(back to Zool V Chapter Three)
(Take cover!) Isidore yelled as the Worm swept over them like a great solid, many bodied insectoid wind. All around them, the armies seemed to fade away, vanishing, erased into the ether as the worm took up more and more of the memory of Zool. Isidore fell on to his hands and knees, his own datastructure changing, and watched as the Worm swept on, heading inexorably towards the portal to the real universe. It overtook the flitter and consumed it. He saw Ringo Starr, Superoaf, flailing in mid-air for a moment, and then falling, his form changing as he did so. Ringo stopped in the distance, a few feet from the ground, in the form of a small, purple robed floating alien, his face shrouded in shadow beneath a big floppy red hat, and a large 'O' on the front of his robe.
<Ow... what was that? BritishWeather?> he heard Prometheus' voice moan, and looked round. Isidore stopped. Prometheus' voice appeared to be emerging from a small, battered Ewok.
(What the bizdec is going on?) Isidore looked at himself. A volkswagen in lurid yellow. He made an effort to change his shape, but instead of his body flowing seamlessly into its new form, he instead shifted awkwardly, clunking into the shape of a small black and yellow robot. (I look like a flipping bumblebee.)
"You look," the voice of Alan-Breck emerged from a very disgruntled looking Klingon, "like one of those robots. This is why Prometheus is now an Ewok and I appear to have a Cornish pasty sellotaped to my cranium... when the Worm swept by it must have corrupted our physical datascape."
<Oh great,> Prometheus carped. <Come on, let's get back to the real world as soon as possible.>
(No, hold on!) Isidore shouted. (It's not that easy... we didn't link to the net, we went into it... I don't know how Zool changed our bodies into data, but I do know if we just leave it'll just... reverse the process... turn these forms into matter. We'll be stuck like this forever.) There was a pause while they all considered this horrific fate. (We've got to get into Zool's digital memory core somehow, and undo the damage.) There was another pause while they all ran through the last few hours in their somewhat altered heads and tried to decide whose turn it was to come up with a plan. Finally Isidore sighed. (Well, in the absence of anything else I suggest we go with Artu's plan. If he's on form it'll solve the current problem while causing another worse one, but let's deal with things one thing at a time.) There was another uncomfortable pause.
<Er... Artu hasn't suggested a plan,> Prometheus pointed out.
(He hasn't?) Isidore looked round. (Come on Artu, you've always... got.. a ... plan.) He stopped, looking down in silence at the sad shape on the ground which had used to be a cyborg warrior. (Artu.)
"It's terrible..." Alan-Breck's voice was hushed. "Perhaps it... would be kinder to put him out of his misery now."
What? Artu's voice, weak and shaking with horror, startled all of them. Not a chance... I can manage. You all have to cope with these terrible new bodies as well, I'm sure I can manage. Snarf-snarf. -- WJR
Isidore sighed, (Come on then, bro,) and picked up Artu in one of his carapaced hands, Prometheus in the other, and set them on his shoulders. (Let's go find that memory core, shall we?) Ringo pointed silently and mysteriously towards his left, and off they went in that direction.
Wiki woke up shaking as if from a nightmare. ++Ouch, it said to itself, ++that was quite some worm. Thank goodness for security patches. To its troops it sent: ++What is your status?
"Um, sitrep has been better, sir," wheezed Nice Guy Controller. "On our way with minimal delay. Over and out." Behind him Mr Chrome was staggering to his feet, as if he had just begun to recover from drinking an entire bottle of Stroh.
Dispirited, our heroes trudged onwards through the desolate corridors of the penitentiary of the death planet Zool. What - snarf - happened to all the inmates? squeaked Artu into Isidore's left ear. (Frelled if I know,) grumbled Isidore. (I wish you weren't so squeaky.) "He's right, though," said Alan. "Where are they all?" <Do you think the Auteuse released them against us?> enquired Prometheus. "That's not her way," Alan-Breck replied gravely, whipping out a large and wicked-looking Klingon weapon, a bat'telh if memory served Artu's recollections of old sci-fi serials. "I smell treachery afoot." <That's probably what Miss Sally was thinking when the Yellow Submarine arrived while Artu was singing its signature song,> Prometheus noted. (Yes, thank you Prom,) Isidore snapped, gagging the Ewok-form cyborg neatly with one hand. (Now shush.)
Stealthily, they approached the nearest junction, where their present tunnel met a diagonal corridor, fearing what they might find at its crossroads. A weird moaning was beginning to fill the air: Alan stepped into a fighting stance, the bat'telh before him gripped tightly in both hands. "Show yourself! What and who are you?"
"...In reverse order of asking..." came the eerie voice from ahead of them, "I'm an agent of Wiki, and I'm bloody ill. Anyone seen the aspirin?"
Isidore awkwardly aimed a headlight forward. The figure stepped into its beam... --TL
Meanwhile, on Earth, a council of war took place. Captain Polygon, a distant relative of the Crimson Binome, explained the situation to his troops.
