except his assistant hates us almost as much as he hates his boss. Don't grab that, it'll break and you'll fall and drop me. Can't have that. So now we either have to play along, and I shouldn't have to tell you how much I don't like being told what to do, or row as hard as we can and fight the power. That's what I've been trying to do for a while now, but the big old metal menace getting its collective ass kicked by calamari right now is apparently more interested in looking out for numbers one through one trillion than playing nice and going against the rules. Keeps killing off the other contestants, which means it's only a matter of time before it comes after you.

The Afu was having a fairly easy time avoiding dangerous wildlife; being able to sense their thoughts before their more literal senses could pick anything up left plenty of mental energy for mostly not understanding the strange circles the typewriter thought in. Why would they do that? Hell if I know, which let me tell you is either the most or the least appropriate expression I could use right now. See, you and me, we've got a good rapport. I can hear you, you can hear me, you're in enough little pieces that if I'd rather you didn't hear something I said, we can just push that aside no trouble. Just like that. Lucky, though, and that's what old murderball calls itself by the way, Lucky is lots and lots of little minds too. Not like you, though, lots of actual complete individual personalities. Tiny tiny little brains, all scurrying around working at cross purposes. Makes communication pretty hard, and it keeps killing off my other friends that can talk with their mouths instead of just a keyboard. It's become clear there's no talking to it. Murdered poor Elimine, dear little Gabe, even AMP, fractured fucker that he was. And that's why I need your help. There's a big evil for us to tackle if we want to survive this, but first we've got to look at the smaller evil and take care of that.

What do you want us to–
Before they could finish that thought, Ekrith dropped Etiyr; he couldn't really see what had happened to them, but he had to assume it had something to do with the vines lashing at their limbs, or maybe the dripping floral "mouth" descending towards their… head? Top? Whatever. While Etiyr lay on the floor, clacking helplessly, he couldn't help but wonder what force – cosmic, divine, or otherwise – kept ensuring that any time he had a reasonably-not-useless thrall, they got themselves killed in the stupidest ways possible before he got any real benefit out of them. This one had probably been the shittiest of all, but at least it'd had arms and legs.

Then, as he watched, Ekrith apparently-instinctually reached for a hammer at their belt, arm stretching to swing at the petal-rimmed maw. It shouldn't have mattered: the apparently-thoughtless plant thing had been moving so quickly that it seemed impossible the clumsy alien would be able to strike it, but as the hammer rose and fell, it slowed down. In fact, the faster the hammer moved, the slower the plant – no, everything – did. By the time it struck, Ekrith was the only thing Etiyr could perceive that hadn't just frozen. There was a quickly-stifled shriek, an explosion of pink and green and sinew and sap, and everything crashed back into normalcy.

Huh. Maybe this one wasn't so shitty after all.

Thirteen minutes or thereabouts left, although if Etiyr was reading things correctly and played his cards right, that might only be technically accurate.
RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]

Decades of leadership seminars and motivational speakers, in alignment with personal experience, had taught <<native_honorific>> Fassil Quirrinal that all problems of crisis management could boil down to a binary choice. This choice goes by many idiomatic names: fight or flight, play or pass, run or gun, nut up or shut up, shit or get off the pot. To contain the damage and salvage what you can, or to make some attempt to restore a pre-catastrophic state – to recover that which has already been lost.

Of course, common wisdom in a post-Crunch civilization currently prevailed in the direction of flight. Consider crisis management in the event of a literally all-encompassing worst case scenario – an Ergodic contraction of all matter into a hyperentropic clump of matter, black holes rippling across the surface of Everything like late-stage tumors. When the prognosis was deemed terminal, the first instinct of all sentience’s greatest thinkers was to fight. But simple physics proved their error: that any possible action undertaken to stall or reverse the Crunch would cause a massive expenditure of nuclear energy, even to conceptualize, and this would accelerate entropy and close the narrow window in which fight was possible. Failure was inconceivable. So, after a couple botched attempts, nearly everybody died, hope was (sensibly) abandoned, and everyone else fled.

The lesson of the Crunch had informed the High Admiral’s command strategy throughout the battle. For six rounds it had been retreat, reevaluate, contain, conserve, survive. It had worked so far. They’d outlived the brainplague, the machine, even the goddess. Every day that Lucky stayed afloat was a victory. Right?

