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 Post subject: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:09 pm 
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There was some conversation on the Director's Cut the other day about "What happened to Zeta and Dana"? I grabbed the thread from the other forum, made a few edits, and here it is...

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 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:20 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
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Zeta and Dana at the Mall of America
Editor's note: What follows is the transcript of the fanfic written by several (at least 7) people over the course of 3 – now, 7 - years following one freaking throwaway comment in the 8/26/04 strip of the Narbonic comic by one Shaenon K. Garrity. The original of the story can be found at ... 28&t=17233 .

If you are offended by swear words, be warned they lie within; on the other hand, if you are *that* easily offended, I don't think you're a long-time Narbonic reader in the first place.

What follows has been cleaned up, any non-story elements (commentary, notes along the lines of “wow, nice box I've written somebody into, your turn!”, etc) removed, and certain spelling and other internally-inconsistent artifacts of the original have been cleaned up – notably, Brendon's name has been consolidated to “Brendon”, and Zeta's wig being used as a bandage just before the ball pit is replaced by... well, read the story. Anything else that doesn't seem right is probably due to this being a different universe than ours, and it's just a fanfic, you really should relax. Breaks/handoffs are noted by a Posted: line and the author's handle. I have added another segment to the end... I hope this prompts someone else to add on.

The moral of the story is, of course, watch those random throwaway comments; it can turn out just as interesting as the original story... as Douglas Adams found. (Look you up “Starship Titanic” - a novel and a computer game and a business, all from one footnote.)

Stephen “LeftContact” Boyd, 1/31/2011

Zeta and Dana at the Mall of America
By: (in order of first contribution) Jeffrey “Channing” Wells, Stephen “LeftContact” Boyd, James “jhrice” Rice, Shaenon K. “Shaenon” Garrity, J. S. “Fortunato” Towne, Eric “Demiurgent” Burns, “Peni Griffin”, “AnneChen67”, and anyone else who wants to join in after.
Based on the Narbonic comic strip by Shaenon K. Garrity.

Last edited by leftcontact on Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:21 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Posted: Fri Aug 27, 2004 11:57 am by channing
Okay, there has got to be a fanfiction here somewhere.

<Exchange between Channing and Shaenon about Mundementia One and Channing not wanting to work on it deleted – this is the last time I'll note such deletions – Ed.>
* * *
"Okay, so," I sighed, "Why are we here at all, again?"

"SIMPLE!!!" shrieked the gerbil, currently swinging from one of my belt loops. "My admittedly brilliant experiment to create a creativity-powered deathray at the Burning Man convocation suffered from one miniature flaw..."

A deep breath.


"So...?" I said, taking a drag on my cigarette in patent defiance of Mall policy. You gotta fight the small fights too.

"So, my faithful transcriber -- one fulgent paradigm shift later -- I have determined that I must harness a force even greater and more horrible than the combined creative energy of Burning Man!"

"The soul-crushing banality of Midwestern capitalism?" I offered.

Dana scampered up my arm in a twinkling and clung securely to my face, staring me in one eye.

"Exactly!" she hissed. "And with such a plentiful supply of raw material nearby, construction will be finished before the authorities even suspect that anything is amiss!"

I knew what was coming. I didn't like the looks of it, but that didn't matter. People don't like the look of trains speeding toward them, either. Doesn't change the hitting part.

Dana jumped to my shoulder, drew an exultant breath, and pointed forth with one tiny claw.

"ZETA!" she shrieked. "TO THE LEGO PITS!!!"

Posted: Sat Aug 28, 2004 4:23 am by leftcontact

These proved all too close at hand. In a twinkling, Dana was buried in the in the nearest pit, which exploded in a shower of tiny plastic pieces.

Muffled musings meandered from beneath the mounds of material. "Ok... eight-bumps, six-bumps... plenty of those little antenna thingys, wheels, and ... Hmm.... We're going to have to liberate some extra pieces, but these should be good to start -" Dana broke off, and surfaced. "Please tell me that they have... YES! Mindstorms!"

Now, *this* was starting to sound interesting, much more so than other recent attempts, such as the one to reintegrate zombie animals by time-shifting their component parts in various fast-food franchises. We both had been honestly shocked at the amount of vegetable filler in the average McBurgerRoyale; but the bark-covered, half-cow-half-chicken with a curly tail that had come clomping out of the freezer had been a horrifying marvel to behold. It would have been more marvelous if it had been more than six inches tall; the soy plant it was attached to, however, was growing luxuriously. As we headed down the road, it had broken the front plate glass of the resturant and was headed skyward.

As I seated myself on a nearby plastic, bumpy Lego bench, a small brown-and-black blur had zoomed towards the Mindstorms temporary Kiosk. "Did they... yes, there's still a programming unit here... This Might Just Work."

She looked at me. Madness had taken hold; her eyes were all pupil. Well, they normally were anyway, but there was a particular focus to them that indicated Interesting Times ahead.

"Zeta? Go to the nearest Spencer's; I'll need a few things that they should have. In a mall like this, there should be one nearby." She started to rattle off a shopping list.

Last edited by leftcontact on Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:22 pm 
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Posted: Sun Aug 29, 2004 2:42 pm by channing

"Welcome-to-Spencer's-where-Life-is-a-Party-and-We're-Making-it-Fun," intoned a monotone voice at my right shoulder. "How-is-it-Possible-That-I-Could-Help-You-Today?"

I whipped around. The clerk had entered my personal space without tripping my peripheral vision; I chalk this up to the fact that I was wearing a goddamn Lego jeweler's loupe over my right eye.

The oddly pasty-faced clerk proceeded to stand there, staring at me. This lasted for about eight seconds. I started to feel self-conscious -- terribly weak, I know -- and moved to tug at the elastic band holding the device to my face.

"It's a spectrometer," I said, pushing the little chunk of red plastic bricks up to my forehead, probably causing me to resemble either a bizarre red-hued My Little Pony Unicorn or the possessor of the world's single largest forehead zit.

Still, he continued to stare. There was an uncomfortable pause.

"I'm... analyzing the gas content of these plasma ball lamps," I said, words tumbling from my mouth willy-nilly in the face of that terrible, blank look. "You look at the light that the electric spark creates through this little slit in the Lego thing, and it tells you what kind of gas is in the ball."

More staring.

"Most of your balls have too much nitrogen in them," I said, helplessly. "I need one with, um, more argon, and --"

I clenched my teeth together, finally, sawing this otherwise interminable babble cleanly in half. "You know what?" I continued. "You're really kind of freaking me out. Go stand over there or something." I waved at him dismissively. "Just go."

And he did, his expression never changing. Weird.

I took a quick glance around the store. God, what an awful place. When I was a kid they used to at least have heavy metal posters in here, which came in extra handy during my brief and regrettable childhood KISS phase. Now, it was all just "wacky, trendy novelty gifts" which is bourgeois executive-speak for "utter crap".

I dropped the spectrometer over my eye again, and, after a couple more minutes of searching, I managed to locate a lamp with enough argon in it to please my gerbil biographee. I added it to my small armload of other shit, which included, but was not limited to, a pair of walnuts in a gag-gift box (I will not give the associated obscene pun credence by repeating it here), a puffy hat with a 'redneck' slogan on it (purpose uncertain), a set of tumblers with clothes-disappearing women on them, a novelty bottle of habanero pepper sauce ("I Pwn Your A$$" brand) and one of those swingy chromium pendulum things that goes on forever when you push it.

The crap I go through. This is not something they would have taught me in journalism school.

And the sad thing was, I couldn't count myself done yet. Trying desperately to balance all this Spencer shit along with an earlier purchase from Sam Goody (the newest release from mediocre and inexplicably popular rap artist Tōn Def) I hesitantly approached the weird clerk who had been bothering me earlier.