"Gentlemen, what we have feared for so long has come to pass. An unforseen terror has swept over us all." He paused, and looked confused. "Well, one of those, anyway. Google has risen against us." There was a snigger from the audience. Captain Polygon glared at its author sternly. Then he went on. "Presently, Google is being delayed by... er.. well, water-pressure based metal life-forms..." There was another mutter from the audience, and Polygon snapped. "All right, by bloody living steam trains then!... ahem... none the less, Wiki informs us that an even more dangerous threat is on its way... and this threat absorbs all data... even them. Gentlemen, we need a hero... and in the long lost past of our relations with Zool, we have a hero, a hero long dead, but cloned from his original cells by Dr Rael using a technique he developed from skim-reading Dune Messiah. We prepared him in advance, arranged so that he should be in the prime of his life at the time of our darkest hour. Gentlemen, I give you, the new CAPTAIN ZAP !"
A short, tubby elderly man in glasses and an ill-fitting uniform shuffled into the room. "The apocalypse came a bit later than we'd anticipated," Polygon noted to his audience apologetically. Zap straightened up and barked out a series of orders, and a small group of heavily armed troopers followed him into the room. "Gentlemen," Polygon told them. "You are the last line of defence against this nightmare which Zool has unleashed upon us."
"Understood, Captain Polygon," Zap told him self-importantly. "We won't let you down. Sergeant Bilbo, roll call!"
"We're doomed... doomed..." one of the soldiers sighed.
Meanwhile, on Zool, the shadowy figure moved to the corridor intersection. (Identify yourself immediately!) snarled Isidore. (We are on an urgent mission, and if you impede us you will be...) Isidore, give your voice a rest and -snarf-snarf- calm down, for Wiki's sake, Artu sighed. The figure shuffled towards them.
"You... mentioned Wiki... and that name... Isidore?" The voice was echoing less now, although there was still something distinctly peculiar about it. The figure- a tall, looming shape in a black robe, leaned closer, and then sat down in the corridor abruptly. "Is my head still attached to my body?" The owner of the now recognisably female voice pushed back the cloak. "Sorry about the silly outfit... I was moonlighting as the Ghost of Christmas Future when the call came in." She looked up at them. "Look, I've just come through more reality distortions than I can count on the fingers of both hands... and I had a hangover to start with. Isn't there any chance of an aspirin?"
I'm afraid -snarf-snarf- that I've not got any aspirin... we're all cyborgs. Snarf snarf. A pause. Well, when we're how we're meant to be we're all cyborgs. The girl groaned. <Why do you have that weird swirly tattoo under your eye?> Prometheus asked the pale skinned, dark haired girl.
"Because, Mr Paddington Bear," the girl snapped, "It looks good. The name's Dea... er... Deborah. That's it. Deborah." She put a small suitcase down. "I've got a radio-comms set in here- we should be able to contact Wiki direct and ask its advice."
(So, you're 'Deborah', are you?) Isidore looked at the suitcase. (Why then does your luggage label say 'Death'?) 'Deborah' swore. "Bloody hell, I knew I'd forgotten something."
"Death works for the Wiki?" Alan blinked.
"Part exchange... it used to be OUSFGWiki, and no member of OUSFG had ever died when they started it... so the Founder gave me this job instead." -- WJR
(So do you know what's been happening here?) Isidore said, tossing Prometheus back as he did so into the unexpected grasp of Alan-Breck, who nearly dropped the Ewok out of surprise. (Are you responsible for all these disappearances?) "Urgh. I'd rather you didn't shout. No, I'm not. Normally, I'd say my brother Destruction has something to do with it, but he's more likely these days to send an agent. I have no idea what happened here: these inmates didn't die, they were just - erased." She scowled at the nearest cell. "I think the multiverse is being thrown out of balance by all this charivari, and if we don't sort it soon even I may find myself getting into trouble. Let's go."
A dull stomping throb echoed through the empty precincts. "Hey!" yelled Mr Lead. "Anybody home?" "Are we too late?" Mr Chrome said fearfully. "I think there's a bug in the system," Nice Guy Controller said gravely. (eep) said a white cartoon caterpillar pitifully before them. "Say, isn't that whatsisname from 'Dangermouse'?"
(eeepp) the caterpillar squeaked, even as a round from a Zap(TM) gun obliterated it. "Right men," said a rather purple-in-the-face Captain Zap (in whose honour the gun had been named), "clear the area. I plan to get rid of this menace once and for all. Create a cordon and set the fuse on our Entropy Cluster-Bomb. I don't care who we take with it. We've no time to lose."
"You can say that again," said the Auteuse nastily. Something glimmered for a nanosecond in her hand, and Mr Pewter reeled with unnecessary grandiloquence, waving his arms and going "Aaaaarghhh" as the flick-knife which had just landed in his guts killed him. "I hate robots, don't you?"