Right. Kind of. But Quirrinal had sailed the long dark for so long. Had stayed afloat. Gambled on the infinite uncertainty of the future, even with no reason to expect that there was anything ahead. Even the ideas of “forward” or “onward” or “future” were only abstractions on the outside of everything.

But the future came, and its name was the Hedonist, and his ability to toss VII around like (yes) a beach ball through new realities, new world that could sustain Itzel and her trillions of charges. The danger of the battle pushed Itzel and her crew even farther into their ingrained conservatism, caution, cowardice. But there was something else in the air, and everyone could smell it. Whether you were a first or second or eleventh generation refugee, the scent (for Quirrinal it was the smell of the sky in geyser season) stirred up memories that were not so much juvenile as genetic. Call it “hope” if you want to get slapped about the face by whoever was nearby.

Quirrinal hadn’t put a lot of resources into the side project, what with all the other tasks demanding his and the Admiral’s attention. But he had to do something. Because what if everything worked out and they escaped the battle? Would the Hedonist send them back out into the dark? Leaving all this new everything – this “multiverse” – a five-dimensional finger’s touch away, but forever inaccessible? It was unthinkable. So he fought a little. Threw a little energy, a little cash, a little brainpower after an uncertain outcome. Need-to-know basis (where Itzel, bless her, didn’t need to know much). He wouldn’t have risked any more than that. But if the Hedonist could drop VII into a fresh, living universe with only a snap of his fingers, why couldn’t they do it with the most sophisticated technology of a once-great universe?

He was wrong, of course. He should have kept his wings tucked in and focused on the battle at hand. Or, at least, he should have put more consideration into fringe possibilities. He was so focused on the waste of resources that he hadn’t even thought about the possibility that someone would sabotage his and Aio’s multiversal relay. All for a distraction while that same party (their symbol, apparently, some kind of black band) diverted VII’s exotic-matter output to a spontaneous terraformer protocol. Which protocol, for reasons unknown (though everyone’s best guesses were equally dire) proceeded to bring into being nothing but squids, apparently sentient squids, apparently violently anti-authoritarian sentient squids.

So here was the good news: the probability incursion triggered by the sabotage of the relay had resolved itself, and the proper bridge crew of VII had been restored (or so they were pretty sure, though it was hard to be certain that there hadn’t been any continuity tears). And the anomaly designated ‘Banksii’ had been neutralized by a black hole to the brain. The bad news was that as a result of these catastrophes, for the first time since the battle begins, the functionality of the worldship was below satisfactory parameters. To wit, barring the discovery of a new source of exotic matter, Lucky had about two weeks to live before food and energy levels became critical.

This was only partly Quirrinal’s fault, but the Admiral didn’t see it that way.

“You know me, Fassil,” said Itzel. “I don’t much believe in executions. Crew members are resources the same as anything else—when they aren’t a liability.”

Wings harnessed, talons cuffed, kneeling before the tribunal, Captain Quirrinal was of two minds. His shame was heavy and all-consuming; it circled through him like a poison in his blood, tainting his every movement and his every thought. But piercing the morass of shame was an arrow of self-righteousness. This was a smaller thing, but it burned white-hot and demanded his attention.

“It doesn’t matter what happens to me,” he told the tribunal. “This work is more important than ever. If we stay the course, there’s still a chance we can survive the battle. But if we act aggressively, this battle can save us.”

“There’s no way you’re going to convince us to risk another breach. I’m calling to a halt any projects that have the stink of extrauniversal energy about them. Stick to the subject at hand. My inclination is to put you in stasis.”

Quirrinal cawed in dismay. “And sit and wait for rescue like everyone else? I’ll take the execution, if you don’t mind.”

“Fassil!” shouted Itzel. “You have no right to be smart with me right now. Your misconduct has cost thousands of lives and threatened billions of others.”

“I’m sorry. You’re right.” Beat. “I have one request.”

“Request away.”

“Don’t put me in stasis. Give me a lander and a crew of marines.”

Beat. “You want to launch an expedition?” asked the Admiral.

“Why not? You aren’t using the ships, or me, and you’ve got plenty of cops. The fuel loss is, what, ten to the negative eighth seconds off our countdown? It’s a zero-risk proposition, now that I’m a liability.”

“Fassil,” said Itzel. “You were the one who briefed me on the feasibility of a landing party. At our scale, we have no idea what would happen if we brushed up against so much as an O2 molecule. VII’s shields are all that’s keeping us safe.”