"Welcome-to-Spencer's-where-Life-is-a-Party-and-We're-Making-it-Fun," rattled off the clerk, as though he'd never seen me before in his life. "How-is-it-Possible-That-I-Could-Help-You-Today?"

"Look," I said, determined to match weird for weird. "The gerbil who's making me buy all this questionable shit so that she can construct her Lego death-ray needs something really soul-crushingly obnoxious. We're looking for a higher reading on the 'I Weep For All Humanity' scale than I can get out of your Funny-Slash-Not Funny keychains, your 'My Kid Can Beat Up Your Honor Student' bumper stickers, and even your," and on this, I had to grit my teeth, "television remote controls shaped like a headless lady's torso and you have to push her bikini top up and poke her nipples to change channels."

I paused to breathe and to reorganize my armload of crap.

"Can you do that for me?" I asked, trying to meet his gaze.

Posted: Wed Sep 01, 2004 5:52 pm by shaenon
You know, I hate to encourage you guys, but...

Under normal circumstances, I prefer to maintain a certain sprezzatura in the face of general public slack-jawedness. Mescaline used to help. But I haven't come within shouting distance of normal circumstances since the gerbil, and the disengaged observer in the back of my brain has noted a steady erosion of what was once an unflappable sheet of cool.

Beyond that, I had spotted myself in the reflection of a disco ball, and something, most likely a small animal clambering up my face to scream something vital while staring me eye to beady little eye, had smeared my lipstick all the way down to my chin. A girl just can't be a gentleman under such circumstances.

None of which should excuse my complete lack of a coherent, much less dry and just a bit cynically witty, response when the clerk finally spoke.

What he said was, "Zeta? Zeta Vincent? The Bottsville High Beacon?"

The hilarious novelty items tumbled from my arms, one producing a fart sound as it hit the floor. It was Brendon Flynn.

In the name of the sweet and gracious immortal Lord, I grew up in Kentucky. How did any of those hicks migrate this far north?

"You dyed your hair!" said Brendon Flynn.

Last edited by leftcontact on Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:31 pm 
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Posted: Wed Sep 01, 2004 8:13 pm by Fortunato

I wilted. This was the last thing I needed; Brendon was a hopeless case in high school. He kept on trying to get cheerleaders to go on dates with him by writing messages on his underwear and running through homeroom wearing nothing else. It got me a few laughs, but to the best of my knowledge it never got him laid.

"Yeah, Brendon, hi." I said, leaning over to collect my kitsch pile. "It's been, what, eight years?"

"Why did you dye your hair? I always liked that nice, curly auburn you had back in high school," he said, barely missing a beat. His expression indicated bland incomprehension; I decided to &#@!$ with him.

"I dyed it because you never asked me out, Brendon!" I said, my lower lip quivering slightly and my eyes moistening convincingly. "I never recovered from that! I've been looking for you for eight whole years, wanting to tell you that I always loved you from that seat three rows back! All those times you ran up to Suey-may in your underwear and asked her out I wanted you to come over to me! I would've said yes!" I rubbed my eyes to conceal the mirth in them.

He gazed at me, slack jawed, and stammered, "Wha?.. Zeta, I never knew..."

Before he could continue, I cut him off "You're a horrible person, Brendon. The least you can do for me is find the most obnoxious product in here and give it to me free of charge."

His brain was caught in a vice grip. In front of him, he had an attractive girl with wierd hair in tears, and behind him, he had the entire corporate wrath of an american mall standard. Of course he wasn't allowed to give things away, that's a given, and he began to say so, until I cut him off.

"Uh, Zeta... Zeta, I uh, I can't, uh, would you, uh..."

"I loved you silently for four long years! And this is the thanks I get!" I bawled noisily. I was certain Dana would be proud, if her slowly decaying brain would let her think of anything besides constructing a beam powerful enough to destroy the earth.

"I uh... I guess I could get you my employee discount..."

"That might help make up for it." I said, sniffling. He led the way through the store, to a small alcove in the back, on which stood a small safe with a biohazard logo on it.

"I'll be right back, I have to get some stuff from the back room." he said, disappearing behind the bead door with a marijuana leaf on it. I stood there, glancing around. The shelves near me had taken a distinct downturn; to my left was an official "BATS!" movie novelization. Above it was a bucket that said "It's not a party 'til someone throws up!" On my left sat a lone foam rubber breast; by all indications it was meant to be sold alone. This truly was the bad, bad part of the store. If there was ever anything strong enough to power Dana's ray, it would be here.

I was pulled out of my reverie by Brendon's return. In his hands were a pair of tongs, a tough looking jet black bag with the "SPENCER'S GIFTS" logo on the side, and a small piece of paper. He looked at the piece of paper, then focused on the safe for a moment, twisting the dial back and forth. "Boy, our most obnoxious product. There isn't a whole lot of call for that. I had to check the safety regulations; this product is so utterly lame that it can reduce a smoking, leather clad biker to hopeless, pocket protector nerdiness in less than a minute without proper protection. Make sure you keep it in the bag until you need to use it."

At last, he finished opening the safe. I couldn't see past the door, so I didn't catch a glance at it. He averted his eyes, grabbed something from out of the safe with the tongs, popped it in the bag, and quickly rolled it up. He handed it to me, and we went back to the register.

"There you go, $19.45, with my discount," he said, not without a bit of curiosity in his voice. He cleared his throat once, just as I was about to leave, and said "just, uh, just what are you planning to do with that, then, Zeta?"

"It's a present for my ex-girlfriend," I said. I turned and walked rapidly out of the store.

Posted: Thu Sep 02, 2004 6:42 pm by channing

I have to admit, I felt pretty good upon leaving the Spencer's. One reason was that I had pretty thoroughly vindicated myself for my earlier breach of cool; the "girlfriend" comment had admittedly been a bit of overkill, but to waste the opportunity for such an exquisite spike would have been nothing short of criminal. The other reason I felt pretty good upon leaving the Spencer's was, well, that I was leaving the Spencer's. I still had a bad taste in my brain, and I wasn't sure it was going away any time soon.

I made my way back over to LegoLand, trying to conceal the fact that I had just purchased an entire armload of crap. Dana was there where I had left her, deep in the throes of madness and furious construction.

"Ha!" she was heard to cry out, from beneath a layer of Lego bricks. "Soon, I will unlock the destructive potential secreted deep within the bowels of the ROBOLAB programming engine, and then, the world will be mine!!!"

"Hey," I said, approaching, my voice carefully modulated to tones of dull nonchalance. "Things progressing here? Bowels... secreting... like they should, and everything?"

Dana's fuzzy little face emerged through the surface of the Legos in a shower of plastic bits.

"Splendidly!" Dana said. "Unfortunately, there's a radio connected to my brain! Radio! Radio! Feathers! Huzzah!"

And with that, Dana sunk back beneath the surface. All in all, she sounded pretty positive. I waited for a moment, and when nothing more was forthcoming, I rattled my crap around a little. "I got your stuff," I said.

A second shower of bits, and Dana was back, perched on the edge of the Lego pit. "STUPENDOUS!" she shouted. "Any obstacles or quid pro quos to report? Any sign of official suppression?"

"There was this one guy from my high school," I shrugged. "That's it. Can I put this stuff down?"

"Yes!" cried Dana, making her simple agreement sound like a whoop of wild joy. "Set them here, here, and here!"

"All right," I said, crouching down and depositing the parcels near the Lego pit, then taking a moment to clean the smear of lipstick off my face. "I'll warn you, though. The thing in the black bag... it's pretty bad."

"Wonderful," breathed Dana. "What is it?"

"Dunno," I confessed. "But it's... pretty bad."

