(back to Zool V Chapter Five)
Meanwhile, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a young woman sat up on a metal floor and looked ruefully at her broken sunglasses. "Belgium!" she swore, then looked a little surprised. <I beg your pardon?> asked a large hairy cyborg, with much grating and spinning of hard drive.
"I don't get it... I meant to say "Belgium", but what came out was "Bel... bloody Belgium, it happened again."
<Who are you?> The cyborg sat up with a creak, and surveyed the long grey metal corridor dubiously. "Someone lying in a corridor with a really bad hangover," the woman told the cyborg, and got to her feet carefully. <How does a corridor get a hangover?>
That's what I wondered. came a deep, mournful voice from all around them. "Don't be Belgiuming stupid, I meant me... OK..." the woman held a hand up hesitantly. "Short term recall... not excellent now maybe, but talking corridors... not on my 'normal' list.
Oh no, I'm not the corridor, the voice sounded amused. That would be silly. I was just making the same comment as your scruffy little computer. Let the game begin.
"Game? What do you mean, g--" the woman broke off as darkness abruptly descended. She felt for her eyes, and found something covering them. A helmet... a horned helmet. She staggered as, unmistakeably, the floor began to move. "What the Belgium's going on?" <Belgium as an expletive! I remember that!> she heard the cyborg shout. <It's a Douglas Adams joke.> "Do you think it's relevant?" <Almost certainly not. Just local colour... er, why can't I see?> The young woman was just about to answer him when another urgent voice broke in.
"Deborah... hey, you! Sidestep to your left, quick." She looked around in confusion. "It's Alan!" the voice stressed. "Left, now!" Well, she supposed, her name might be Deborah. She quickly did so. As she moved, there was a vicious whirring sound, and something shot past to her right, something presumably attached to the stationary corridor wall they were racing past, something jagged and metallic that nicked her arm.
Well guided, commented the loud, sardonic voice.
Then the voice of 'Alan' shouted again.
"Now, duck down and sidestep right... now, Prometheus!" -- WJR
"The Schizoid Man?" a voice enquired behind the two cyborgs on the Portmeirion park bench. "Heavens, no, this one's 'The Girl Who Was Death', I think. I presume you two fellows wandered in from another scenario. Come, I'll escort you back." (But we've only just... oh frell.) Isidore ran a hand through his hair, and sighed. (Mind if I ask who you are?) "My name is Eelalog Orusagoon," the little old man with absurd square-rimmed spectacles announced mysteriously. "I used to be Wiki's Zen Master. Its mentor. I was banished here during the Zool Wars to oversee the Artificial Intelligence 'Six of One' convention..." (Well, we weren't invited, that's all. We've only just arrived here. Wiki must have wanted us out of its hair, or whatever serves a gestalt hypermind for one. Artu, you're being awfully quiet.) Sorry, said Artu, still clutching his head, headache. This is all still a bit much. Isidore took him by the arm, half-carrying him, and followed the Zen Master away from the cricket pitch. "Do you play cricket, by-the-by?" the old man enquired. (Never tried,) Isidore confessed. "No matter. I shall take you to Number Two: he'll put you in the picture..." No! Artu cried out suddenly. Not Number Two...!! (Artu, what's eating you?) Isidore demanded, but Artu had seemingly passed out. Orusagoon wordlessly helped Isidore carry the body.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Prometheus had just run against something. "Whoa, stop," Alan called from somewhere above them both, "this one's a friend, I'm told. You've got to answer the riddle to get the Eye Shield. Drat, where's Deborah?" he added in an undertone.
<Err... who are you?> Prometheus asked, timidly. Wouldn't you like to know, the sardonic voice they had heard before said to him. I'm the one who's meant to ask the questions. Actually makes a change to be asked one. Brain the size of a planet, and they expect me to make up riddles for unintelligent humans with craniums the size of... <You're Marvin!> Prometheus exclaimed. <The Paranoid Android! I've heard so much about you!> Really? Marvin said, uninterestedly. Right, Prometheus. Your riddle. What is the square of Zool? <The square of Zool...?> Prometheus stammered. <Do I get a multiple-choice question on that one?> According to the boss, you get one guess. What a depressingly silly rule. <If I get it wrong?> Prometheus asked. Something unnecessarily stupid and painful happens to you, and you lose some of your life-force. I don't know why I do this wretched job... Marvin droned. All I know is that if you fail, Wiki gets it in the nuts. Sad, really.