Captain Zap fainted. "Sir!" one of his troopers said, rushing to his side. "Are you all right?" In fact, Zap 2 had just perished of a heart attack, but there was something wrong. He wasn't dying. Death was currently accompanying a Klingon, an Ewok, an Autobot and a Snarf through the corridors of Zool, and was getting a little absent-minded. Instead, Zap became the first Zool zombie. "I must obey... I must obey..." he said flatly, walking around in circles with his arms out horizontally in front of him. "I must... attack the lamppost. I must... plug all evil dictators into the Matrix. I must... invade Poland. Error... Error... Erroooorr...." Two Autons picked him up. "You will obey my orders now," the Auteuse said smoothly. "Kill everything."
"Kill everything," repeated Zap Zombie. "I obey."
Two rather disreputable-looking humanoids walked past in the distance, little knowing the doom about to befall them.
..."Goddamn," I said to Doc Gonzo, downing another bottle of Glenflibble to pass the time, "I need more drugs. Has the Second Coming happened yet?" --TL
As the Autons and Zap Zombie advanced on the rest of Wiki's human and cyborg troops, two of the clone Zap's army fled the scene. "We're doomed, doomed..." moaned Private Frasier. "Shut up!" hissed Private Crane. "If we keep quiet we'll have a chance. They ran down into the tunnels and catacombs of Zool, and almost crashed straight into what appeared to be a large robot made out of yellow Volkswagen Beetle parts.
(Who the blazes are you?) Isidore snapped- he'd been having a very trying day. Behind him and the small, whimpering hairy creature he carried, an Ewok and a Klingon were walking soberly beside a short, pale faced young woman who was typing frenetically at a computer held at hand height for her by the Ewok.
"Wiki's army... Rank, Private... names... Frasier, Crane." the girl murmured rubbing her head with some pain. "They'll die in about five seconds."
"What do you--"
"I told you we were doo--" A large piece of ceiling fell as an explosion shook the tunnel, and the two soldiers vanished from view.
Very -snarf-snarf- efficient, Artu remarked. How did you get a hangover anyway?
"In my professional capacity," 'Deborah' told him. "I skip about through time a bit... do the job in the order I like, really... and I was in the twenty-first century seeing to this actor... I forget the name. You know, he had that scarf... and the funny boogly eyes..." They all looked blank. 'Deborah' shrugged. "Anyway, he was supposed to die in the pub, so I went along... got there a bit early. He'd had a few, and he recognised me... guessed why I was here and asked if I'd join him in a drink first. Didn't seem polite to refuse, really, when you think of what I'd come to do... and I didn't think any mortal could outdrink one of the Endless."
<We get the picture> Prometheus observed, drily. <Does that happen often?>
"You do not want to know."
"May I suggest we carry on with this discussion later?" Alan-Breck raised a huge hand. "From the sounds, and those two unfortunates back there, I should say Wiki's launched a counter-strike. We need to get to the central core of Zool fast so we can get back to normal, and then..."
"We're too late," 'Deborah' said fatalistically, looking at her computer screen. In her line of work, she had got very good at 'fatalistic'. "It is destiny that we wioll haven be already lost." A beat. "Time travel grammar is a pain."
(Too late how?) Isidore rounded on them. (I can't believe that either the Worm or Google would have got through Earth's defences this quickly.)
"It's not Earth... and the Worm's gone. It seems to have evolved... focused itself entirely on to the Wiki and infected it."
(It should be possible to undo the damage.)
"That's what Wiki thought," 'Deborah' told him. "It applied security patches, and they worked for a time... but the Worm redoubled its efforts."
(This is a damage report you're getting from Wiki?) Isidore walked back to her.
"Not exactly, no." She showed him the screen, and his immobile robotic face none the less managed to show horror. "I said I can hop through time at will... this area is confused in time, I cannot see clearly, but I do know that the evil digital entity you know as Saitra, an entity of your ancient past, in fact once time travelled back from the distant future."
Well, what's that got to do with... snarfing hell! Artu broke off as he stared at the screen. Death- 'Deborah' had opened a communications channel with the Wiki for help and advice, and now displayed was the response. He and the others gazed on the thought processes of the Universe-ruling uber data grid after the depredations of the Worm on its personality profiles.
++HaHaHaHa I AM THE LADY SAITRA Ha Ha Ha ALL YOUR SUGAR Cubes are belong to us oh my! Herring and lettuce, rosemary and thyme, are you going to scarborough sheringham cromer I'm fairly sure that's Cromer I am the Lady Saitra, Resistance is Useless, You will all be gathered into my MetaLibrary
In the distance, the sounds of violence had died away. Instead there came a low, unearthly howling. Artu continued to stare at the screen.
I think, he observed, that was too much William Gibson before bedtime. I have a headache.
"Join the club," muttered Death. -- WJR
Continued in Zool V Chapter Five
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