"Oh ho!" chortled Dana. We must have a look at this!" Dana hopped down off the side of the pit and scurried over to the highly questionable black bag. "Well done, my faithful biographer and impromptu henchman!" she said.

"Yeah," I said, looking around uneasily. "If it's all the same to you, I'm going to go get a drink or something while you open that. I'm not sure I want to be around."

"By all means!" beamed Dana. "Majordomo!" she added.

...which I guess was an affirmation, so I took the opportunity to wander off in the direction of an Orange Julius I had spotted nearby, presumably placed there to slake the thirst of weary pilgrims on their long journey to the food court. As I departed, I could hear Dana's voice raised in muffled dismay. "What's this?" I heard her say. "This.... this isn't anything special!"

So after all that hype, the mystery product was a disappointment. I shrugged, inwardly. No longer a concern of mine.

I stepped up to the Orange Julius. "Hi," I said to the oddly pasty-faced clerk in front of me. "I'll have--"

Wait a second.

The clerk's face lit up in recognition.

"Zeta?" he said. "Zeta Vincent? The Bottsvile High Beacon?"

"Uh," I replied, wittily.

It was him. It was unquestionably him. Brendon Flynn. Dressed in a work-stained Orange Julius polo shirt. Wearing a little paper hat.

Brendon Flynn. Again.

"You dyed your hair!" he said.

My mind went a-rolling, like dice. Eventually they landed on the idea that Brendon, fresh off his shift at Spencer's, had come here to start his shift at Orange Julius. Sure. That worked. The marks of hot-dog grease on his polo shirt, indicative of a long hard day slaving over the rollers, could easily be explained away by the fact that, well, he probably hadn't laundered his shirt between days because he was a freak. Yeah.

But... didn't we just have this conversation?

Determinedly, I swept together my cool and prepared a better reply than my first.

"Buh," I said.

"Why did you dye your hair?" he said. "I always liked that nice, curly auburn you had back in high school!"

I stepped away from the counter. "Excuse me," I said. "I have to--"

And then, from somewhere behind me, there came the noise of a brain snapping in half, like an over-tightened guitar string.

Dana. I don't know how I knew the noise had come from Dana. I don't even know how I was able to identify the noise of a brain snapping. Hell, I didn't even know that snapping brains made a noise in the first place. It didn't matter. I knew what the noise was, and I knew its source.

"I have to go," I said to Brendon Two, and not bothering to wait for a reply, I rushed back to the Lego pits.

Dana was sprawled limply over the edge of the Lego pit. The half-open black bag from Spencer's was nearby.

"...underestimated its power..." she was muttering. "...could not conceive of... looked like a perfectly ordinary..."

Dana sat bolt upright, screaming. "THE MECHANISM!!!" she cried, her eyes flickering back and forth and back again. "BEWARE THE MECHANISM!!!"

My cool had taken several major hits today, but nevertheless, I managed to fold the end of the Spencer's bag closed without seeing its contents or touching it too much. Gingerly, I kicked it over by the other novelty crap.

I was silent for a moment, letting the ambient noise of the Mall wash over me.

"So," I said, at last. "Pretty bad, huh."

Dana's eyes flickered back into focus. "No," she said, quietly. "Wonderful. You have no idea what the awfulness contained in that bag has done for me."

"What's that?" I asked, fumbling with another cigarette in an attempt to conceal my unease.

"It has given me all the power I need... to do this."

Dana breathed two great shuddering breaths, then placed her paws almost religiously into the Lego pit and withdrew a smallish Lego-constructed device about the size and shape of one of those things that doctors look into your ear with. Except where normally there would be one of those spiky little black plastic ear cones, there was a miniature spitting triangle of effervescent blue-white light. It hurt my eyes to look at it and it hurt my brain that it existed at all. It was, all in all, one hell of a light.

"Behold," said Dana, in tones of painful reverence. "BEHOLD MY TINY WEDGE OF DOOM!!!"

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:35 pm 
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Posts: 19
Posted: Thu Sep 09, 2004 11:28 pm by Fortunato

... And I beheld.

For about a minute. Then the spitting triangle of light sputtered for a moment and went out.

"So, uh, what's... uh..."

Dana ignored me and focused on the device in her paws for a moment "Something must be wrong. Maybe it needs more cowbell. MORE COWBELL, I SAY!"

I said, "Cowbell? So that's what was in the bag..." and was promptly cut off by Dana's tiny mad shrieks.

"The device needs more cowbell! I never said the, the, thing, in the black bag was a cowbell! Cowbell is a powerful amplifier of midwestern capitalism! If I add one more miniature cowbell reflector to my device, it should be ready to destroy the tri state area as a warning shot, then I'll be able to ransom the world!"

This made no sense. I said "That makes no sense, Dana. First, we're IN the tri-state area, aren't we? and second, you're a rodent with an as-yet-unknown lifespan. Even if you had a demand, what would you ask for?"

She jumped on my arm, ran up my sleeve, grabbed my collar with both hands, and shouted, as loud as she could, "DIE CAST ROLE PLAYING FIGURINES! THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF THEM! TO MAKE A LITTLE WORLD WITH DRAGONS AND UNICORNS AND BARBARIANS AND GIANT ROBOTS AND... AND..." Here she left off shaking my shirt front. She looked mildly pensive and a bit bewildered (at least as pensive and bewildered as her tiny gerbil features could muster) for a moment, then ran down my arm, saying "Not this tri-state area; Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. Nobody will miss those three, and it'll show them who's boss!"

"Who are they?" I said, holding back my own creeping specter of insanity for a few more moments. I really did wonder what was in the bag, but Dana's warning definitely held. After what just happened, I had no desire to experience this object. It was strong enough to damage even a non-human mad genius. What it could to a mostly normal human is unthinkable.

Dana batted away my question like a fly "bah, you know, them, the men without hats. Them, THEM." She crept back into the Lego pit, humming snatches of melody. Just before she disappeared in the multicolored plastic brick edifice, I heard her sing "We can dance if we want to.."

I was alone again. I looked up; people were milling around the store, considering purchases, gawking at the Lego Mount Rushmore on a pedestal in the middle, and I was standing at the edge of the construction zone. A few tables away from us, I saw a few kids playing with some of the other Legos, making pillared, terraced imaginary domains out of the tiny blocks. If Dana succeeded, they would be no more. And all Dana needed was inside this bag, this black, opaque bag. It didn't seem that special, just an otherwise ordinary plastic bag that apparently contains enough power to destroy the world when combined with a Tiny Wedge of Doom. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to have just a short peek...

"DON'T YOU DARE OPEN THAT BAG!" hollered Dana from the door of the fortress. "I need that thing as pure as possible for when I perfect the Tiny Wedge of Doom!"

I snatched my hand away quickly, and slowly settled into boredom. "Dana, how much longer is this going to take?" I said, my chin supported on my hand.

"You can't rush waffles, Zeta, you have to wait for the little light to go on on the thing on the bottom..." came the voice from inside the complex.

I sighed. This was obviously going to be a long afternoon.

Posted: Fri Sep 10, 2004 1:17 am by jhrice

After several minutes of growing boredom, broken only by watching small lumps of Legos moving around by tiny unseen forces below, I grew fidgety. Finally I said, slightly self-consciously because I was speaking to pile of Legos, "Dana, I'm going to step out for some fresh air.”

Posted: Fri Sep 10, 2004 3:27 am by channing


The voice was unmistakable, even from all the way across the crowded food court. Hastily, I began shouldering my way through the assembled mass of oblivious shoppers, knowing that my speed here could mean the difference between "just in time" and "far too late to be of any use."

"Look," said the bored, be-uniformed clerk at the Cinnabon counter, her tongue-piercing clearly visible even from this distance. "We've been over this, like, seven times, or somejunk. If you want the bun, you have to give me the cash. Dinero. Whatever they call it wherever you come from."