Prometheus gulped. This was rather more important than he'd thought. --TL
Meanwhile, somewhere else strange, Wiki Zen Master Orusagoon led Isidore and the semi-conscious Artu through a door marked 2 in the side of a grand building. (I don't like dealing with middle-men,) Isidore complained, as they entered a futuristic circular room with a central desk. (Can't we speak to number one? Who is number one?)
You are number twelve, said a sinister voice with a Yorkshire accent, as a great black dome rose up behind the desk and turned, to reveal an old man in a dark blue raincoat and flat cap. Hello, Neddy.
(Neddy? Who the bizdec are you calling Neddy?) Him. The man in the chair pointed to Orusagoon. Neddy Eelalog Oruseagoon. "That's Orusagoon!" snapped the old man. "Kindly don't forget it, Grytpype-Thynne." Grytpype-Thynne, for it was he wearing the badge of 'number two' and sitting in the bubble chair, sat back and twirled his university scarf.
Gryt... Grytpype-Thynne? Artu gasped from the floor. I remember you from my twentieth-century pop-culture archive...
(Do you have room for any other information in that brain of yours, bro?) Isidore interjected with mild asperity. (Who is he?)
A terrible fictional villain and con-man... but... he was supposed to be played by Peter Sellers...
Grytpype-Thynne coughed embarrassedly, pulled his tweed flat cap down a little and moved the Wallace and Gromit model off his desk. There was a spelling mistake on the memo telling them which actor to use as the model for my physical form, all right? Now, listen carefully, Neddy...
(You said he was 'Neddy'... I'm Isidore!)
Shut up and listen like a good boy, Neddy.
(You mean you're a cyborg?)
Of course, Grytpype-Thynne purred. We all are... well, except him. He indicated Orusagoon. He's more in the nature of a convicted felon... this is an AI Prisoner Convention. We've been acting out old episodes, and generally having quite splendid fun.
(And I need to know this because...) Isidore sighed. (Sorry, I know you're working up to the evil masterplan/death threat and the maniacal laugh, but I've already had quite enough of that for one day.)
Very well! snapped Grytpype. Another door slid open and a humanoid figure staggered into the room. If you get the right answer, Isidore, you and your friend can leave... whoever he is.
(What do you...) Isidore broke off, staring at the new arrival, and then down at Artu on the floor. (Artu?)
You must decide which one is real... choose wrongly, and you remain with us until the end of the convention... and since the bars slam shut at the end of the credits of "Fall Out" meaning there is no real ending... that will not be for a very, very long time. He started to laugh maniacally, then stopped. Oh, and by the way... if you fail, Wiki gets it in the head. Sad, really.
In another elsewhere altogether, Deborah climbed quickly down a ladder into a dark tunnel. Getting out of the simulation hadn't been difficult, although she hoped Prometheus could cope alone. Well, if she was right she'd be able to rejoin him quite soon. She began moving quickly. In the distance, a figure loomed, tall, dark, and menacing, a black-cloaked figure carrying a scythe. Deborah sighed.
"Funnily enough, I'm not scared," she remarked. "Try another shape... or just stop manipulating us and go home." The figure turned to face her.
"Ah, Deborah... how nice of you to drop in."
Deborah smiled thinly. "Oh, this isn't a social call. Strictly business." -- WJR
Alan-Breck uttered a low moan as he awoke, rubbing a left ear that had taken most of the weight of his somnolent head. Power drain... must have gone into hibernate mode until he could recharge. Where was he? A CGI face loomed peacefully in hologram over his head. The Fiction... the game, Prometheus' puzzle...!! He gasped aloud and sat bolt upright, his hair flying in all directions. Were his fellow-agents of Wiki still out there?
The beautifully-modulated voice seemed to come from all around him. "Who are you?" he cried. "What are you doing to us?"