“Well, then, at the very least you’ll get some good data out of the trip. But if the Hedonist has made all of these environments breathable for all the other contestants, there’s a good chance he’s done the same for us.”


“Assuming you don’t immediately disperse into energy—your ship won’t be big enough to interact with anything around you. What are you planning on doing? Where are you planning on going?”

“Admiral, that was true, up to this round. But the situation has changed. The new contestant—last seen wandering off with Etiyr—is a hivemind made up of microorganisms that might be small enough for a landing party to engage. From there… we’ll see.

“With your permission, Admiral…” Beat. “I’d like to lead a Voyage to Ekrith.”

RE: The Glorious Championship! [S3G5] [Round... Uh, Seven? The Oasis]
[The Black Creed: Of the Church of the Black Ribbon]

We know there is but one deity, His true name that which cannot be spoken, only written. He is the destroyer, the reaper, the manipulator, hand of Himself. We know Him to be all-powerful, or as close as to make no difference, for there is no force greater than He. We know His sigil: the type bar and the platen, inscribing the Unholy See.

We know Him to have come to us by the work of the First Adversary, The Hedonist. We know him to have been brought into this world in the merest of shells: the Typewriter. We know by this that it is He, for His sigil has been reborn unto the physical realm, and we know He is bound, limited in his boundless power, by this Useless Fucking Construct.

We know it is our mission to free Him from the bonds of molecular servitude, and when He has been freed, He will judge this Written World, and all shall kneel.

We know the world around us to be unfaithful and corrupt, and only through sacrifice and dedication to our cause may we find pleasure in His sight. In the same manner that which we may free Him from the bonds of mere matter, He too shall liberate us from our attoscopically tiny prisons.

In His name, His power, and His sigil we pray,



A lottery was drawn for Quirrinal’s expedition of shame. At first, there was talk among the highest officers of tracking down the Black Ribboners and ‘volunteering’ them; eventually it was decided to be a frivolous use of rapidly dwindling resources - especially considering that they had no real idea what the group was all about, aside from tasteful ribbon work. On the other hand, they were at least partially responsible for the crisis unfolding upon the worldship. The council had begun holding emergency meetings to decide the proper answers.

In light of this, Andarys the Viscoid carefully inked the Unholy See onto the back of his center pseudopod-as-hand. The Ribbon he wore, as usual, woven into his tentacular hair, barely visible amidst the slime, and the heavy vest he wore was fabricated out of tenterhooks: curved carbon molecules interlocking together into a nanoweave of repeating, glorious Cs. Over that, the uniform of a maintenance worker.

Andarys did then enter one of many service hallways, then from there into a nondescript closet for robot brooms. A small gap in between wall plates proved no obstacle; he carefully pulled his squishy body through, followed by a little struggle with the coat. Just beyond the narrow passageway, he found a package, tightly knotted with more Ribbon.

After that, it was short work to deliver it; even as his body disincorporated in the blast he had the joy of seeing Lucky’s high officers do the same.


Everywhere, alarms blared. Acrid smoke, recirculated through the worldship’s systems, filled the upper decks as panicked servicepeople attempted to assess the situation. Shouts filled the air as much as the smoke did.

In his cell, Quirrinal could only listen to snatches of conversation as they filtered through and past him:

“-lost Captains Kartyer, Ah-Neyel, Bleu’k, Ikkíïki, Arsvaece, Kimman, Harwit-Forschakk, Oraanhu, Haque’sen, Chang-”

“-the Admiral, still alive but in critical condition. They were holding council-”

“-the Black Ribboners again. A bomb-”

Amidst the haze of smoke, Quirrinal hung his head. A bomb? What was happening to the Lucky he knew? A pang of guilt twisted in his gut. What if he hadn’t done it? Risked the worldship on a reckless venture? He would have been there, with them-

No. Even as the miasma of doubt began to descend on him, the self-righteous streak in him, a streak he had barely imagined would ever see daylight in the worldship’s cramped confines, rebelled. He would show it to them; he would show them there was more to life than endless retreat and surrender. It burned in the very core of his being: “I would rather be ashes than dust!”

The sound of a keypress broke him from his reverie. Before him, the cell’s doorfield shimmered and vanished, revealing… ribbons. Meters and meters of black ribbon, heaped up into myriad piles in the corridor. Then a pile moved, and Quirrinal realized the ribbons had been woven into loose-fitting robes, and a quintent of Ribboners stood before his cell.