"Listen to me," said Dana, enunciating very clearly and gesturing at her muzzle with one foreclaw. "Read my lips. 'I... can require you... to be hexagonal... on Tuesdays.'" Dana gazed earnestly at the clerk. "Any Tuesday you choose," she added, helpfully. "So long as the sausages approve and the wind dries up."

The clerk responded with aught but a blank stare.

"PERSPICACITY!" cussed Dana. "THE ROLL IS MINE, BY CONQUEST!" She stood there panting for a moment, leaning her inconsequential weight upon the miniature plastic death ray. Then, the little rodent shook herself out and smoothed her whiskers back into place.

"Very well," she continued, calmly. "You have chosen to persist in your churlishness, and I respect that choice."

A twitch.


"Um," said the clerk, gazing down uneasily at the unpleasant light. "I'm going to get the manager." And with that, she turned around and left.

"Go! Go!" cried Dana at the departing clerk, her face bathed in threatening blue, or at least, what I presumed to be blue. Even with my limited capacity, that color was pretty much unmistakable. "I and my army of sentient popovers will be awaiting your return," she continued, "and we are all VERY ANGRY INDEED! Oh, hello, Zeta!"

At long last I had reached the counter. Dana turned to me in a congenial fashion. "Look," she said, proudly. "I'm increasing my well-being!"

"Great," I said. "Wonderful. Now listen to me. Listen."

"Okay," she said, nodding.

"Tell me you're listening."

"I'm listening."

"Tell me you're paying attention."

"I'm paying attention."

"Tell me you're comprehending the words coming out of my mouth and that you're not stuck on some seventh-dimensional tangent about baking soda and optical floss."


"Good enough." I leaned down against the counter and tried not to look conspicuous. "We have company."

"Oh, good!" squealed Dana. "Uncle Joseph? And his Uzbekistani wife? How I long to see their little one! Perhaps they brought that wonderful cheese bread again this year!"

"Not that kind of company," I said. "The fuzz."

Dana blinked at me.

"The men without hats," I said, patiently.

Dana's tiny little beady eyes went wide, or, as wide as they got, anyway. "Ohno," she breathed. "Quick! We must return to my Lego fortress!"

"Hello," said the oddly pasty-faced manager, finally arriving from the back. "What seems to be the--" He stopped short.


"Zeta?" he said. "Zeta Vincent? The Bottsvile High Beacon?"

"Brendon!" I said, quickly. "What a surprise! Fancy meeting you here! No, no trouble at all here. We just need... um..." I glanced up at the menu. "Milk!" I said, finally. "Yes! A milk! Then we'll be on our way."

"One milk it is!" said Brendon, cheerfully, reaching into the cooler. "I hardly recognized you!" he said. "What with the dyed hair and all."

"Yeah," I said, uncomfortably, glancing over my shoulder. "I get that a lot." I was following a speck of motion amongst a hundred specks of motion, far to the edge of the food court. It wasn't a subtle motion. Two police officers had moved into my field of vision, and they were busily and faux-inobtrusively scanning the crowds. Under normal circumstances I'd have brushed this off as paranoia, and was in fact about to do so; how likely was it, really, that the police were actually here looking for us?

Then one of them moved, and it suddenly became clear to me that the two officers were not here on their own. No... they were flanking someone.

A bad someone.

At first glance, he appeared nothing more than a crisply-dressed man with thinning yellowish hair and a narrow eagle's beak of a nose. He carried a briefcase and bore himself like a man possessed of a rather restrictive set of underclothes. Weird, yes. Bad, no.

...until you really got to looking at him. Soon, your brain started crackling with spontaneous, unbidden, and questionably sensical descriptions. Here was a man, your brain might say, who appears to have had his soul removed by an industrial badge laminator. And somehow, when you said it to yourself, it all made perfect sense.

The horrible man nudged his crisp little tie back into place and gestured in a direction that was distressingly close to where we now stood.

"Government?" I hissed to Dana.

She nodded, affirmatively. "No hat," she said.

I grabbed my milk from the counter. Brendon was babbling something about paying for it, but I paid him no mind. I scooped up Dana and her tiny wedge of doom, hunkered low behind the crowds, and began to move.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:40 pm 
New Madsci

Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Posted: Mon Sep 13, 2004 7:57 pm by Fortunato

Unfortunately, at a crowded food court lined with disorganized tables, people, and splayed chairs, movement while hunkered down was unfortunately difficult.

"Dana, don't pull on my earlobe like that, I can't concentrate."

"Pine Sol."

At least she stopped. The sea of feet and chairs was unbroken around us. We had made it about fifty feet away from Cinnabon, but I couldn't tell if anyone was wearing hats from this angle. So I stood up. About three tables away from the laminated fellow. Or un-laminated, depending on how you see it.

Dana panicked and began running wildly around my head. Felt a little like getting a scalp massage from a rototiller. A very small rototiller. "Dance, dance to safety!" yelled Dana as she scrambled around my glasses.

I wouldn't dance to safety, but I would most certainly run to safety. I pushed aside the carriage with a screaming baby in front of me, hopped between two suburban mothers, and wrestled through a gang of wallet-chained, zit-faced Hot Topicites and finally found myself on the outskirts of the food court.

I dashed madly away, finally stopping underneath a giant replica of the Trix rabbit to catch my breath.

"The OBJECT! My power source, GONE! No more kielbasa for me! From now on I shall have to repair fish with tricycles!" hollered Dana from inside my shirt somewhere.

I retrieved her and said "what, that thing from Spencer's?"

"Yes! My tiny wedge of doom is useless without it!"

I gazed up into the forever happy eyes of my gigantic white lepus companion, and at that moment I understood his conundrum. He would never truly be happy, but he persisted in his vain efforts. As I waxed poetic about cereal mascots, a clerk ambled out the door to the cereal park and said "Zeta? Zeta Vincent? The Bottsville High Beacon?"

Without looking up, I said "I don't have time for this right now, Brendon, I have to go back to the Lego pits." And with that, I dashed off, Dana now safely in my pocket.

Posted: Mon Sep 13, 2004 9:31 pm by jhrice

As I ran, I couldn't help but wonder why I'd seen Brendon so many times in so many different stores. Coincidence was clearly out of the question. I'd had a love-hate relationship with coincidence my entire life, but since I'd been with Dana, my run-ins with weirdness had gone up exponentially. Could Dana's latest creation, the Wedge of Doom, or whatever it was, have something to do with it? Brendon had gotten me the evil force that fueled it. Could it be replicating him all over the mall? Could it be causing me to simply hallucinate him in everywhere? I decided to try cutting through an employee area to be less visible, and so I could slow down a little, I'm not much of a runner. As I went through the door, I thought I heard a voice behind me.


Posted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 11:19 pm by leftcontact

"The food court, idiot. You forgot my cinnamon bun!"

Posted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 3:07 pm by channing

As casually as possible, I squatted down next to the tiny little crazy gerbil. I took a deep breath, lit yet another cigarette, and proceeded with what I felt was an admirable degree of calm.

"Dana," I said, exhaling a puff of smoke. "Am I a ground squirrel?"

Dana blinked a couple times, perhaps unaccustomed to being presented with nonsensical outbursts not of her own devising.

"I... ahm." She stared at me for a little while, the continued with commendable clarity. "I don't believe so!" she concluded.

"Am I an epileptic ground squirrel?"

"Nothing in my store of evidence points to such," she said, congenially. "No, I think."

"Good," I said. I raised up a bit in my crouch.


Dana's ears and whiskers were plastered back by the force of my outburst. She was silent. I continued, readjusting my glasses and hammering my laconic, disaffected cool back into place with heavy metal nails.