"I'm asking them anyway!" Alan roared, losing patience. <Err... Alan...help?> came the voice of Prometheus over the comms link. <Are you still receiving me? I need a hint... on a question of Zool...>
What is this, Twenty Questions? demanded Number Six for the umpteenth time. (I have to know,) Isidore said stonily, his face set. (How did we get here?) Questions, questions, questions! exclaimed Number Seven exasperatedly. You were never as paranoid as that even when you began training, Is. (Which was when?) Commencing September 14th, 2147. You've been in the program for about 96 hours, which equates to about six months in human time, although being a cyborg you can learn at an even faster rate. There. Satisfied? (Correct in every detail,) Isidore conceded. (Six: why are you so afraid of Number Two?) Was I? Number Six cocked his head. (You fainted at the mere mention of him.) Perhaps my senses getting ahead of me. I mean, I know my 'Prisoner', so when we arrived on a place that was the carbon copy of the Village... (...you got a little too caught up in your character. Riight.) Isidore stared at them both. (I'll not ask you two again. How did we get here?)
A slightly round and nervous male face with thinning hair, one that was beginning to ring bells in Deborah's mind, something to do with California, peered out from beneath the dark hood, abutting unnervingly onto a bare skeleton from the neck down.
"Business?" the pleasant voice replied from the man's lips. "Rhymes too much with 'stress' for my liking. We're running the Parallel Absurd Quest program at the moment, while we recharge the What? field for our voyage. I told the rest of the Fiction Fellow Ship that they should have gone with a Bistromathic Drive, but did they listen?" He sighed, ghostily. "Ah, such is life." "Absurd Quest Program...?" Deborah repeated with growing unease. "Yes," the man said dolefully, in a voice not at all unlike that of the not-corridor object, "meant to be one of the most powerful sources of What? energy possible. One of the least efficient, more like. At this rate we'll never make our mission deadline..." "Perhaps I could speed things up a little," Deborah said with a winning smile: at least, she hoped it was a winning smile - she'd barely ever had practice. "Could you show me to the central control-room? I happen to be a leading expert on What? energy."
"Pray folloooow meee..." echoed the man, floating down the tunnel. --TL
Number Six sighed. It's perfectly simple, Is, when the Endless was returning us to our natural bodies she was hit by an energy blast from Sally... which caused her to do one of her instantaneous teleportation tricks... and dragged all of us part of the way with her because we were linked at the time. We woke up in that cricket field... and now they're trying to get this duplicate on the team to sabotage Wiki.
Isidore turned to number seven challengingly. (Well?) he asked. (I rather thought that made good sense, didn't you?) He thrust his head forward aggressively. (Any thoughts?)
Well... I Number Seven looked trapped. But what you have to remember, Isidore... is that...
(You haven't the faintest idea what happened to us, have you?) Isidore snarled at the 'new' Artu. Behind him, Number Six looked on wonderingly. (No, you haven't, and, you know what, I'm not surprised...) He gave Number Seven a sudden smile. (Because I haven't the faintest idea either, and my senses are just as good as yours, and since Artu was with me, if I didn't know, you wouldn't either, Number Seven, my friend.) He turned back to Number Six. (Nice try, but Artu's explanations never make that much sense.) Number Six stared, and Grytpype-Thynne suddenly reached into his desk, pulling out a slim black gun and tossing it to the fake Artu.
Destroy them and I'll forgive your failure! Number Six raised the gun- and Orusagoon held out a hand.
"Stop. I've put up with this game until now, but if you're going to cheat then I'm going to take sides."
Don't interfere, Neddy!
"Don't threaten me, Grytpype." Orusagoon stretched his hand out towards Number Six. Isidore and Artu could see thin strands of glittering thread wound between the fingers, spreading out into the void. "I am a Wiki Zen master... the Force of TwicI is mine to command."
Don't try to frighten me with your sorcerous ways, Neddy... Number Six, kill! Six squeezed the trigger, but Orusagoon's hand stiffened into a claw, and he spoke in a voice like thunder. "I name you Number Six!" Number Six screamed then, tumbling backwards into a deep blue underlined void which closed behind him. There was a silence. Grytpype-Thynne sunk back into the depths of his chair, as Orusagoon turned to the two cyborg travellers.
"Behold the power of Wiki Zen... I have cast him out on to his own page... and there he will remain unless he can find and complete a backlinks search, a quest which may take him years to complete."
(Then... then we're still in a digital universe?)
"Ah, but which universe, my friend?"
And, on the flight deck of the Fiction Fellow Ship, Deborah gazed down into the monitoring centre of the Absurd Quest Program, and muttered "What?"
"That's great," the man-skeleton beside her enthused. "Keep it up and you'll have us underway in no time!" -- WJR
Continued in Zool V Chapter Seven...
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