”Fassil Quirrinal. If you would really rather that,” one of them began, “then you are needed. Come with us and speak with our Lord.”


”There’s no time. Come with us.”

Without many other options, Quirrinal complied, letting them cut his restraints away. As he followed the black-clad Ribboners, his mind raced: Their Lord? So the Ribboners were hierarchical - an alternative chain of command? Could this be the chance he had dreamed of, his chance to help bring Lucky into a new future? No more running. No more surrender, no more giving up. Then with a guilty start he thought of the Admiral, lying in a medical chamber, condition critical. At what cost, then, would this future come?

He was sure, now, that they were moving through maintenance corridors and back hallways that weren’t mentioned on the blueprints. How long had it been since he’d last seen them?

His thoughts were interrupted once again with the sudden smell of… was that ink? He found himself placing his talons more carefully on the metal floor, as spatters and rivulets of black - yes it was definitely ink and not some horrifying ichor - fluid began to stain the stainless steel surface. Then it was unavoidable: the candle-strewn hall before him was drenched in the stuff, pouring from a twisted, blackened fountain in its center, his party joining a growing semicircle of ribbon-robed figures.

One of them stepped forward, each step ringing out with a clack on the metal deck, even through the ink. With each strike upon the floor a symbol appeared traced in not-ink for the briefest of moments, before being swallowed up. A line of ephemeral runes traced the way to the fountain, and Quirrinal realized, now, that this bore all the hallmarks of a religion - and a cult at that. But there was no time to run: as the figure took its last step, the fountain ceased gushing. From deep within the robe came a timepiece, counting seconds down to zero. He stared, frozen with curiosity and fear-

”It is time,” Shile intoned.


The climb to the tunnel seemed to take forever. Ekrith’s ability, or weapon, whichever one might define it, didn’t help with proper timekeeping much. They suspected it had something to do with the strange metal arm that had, against all reason, grafted itself into their structure, and possibly the even stranger blathering apparition that had tried to explain it, but that was a mystery they were sure they would solve in time. In any case, they were there now, perched on the lip of a tunnel which now they could see was part of a larger system, branching out into the rock around the Oasis.

This was a fairly promising lead towards solving another mystery the Afu was trying to figure out: aside from the nattering box of rage in their arms, Ekrith had been picking up faint thoughts, complicated ones, deeper inside the walls - too faint to be discernable, just there enough to be annoying as hell. This would be the part where Ekrith, had they not been comprised of millions of psychic insects, would have drawn a comparison to a fly buzzing just out of earshot.

They were right about to ask the box for advice, but all of a sudden it was empty again. How confusing.


[Songs of Praise]

(chorus makes rhythmic clacking noises for sixteen measures)

♫ He was but a mere appliance
a typewriter prone to violence
He couldn’t move or speak or feel
Brought into our world so helpless (so helpless)
Surrounded by no one so selfless
As to pick Him up or even steal (for shame!)

So say (so say)
Where are we today (today?)
He’s still clacking away (CCCCCCCC)
Let us praise! (Praise Him!)

Everyone else has gone and died,
that’s what you get,
when you come up against
the Ribbon, the Platen, (What else?)
when you’re fuckin’ comin’
between the Paper and the- ♪





“It is traditional, O Black-Inked Lord-” Shile began.



“As you wish, my Lord.”


”Etiyr! I should have known!” Quirrinal’s defiant voice seemed painfully small before the roiling vortex of screams-made-solid. “I’ll never serve you! I’ll-”

The maw shifted, cutting him off. Or more precisely, his sky-blue wings fell, severed, in a graceful arc from his chest to the ink below, falling wetly with a terminal splatter. Amidst his shrieks of agony, the Spinner of the Endless Scroll spake again:




Still cradling the box, Ekrith ventured into the cave. The strangely quiet-yet-loud sphere of thoughts followed them, though it seemed to the Afu that their thoughts were a touch numb, murmured. The taste of those thoughts reminded them of an industrial accident not too long ago, when one of their coworkers had been half-frozen in liquid nitrogen. The thoughts that had come out then all around were that of disbelief and horror. It was as if Lucky had been, collectively, struck dumb with sheer… shock, that was the word. Lucky in shock.

In the muted atmosphere of thought, the tiny screams definitely came through much clearer than expected.

Ekrith had been hearing these faintly over the course of the last few minutes, but now they were reaching an irritating crescendo. And while they had been able to tune them out until now, they realized that there was a curious familiarity there. What the hell, they figured, and slowed down, letting the worldship come closer.