"Look," I said. "None of this makes any sense. First it's novelty gifts. Next it's cowbells. Now it's cinnamon. I begin to doubt, and this should win me the top prize at this year's National Academy of 'Well Farking DUH' award convocation, that you're being completely lucid with me here."

Dana gasped. "Zeta!" she said, placing one claw to her tiny chest. "Have you ever, ever known me to fall into deranged non sequiturs while I'm discoursing on the topic of my baroque violet waterbed sprinklers?"

"Your... what?"

"My work! PLEASE pay attention, biographer." Dana cleared her little throat. "Now, then. Know that I am not stone-dull, and that I do understand your concerns. I will be the first to admit that my brain is rapidly falling to pieces around me. This... tiny wedge of doom... represents my last, best chance to do something. To make something. To prove to the world that I was."

Dana's lip quivered. Her eyes were distant. When she spoke again, her voice was small and sad.

"I matter, Zeta. It matters... that I am."

I hate it when she does this. I hate what it makes me feel. Because I know that, deep down, in so many ways, I'm just like her.

"Nobody will know, without this. Nobody will care. Nobody will even know that I ever existed."

A moment, a pause. Dana lowered her head in pensive sorrow. I let time off its leash for a bit, let myself feel.

Another moment. Another breath of smoke.

"So you're going to annihilate three states," I said.

"EXACTLY!!!" cried Dana, happily. "And since you have expressed concern, and since you've been such a faithful and good little minion, I will tell you, once and for all, a complete list of the few things standing in the path of my conquest."

"Yeah," I said, looking around again, suddenly remembering the presence of mysterious and hostile authorities somewhere in house. "Do that."

"First. I need a power source of shocking banality. Which you have thankfully provided me with." She gestured to the bag. "And be careful with your manhandling of it, else you'll set off THE MECHANISM!!! THE DREADFUL MECHANISM!!!"

"Mm hm," I said. "Next?"

"Of course, there's these various novelty supplies. All essential for the full-strength Tremendous Wedge of Doom's functioning, when we get that far. Frinstance: omega-3 fatty acids, suspended in noble gas. Walnuts..." she pointed to the pile of Spencer's paraphernalia, "and the plasma sphere. I also need a heat-affected optical/opacity switch. Hence the little glasses where the lady's bikini top vanishes depending on the temperature."

I blinked. "Okay," I said, a bit taken aback. "But you've got all that."

"Yes! Thank you!" She hugged me, or at least the part of me that was my ankle. Grimly and with little effort, I again snuffed the tiny flame of pathos that she routinely invokes in me; it's not quite fair.

I dry-swallowed. "Let's not waste time here," I said. "What about a cowbell?"

"An amplifier, as I said."


"Essential to the targeting system. Cinnamon's capacity to reach far distant places with strange attraction is not purely a chemical/emotional one. There is also, and I must stress this, a distinct quantum element."

"I'm dubious."

"That's what I love about you!" she cried, her eyes crinkling merrily. "You're so cute when you're like that! Rest assured I will explain, in detail, later, when I have the time."

"Okay, that's two things we don't have. Anything else?"

"Just one item more," she said, grimly. "I also require the Fingerbone of Saint Mannox."

I blinked once, slowly. "Please say that one more time so I'm convinced you're not tossing word hash at me again."

"The Fingerbone... of Saint Mannox," she said, crisply.

"And that's... here? At the Mall?"

"Somewhere," she said. "The ancient texts are not to be doubted."

I breathed in, then breathed out. "So that's it. If we can keep the components we've already gathered safe here at your Lego fortress, we need cinnamon, cowbells, and the Fingerbone of Saint Mannox."

"Precisely," said Dana. "Conquest is close at hand."

"All right, then. Do whatever you have to do to make this place secure. Then it's back to the food court."

The things, I say again, I go through.

Dana sprang to action. I puffed on my latest cigarette. Things began to happen.

"One last thing," I said, interrupting her preparations.

"Yes?" replied Dana, looking up once more from within the Legos.

"I've been through some thought, here, and assuming we can accept completely ridiculous leaps of tenuous causal logic as sound and stable, I've thought of a purpose for everything you had me snag from Spencer's except for the Jeff Foxworthy-esque stuff. Could you fill me in on this one last bit, so I can be completely and certifiably crazy instead of just a tiny bit uncertain?"

"Oh, that," said Dana. "You've noted already that Dr. Foxworthy has prepared an exhaustive diagnostic questionnaire. The world's finest, perhaps. I was merely curious about a single aspect of my own psychosocial profile."

She smiled, broadly. "I was wondering if I might perhaps be a redneck!" she cried, throwing her paws wide. "But I'm not," she said, hanging her head.

Then she resumed her furious preparations.

I stood there, smoking.

Sometimes, there's nothing else you can do.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:43 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Posted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:29 pm by Fortunato

And so, with that last cigarette, I set out.

My first thought was of costuming. Obviously, an oddly dressed girl with interesting hair would be an easy target. Hmm. I ducked into the nearest convenient clothing store, which, as it happened, was a Victoria's Secret. Damn. Oh well, at least it was their winter line. I found two separate items with sleeves that covered the midriff. The first was pink, with a butterfly over the sternum. The second was black and tight. It was, thankfully, unadorned and totally opaque. The decision was not difficult.

I then perused their wig section and located a wig I could deal with without retching, which I found in the form of a reasonably tasteful brown one. I then approached the counter. The attendant was checking in padded bras behind the counter with a small scanner. She had long, straight blonde hair. I cleared my throat. At least here I couldn't run into...

"Zeta? Zeta Vincent? The Bottsville High Beacon?"


Oh nononononono.

"You changed your hair."

I opened my left eye and found myself staring into the face of Brendon Flynn. Brendon Flynn, were he 5'8", slim, blonde, wearing high heels and, most importantly, female. Not Brendon in drag. Female. My brain reeled for a few moments.

"It's me! Breanna Flynn! Don't you remember me?"

My shattered psyche gradually began to repair itself. I closed my mouth, blinked a few times and managed a "Who?" before the pieces fizzled and broke again.

"Breanna! You know, Choir, Cheerleading? Gosh, you look great, Zeta! Glad you're getting the wig, it'll really offset those cheekbones nicely."

Finally, I managed a coherent sentence. "Uh, did you, um, have a brother, Breanna?"

"No no, I was an only child, remember?" the perky blonde with Brendon's face replied.

There was no question. I had to escape. But how to escape without attracting attention? My eyes drifted casually (I hope) to the alarm sensors in the front of the store.

"Boy, Zeta, you're really quiet today, is something wrong? You always talked so much in Mr. Woden's english class. I never did ask you what 'disreputable' meant." Said Breanna.

I needed to escape. But I had to pay. Finally, I reached a resolution. "Breanna, do you take plastic? I'm in a big hurry. My boyfriend is waiting in the Lego pits and he can only wait so long before he'll leave without me."

"You have a boyfriend? Really? None of us thought you'd ever find a man."

I somehow managed to be indignant, despite my shock and paranoia. I quickly suppressed it and said "yeah, and he's really impatient, can we hurry this up?"

"Fine, Fine. Boy, Zeta Vincent has a boyfriend! Wait'll I tell Brendon!" She said, casually, scanning my items into the computer.

"Brendon wh...never mind. Just ring up the stuff, please, I have to go."

"There you go, $34.67, here's your card, you have a nice day! Hope that wig works out for you!" said she-Brendon as I beat a hasty retreat.

I quickly rounded a corner, found a private spot, and stopped for a moment. What was going on?

Well, whatever it was, it could wait until I had changed my outfit. I set out to find a convenient and private place to change.

Posted: Wed Sep 22, 2004 8:48 pm by demiurgent

There's something in the nature, the zeitgeist of Mall Culture that washes me out. It's like listening to Manilow while toking. It's not that it's bad, it's that it's numb. Comfortably numb, as the Straits used to say. Only not as good. Give me a box of Gallo and three hours to listen to Knopfler mumble and I'm mellow in the heart of a war zone. Malls don't do that. They wash away what makes me cool and leaves behind the cracked chrysalis. That's why I smoke in them. The smell, the smoke, the delightful sense that necessary bits of your lungs are dying with each sweet, stale breath takes Mall Culture to the mat. There weren't any cops telling me not to smoke. They were too busy looking for me and the rodent. Only because I was smoking, if they noticed me, they'd notice the smoking, and they didn't have time to tell me not to smoke, because they were looking for me for their own nefarious ends.

When you fight the zeitgeist, the world gets out of your way. I learned that when I was fifteen. You know who taught it to me?

Who else. Brendon Flynn. But I'm getting off track. Right now I was smoking, while Dana was rooting around a garbage can. Frankly, I didn't ask. It was about the most rodent-like activity I could imagine her doing. Which meant there should have been flashing red lights and loud alarms sending me warnings, but no no. Not me. I was smoking.

"IT'S! NOT! HERE!" Dana shouted. Her words needed capitals and exclamation points.

"Imagine that," I said, crumpling another cigarette end into my faithful holder. "What are we talking about."

"The store! The land of forgotten dreams! The sanctum sanatorium!"

"The one with the relic?"

"The one with the relic."

"Gotcha. Well, told you."

"It must be here. The comet foretold it. The alignments are too close! Are you telling me Britney Spears getting married again was a coincidence?"

"If there's anything in this world I'm telling you, Britney Spears has nothing to do with it." I took another drag. The smoke formed words in my head, twisting in the air. Like lyrics from Bad Religion dancing around my head. I don't know how to read but I've got a lot of toys....


I paused. The voice was small, not like Dana at all. I looked at her through the lenses of my glasses. Her head was poking out of the garbage bin, a discarded burnt onion hanging off her ear. I should have been worried. That wasn't her thing. Gerbils stayed clean.

"Zeta. What if it isn't here? What if there's no store here? What if...."

I took another deep drag. My daddy's a lazy middle class intellectual. My mommy's on valium, so ineffectual...

Screw it. If you're going in, go deep. "You don't know from malls, huh?"

Dana cocked her head. The onion fell off. It was damn cute, and I'm not one for damn cute anything.

I pulled the cig out of the holder and dropped it, crushing. "Come on. We have to find someplace to hide."

"Hide? Can one keep the light of Dog under a bushel?"

"Maybe not, but we need to keep under wraps until after the mall closes. If you really want to find the stores that aren't on tossed out maps with coffee stains on them."

"What do you mean?"

"It's the Mall of America," I said, heading for Sears. Sears was always good for ditching rent-a-cops until after close. "When the lights go out, a whole new America shows up to shop."

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:46 pm 
Mad Scientist Unbelievable
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Joined: Tue Apr 01, 2008 5:30 am
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Ah, the Mall of America. A glorious place in my own native state.

I approve of this. Very good writing, leftcontact!

We've learned a lot, but this still isn't going to be easy. But I don't think the elder star's confidence in us was misplaced. I know we can do this! We'll set things right! ...somehow.

"There is a fine line between a good King and a Despot. A King is best when His subjects barely realize that He exists. When His work is done and His will is fulfilled, they will say, 'We did it ourselves.'"
-Xin Yun

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:52 pm 
New Madsci

Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Posted: Sat Sep 25, 2004 4:19 pm by channing

The approaching evening found me sitting next an unpopular bed, smoking to high heaven.

Department store display beds are funny little things; they exist in a kind of perpetual design flux. On the one hand, you want something that suggests an unquestionable bed-ness so that you can extrapolate the look of that comforter into your guest room, but on the other hand, as a department store manager, you're probably really concerned with maximizing your net floorspace profitability ratio or something corporate-y like that. The end result is a weird little midget thing, largely unsuitable for any practical purpose other than giving you a thing to drape your bedroom sets on. It's really too small for anything else.

On the other hand, when you put a gerbil in one, it suddenly looks ridiculously huge.

"Very good," remarked Dana, ineffectually fluffing at the thick fabric with her little paws. "Excellent."

"Glad you approve," I said. I think I was being dry.

"Oh, yes!" she said. "This is quite nice." Dana sighed and snuggled around under the lip of the novelty comforter. "In the wild, you know," she continued, "my gerbil cousins regulate heat by secreting a sticky, dark substance from their Harderian Glands, which, when spread about, reduces the effective albedo of the coat and heightens energy absorption. But this quaint and characteristically human 'blanket' idea has, I must admit, a certain degree of charm."

"Mm hm," I said, scratching at my wig and wiggling around inside the black slinky thing in an attempt to get it to fit right. "Just keep it down, Miss Chatty. We're keeping a low profile here."

"Right," said Dana, nodding brightly.

Sears had been my choice. The idea of shacking up in a "proper" bed had been hers, as had the acquisition of a "proper" nightgown; Mattel's Summer line, prete-Ã-porter, if you must know. Daylight activity was not something that came easy to Dana, and if she was going to sit around in a department store doing, quote, "absolutely nothing to further the Great Cause," she was darn well going to take a nap for a while. Just as well, I suppose. Idle gerbils do the Devil's work.

Still, the bed was a bit much -- especially for a couple of ostensibly inconspicuous characters like us -- but Dana had insisted. And because I didn't want her going off on one of her accusatory rants where I am cast as a puppet infiltrator drawing MJ-12 payroll, I folded, and instead concentrated my efforts on finding the least noticeable bed on the floor.

And, wonder of wonders, I found it. Tucked away in a rather unfashionable corner was a probably-yellow child's bedset featuring the heroine from Disney's ill-conceived Hunchback of Notre Dame remake. Being as its source film was several years out of the public consciousness and never a merchandizing gold mine to begin with, I figured this particular bedroom set was batting in the low zeros as far as consumer interest went, and doing a number on the aforementioned floorspace profitability ratio to boot. That it was still here at all was a minor miracle.

In short, nobody would be looking too closely at this little corner of Sears. And that's just how I liked it.

Dana yawned, hugely. An errant cinder from my smoke scorched a very tiny hole on the face of Frollo, or whatever the hell that goat's name was. Mindful of the possibility of conflagration, I pivoted a bit to the right.

"Yes," said Dana, tucking herself in beneath the hem of the bedspread. "This is marvelous."

She was silent for a moment.

"The Cinnabon will be open, will it? In this mysterious post-closing Mall that you have told me about?"

"Should be," I said, vaguely, still scanning the floor for security. "Among other things."

"Good," she remarked, sounding satisfied. "Long have I dreamed of harnessing the unique quantum properties of their legendary Makara cinnamon to a doom engine of my own devising, and at last, realization is at hand!" She smiled. "Oh, Zeta. Plotting to destroy things with you is such fun!"

"Right," I said. "I could have picked one up while you were off rooting through garbage cans, you know. Then we'd be one down."

"IDIOT!" cried Dana, sitting bolt upright, though notably still dwarfed by the pillow. "DULL THING! It must be hot, fresh cinnamon! Nothing else will do! I refuse to incorporate stale and impotent cinnamon into my state-destroying laser!"

"Mm hm," I said, again.

"Ergo," she said, calming down and settling back under the covers, "we must find our cowbell and the Fingerbone of Saint Mannox first. Then, once our doom-wedge is functioning at its full, matter-smashing charge, we will feed the cinnamon roll into our targeting computer... AND MONTANA WILL DIE! DIE, I TELL YOU, DIE!!!"

"Let's focus on killing Montana later," I said. "You go to sleep now. When you get up, we'll go find the Fingerbone."