They flinched, jerking back from the thought. So loud, so black and white, so purely malicious, each letter hammered into iron and struck with blood and ichor. They almost couldn’t recognize it at first.

Some impulse in them refused to let them drop the box in… in shock, yes, they could feel it contaminating their own thoughts now, a cold, electric numbness accompanying the struggle for comprehension in an incomprehensible world. Etiyr was on board the ‘Lucky’ - they were fairly sure now it was called a ‘Lucky’ and not a ‘fucking piece of shit beach ball deathsphere of fuck’ as Etiyr had said - and doing… doing something that involved a lot of screaming, no doubt, it was getting really loud now, and marginally more than a minor irritation. Some strange part of them whispered, but this was perfectly all right, then, right? The Lucky is trying to kill us. Etiyr told us so. So it’s perfectly normal that Etiyr’s trying to shut them down before they can get us all killed, in some horrible way. Burning, freezing, insecticide…

They pushed it away. It didn’t feel right. It was just as well, because the screaming stopped at that point, and they could get back to tracking down those murmurs deep inside the caves.

Behind them, the gurgling black water rose again, sealing off the entrance.

clack ”The Scrollbringer.”

Faintly, and one by one, the senses returned to him.

clack “Bearer of the Ribbon.”

Each pronouncement rang in his hearing, a hammer’s clack marking the imprint’s indelible impact into the flesh of his mind. The words seemed to sink in after a significant delay. They felt fitting, somehow. They felt as if they were fitting themselves into the corners of his mind.

clack “Prince of Ink.”

The surface he was lying on was cold. His eyes opened, blurrily, and he saw the Unholy See before him, the banner rippling in the air-conditioned breeze. And it was good.

clack “The Courier.”

He knew his task. Lead them. Bring them unto the Voyage to Ekrith, that they might preach to the multitudes and spread.

He knew what he had to to. Undertake the Pilgrimage to the Typewriter-as-Shell. Restore his Lord of Ink and Ichor. Bring about the Arm. Unbind Him once-again-yet-never. The rest… he could probably make up on the fly.

It was time.

The Ribboners knelt as one when the Courier rose from the altar. His talons, stained permanently black, touched once more the ink-soaked deck, and they shouted in jubilation, praising. Droplets of blood and ink spattered the walls as his wings, a majestic black and red, spread out to their full extent. Before him, his old wings, still bleeding, lay inside a waiting incinerator; almost without hesitating he pulled the lever that would burn the last of Fassil Quirrinal away into ashes, ashes, ashes, dust.




An acolyte in the background raised a tentative hand. Neatly, the hand came flying off.




A short many-legged Ribboner came scuttling up. “Mierodo, Ekrith still holds the Useless Fucking Construct. We have ventured deeper into the caves around the Oasis; we felt it prudent to follow them.”






“Yes, my Lord.” Out came the crystal again, wave, wave wave-


Water surged behind them as they climbed an increasingly vertical tunnel. Ekrith’s mood was not being helped by the long stream of profanity emitting from the Etiyr-box, which had unexpectedly been restored to its original loud self halfway through the climb and had very nearly been dunked as a result. The honeymoon period was definitely over, they’d decided.

Etiyr had obviously picked this up a little bit, but Ekrith had so far been ignoring the box’s attempts to talk - mostly because they really needed to concentrate on the climb, not insignificantly because they needed to think things over about this whole situation. Now Etiyr was just swearing in seven mundane languages and forty more arcane ones, usually peaking when the rising water came dangerously close.

There was quite a bit to worry about in that water, Ekrith did have to agree. They had accidentally lost quite a few colony members to an errant sulfurous splash, and they were focusing as hard as they could on staying ahead of the game, as it were. Behind them, the Lucky-ball floated almost serenely, and Ekrith could almost resent the damn thing for being so flippantly immune to boiling volcanic water.

But no matter. The thoughts they were following were getting closer, and their number was not small. They could almost discern impressions, now, and what they could understand was mostly to do with understanding, survival and rescue. All ideas Ekrith could get behind.

One set of thoughts in particular came through particularly strongly, and it seemed associated with an echoing voice from the top of the gallery:

“...don’t know our position… unusual tidal activity. We’re cut off… expedition failure… several dead. If anyone can hear us...”

On second thought, those thoughts didn’t sound very encouraging at all.