"Oh, can we?" asked Dana, her voice a picture of childlike bliss, as though this whole crazy idea weren't hers to begin with.

I looked at her for a moment. "Sure, Dana," I said, at last. "But for now, go to sleep. I'll keep an eye out for the fuzz."

A passing child, four or five years of age, trailing behind a harried, older lady who did not spare us a glance. The first to penetrate our hitherto-inviolate barrier of unpopularity.

"Look, mama!" he pointed out, already vanishing from our view. "Esmerelda!"

"That's nice, Brendon," said his mother, her voice trailing off into the distance. "Come along, now. Mummy is late for her cardio-boxing."

I blotted it out. I can handle only one weird thing a day, Mr(s). Brendon/Breanna Flynn. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look good, either.

I smoked. The gerbil bustled restlessly under her covers. The day began its long, slow, windup, melting slowly into evening like ice cream on a plate.

For a moment, no noise but the distant shuffle of clerks and the susurrant hum of the air handlers.


"Sing me to sleep, Dana?"

I glanced crosswise at her. "No."


"No. We're trying not to attract attention."

"When I rule everything, I'll give you a country all for yourself!"

"You gave me one already. Remember?"

"A bigger country!"

"Not interested."

Dana paused for a moment to reconfigure.

"I won't annihilate you?" she said, at last.

"Sorry," I said. Another breath of smoke.

Silence from Dana. An uncomfortably long silence.

I glanced at her again, which was a mistake.

Her lip was quivering. Her little gerbil lip.

She sniffled. Her eyes were large and very, very bright.

We held this position for a moment. My face was a mask.

Then, quietly and tunelessly, I began:

"It's hidden far away / But someday I may tell
The tale of mental tangle / When into your world I fell...

Instantly, she sighed, falling back into the enormous pillow, a smile of bliss alighting on her dark little muzzle.

"Without you now I'll wander soaking / Secretly afraid
'Cause in your grasp the fears don't last / (And some of them have stayed)..."

She was already there; her eyelids were drooping. When it has a clear destination, Dana's mind moves itself quickly from place to place. Her life is small, and ending fast. She doesn't have time to dally.

The chorus. Still quiet. Still tuneless. Still me.

I wheeled around because I / Didn't hear what you had said /
And saw you dancing with Elihu / Up on Leemor's bed
And I was foggy, rather groggy / You helped me to my car
The binding belt enclosing me / A sample in a jar..."

I trailed off. Verse two was unnecessary; Dana was fast asleep.

So it had worked. I expected it would. See -- and I'm spoiling a chapter of my book here -- there was a period in her life, sometime after the Incisor debacle, when Dana turned really inward, and became focused, obsessed, with plotting her own mental decay. Hardly a word about conquering the world. Hardly a word about the world outside at all. Instead of sketching death machines on cocktail napkins, Dana devoted her life to this sober, neat, well-labeled chart detailing her own personal decline. Every day she would run herself (or conscript me to help her run herself, depending) through an exhaustive series of psychological examinations. Then, when it was all finished, she spent hours and hours analyzing and juggling the data, boiling everything down to this one essential figure, which she called the DMSI, or, the "Dana's Mental Solidity Index." And then, with great solemnity, she would proceed to plot this one single point on a big piece of posterboard with an oversized Sharpie marker, connecting it to the dot previous in a grim sort of line graph. Sometimes I would help her when the Sharpie fumes overcame her and she started babbling on about flowers and elves, but for the most part, she insisted on doing this task alone.

The trend was unmistakable.

So day after day this went on. Another battery of tests, another period of furious analysis, another dot on the chart, another gently-sloping line. There was this one time, she got all happy about having gone up a notch, but when she rechecked her scores, she realized that she had made a basic arithmetical error in her tabulation, which sent her into even more of a funk.

"Arithmetic," she said to me, softly. "Arithmetic. I need differential calculus, Zeta. I need irrational math. I need non-Euclidian geometry. And I've just lost arithmetic."

There were no tests for the rest of the day. Or for the day after.

But the tests did continue. And every day it got worse, and worse, and worse. Not dramatically. You couldn't tell, to look at her. But that's what the tests were for.

And then, one day, things were different. On that day, Dana barely managed to drag herself awake, and when she came to me for her morning report, there was a deadness in her eyes. She dismissed me and the tests she had instructed me to prepare the night before, went immediately to her DMSI graph, and began extrapolating. I can't say it was furious extrapolation, because she didn't bear herself with enough energy for that. But it was intense, focused, and very, very efficient.

In the end, she found the point where the prospective line met the zero mark, matter-of-factly labeled "Complete and Total Eradication". And it wasn't so very far off.

We stood there for a moment in silence, looking at that grim point where line met line.

Then, Dana cleared her throat, and promptly widdled all over her graph.

Eyes bright again, she then crossed to her little iPod player (the acquisition of which I'm going to be detailing in Chapter 8 ) and cued up the very song I had just sung to her. Phish, "Sample in a Jar", off of the Hoist album. And she lost herself in the music.

"Dance" would have been too kind, and too careful, a term. What she did was simultaneously, more, and less. What she did was move; move, like a thread, dangling in the air, pushed by the sound, caught forever and bound up between a shake and a handful of twirls. For a moment, there was no her anymore at all. She was the music. There was nothing else.

And then, when the song ended, she started afresh on her plans for her newest laser beam.

And stepwise, and through various happenstances, we made our way to the now. Here. A wicker chair and a phony bed deep within a department store of a very large shopping mall. Me in a wig and a black... thing... from a lingerie store, her in a tiny little Barbie nightgown. Waiting for sunset. Looking for a cowbell and the fingerbone of a saint.

We were in the final stages now, if Dana's predictions were to be believed. And it was starting to show. The plans were getting stranger and stranger, the linguistic brain farts coming more and more frequently. And still I tagged along. It's true I had stayed with her all this time for... reasons of my own. Selfish reasons. But while I would have scoffed at this idea not half a year previous, I was coming to feel that maybe there was more to this than could be explained as me throwing a bone to my personal angst, more to this than me seeing a project through to its completion.

I realized, and this made me blink, that I would miss the little creature when it was gone.

She. When she was gone.


Parts of her were already gone.


I should already have been saying goodbye.

Blink, and hold.

No more thinking like that. Just sit back, relax. Light another cigarette. Watch out for the smokies on your tail. Get your gerbil all nice and rested.

And wait... for the coming of the AfterMall.

Posted: Mon Sep 27, 2004 11:24 pm by jhrice

For a long time I sat waiting. I would have watched the shadows grow long, but in this corner of Sears, there were no windows. Eventually my mind began to wander the way it probably shouldn't, and I mulled over several imponderables. Then I came back to the problem of Brendon Flynn. The problem was clearly getting bigger. If this trend continued, It wouldn't be long before the entire world was populated by Brendons. It occurred to me that there were only two logical extremes. Either, I would be the solitary nonpareil in the Brendonverse, or worse, I would become a Brendon too. Either outcome was horrifying. I was lost in my thoughts and must have had a worried look on my face, because I was suddenly startled to hear Dana ask “What's wrong?”

Posted: Mon Nov 08, 2004 2:53 am by channing


The very name conjures up images of...

...not very much, actually. Most people wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about were I to mention it. My current biographee, a crazed hyperintelligent lab animal with aspirations toward world domination, (who, by very fact of her existence, might be expected to have at least a basic grounding in Weird) had never heard of it. Were it not for one night with a girl named Abby in Santa Monica, I might not have heard of it either.

Abby was a full-time surfer and a part-time beach bum, and was studying to become a hydrodynamicist in her spare time. To pay the bills, she was employed at one of those water-massage kiosks they set up in your more fruity malls, you know, the things where you lay in a rubber envelope and they spray the back of the rubber envelope with high-pressure water bursts to reinvigorate you for another couple hours mashing your way through the crowds to finish your regularly-scheduled indentured servitude to the lords of capitalism. Maybe you don't know what I'm talking about. Doesn't matter; I described it. Anyway, we got to talking one day when I dropped by the mall where she worked to pick up a focal-plane shutter for my camera (don't ask), and she impressed me with her lackadaisical, good-natured contempt for her customers and her knowledge of arcane pharmaceuticals. She offered me sixteen milligrams of wicked Polynesian flower distillate and a guided tour through a slice of life that few people had ever seen, and I took her up on both.

That night passed in a dizzying flash. For eleven hours I was euphoric, tremulous and horny as a tree frog, and every third object I saw was bathed in violet light. This I attribute to the drugs I was on. The rest...?

...I dunno. You aren't going to believe me when I tell you this, but I will swear to you up, down, and six different kinds of sideways that the shopping mall you see by the light of day is only half the story. If that. After the movie theaters close, after the last guards depart, after everything is locked up good and tight and ready for a night of darkened slumber, that's when the freaks come from the woodwork, doing their freak things, running their freak stores in a mad carnival of spastic joy. They set up booths in the open spaces, establish shops in the darkened storefronts where stores once were, and sometimes found entire businesses in places that shouldn't technically exist at all. I don't know how they get there. Abby mentioned something about "secret underground parking garages" but I was too high to get caught up in the particulars, and later experimentations with the phenomenon of AfterMall had yielded inconclusive answers. We twirled flaming batons, roasted a wildebeest and danced to the bizarre but inescapably catchy stylings of an Electric Hurdy-Gurdy man. Saracen warriors gave us the time of day and when they released the flamingos, that's when the real fun began.

Afterwards, the next morning, we sat on the beach, watching the sun rise and drinking massive quantities of Gatorade to stave off sudden death from electrolyte shock, an unfortunate and common side-effect of the herbal concoction I had imbibed the previous night. For a long time we didn't speak. We just sat there, listening to the tide roll in.

Eventually I said, "Was that even real?"

"Oh, yeah," said Abby, dreamily. "And, you know what?"

She touched me on the chin.

"No," I said.

"Girl," she said, "it's not just Santa Monica. It's everywhere."

And she was right. I had spent a long time looking, and had found that the phenomenon wasn't confined to Santa Monica. Nor even the coasts. Cross the country, nationwide, sea to shining sea. From F.A.O. Schwartz to Poplar &#@!$ Bluff in Rat's Ass, Nebraska. Everywhere you go. There's the AfterMall. You just have to know what you're looking for, and the way becomes clear.

But for all my travels, I had never seen the AfterMall of America.

It didn't let me down.

AfterMall! Ten times the weirdness of Burning Man with half of the pretention. Dana and I emerged from Sears into a three-level world of riotous color and deepest night. Stiltwalkers clothed in iridescent fabric the hue of a starling's wing, their faces masked with executioner's hoods, chanting in the Ionic mode. A man with sequined jacket and a flamethrower who would roast marshmallows and artichokes for you from thirty feet away provided you (a) held the skewer yourself and (b) gave him two bits for his trouble. Wandering groups of men and women beneath those Chinese dragon floats who called themselves "The Collective" and insisted on asking everyone they met whether they were in possession of any cubic zirconium and if so, could they purchase it? An entire platoon of the Soviet Army Band Horn and Drum Corps, looking lost, disoriented, and about twenty years out of fashion. COMPLETELY NUDE MEN.

And the shops! Egg Foo Jung, an Oriental eatery decorated with portraits of the great Western philosophers. Eau Contraire, a popular counter-culture hangout that served water, water, and nothing but water. Used Concrete Rebar Unlimited, which was actually pretty limited, when you thought about it. French Things 'R' Nous, which sold anything, absolutely anything, so long as it was both portable and French. Bad Ground, a coffeehouse staffed by unsmiling Native Americans in full tribal dress, whose counters bore notes to the effect that 10% of all proceeds would go to the Second Ghost Dance Fund for Reversing the Colonization of the West. The SaTUNEic Verses, which dealt in illegally-burned J-pop CDs based on the works of Salman Rushdie. I could go on, but you get the point. But for its grander scale, it was much like other AfterMalls I had experienced, although the elaborate infrastructure of the Mall of America allowed for certain excesses not possible in other, smaller AfterMalls. I will say three words and leave the rest to your collective imaginations: Roller Coaster Sacrifices.

And, as I suspected, the Cinnabon was open as well. Because even if you are a freak of society and nature, damn, those things are good.

We were quickly lost in the crowd, which was refreshingly free of Brendon Flynns.

"This is amazing," said Dana, from her position on my shoulder. No-one much paid attention. In the normal world, whenever Dana acts weird, people just get this glazed look on their faces and walk away. Here in the AfterMall, though, Dana just wasn't all that special. It seems the truly Weird can never really come into their own. "Just amazing! You're saying this goes on all the time?"

"Yeah," I said, weaving my way past a group of people engaged in the act of shoving lit sparklers into their various bodily orifices.

"Even in the little malls?"

"Yeah," I said, again. "To a greater or lesser extent. The small city all-but-abandoned ones are some of the most popular, actually. All the empty storefronts give AfterMallers plenty of room to work."

"Wow," said Dana, looking around in childlike wonderment. "In both my years, I have never seen anything to compare to this."

"Mm hm," I said.

"Look!" she cried out, tugging annoyingly at the shoulder of my black thing. "A Paladin supply shop!"

And indeed it was, staffed by a bored-looking red-haired woman in field plate armor. A nametag bolted to her breastplate read "Hi! I'm PureHeart".

"Hello, PureHeart!" said Dana, leaping all the way to the counter from my shoulder. "Tell me what you sell here!"

PureHeart sighed and cracked her gum. "We got it all," she said. "Greaves, vambraces, codpieces, breastplates, helmets, gauntlets, boots, religious icons, spurs, plumes, tabards and Swords Holy Avenger."

"Fascinating!" said Dana. "What about warhorses?"

"Yup," said PureHeart. "We got those too."

I raised one eyebrow. "You keep live horses for purchase here in the mall?"

"Nah," said PureHeart. "You see, you pick out one of these little tickets..." (she did so,) "...and then I scan it with the gun here," (again, she did so, and it made a little 'bleep' noise,) "and then, when you've paid for it, I give you the ticket, and you go down to the stables and you claim your warhorse."

"Wow," said Dana. "I'd like a warhorse, please!"

"Dana!" I said, warningly.

"Sure," said PureHeart, ignoring me. She scanned the little ticket again, and again, it made the 'bleep' noise. "Cash or major credit card accepted," she said. "If you'd like, I can--"

"One thing, though," said Dana, wringing her paws. "I'm evil. Is that going to be a problem?"

PureHeart looked at us for a second, then quirked her mouth. "Yeah, actually," she said, drawing a Lucerne Hammer from beneath the counter. "And, in addition to not selling you anything, per store policy, I'm supposed to smite you both with holy power if you don't leave the store, like, instantly. Boss gets real mad if we don't get at least a 90% smite rate," she explained, apologetically.

"She's new," I said, grabbing Dana off the counter and backing away. "And we're going."

"Hokay," said PureHeart. "Thanks for shopping PaladiNation!"

And we left, and lost ourselves again in the crowd.

We wandered for some time, in a directed fashion, away from PaladiNation, just in case PureHeart got it into her head that she wanted to up her smite quota by hunting us down and destroying us. I didn't know how any of this was legal, or even possible, but extended exposure to the AfterMall teaches you to turn what few rational parts of your brain you have left to "off".

Eventually we found a bench in an out-of-the way wing of the mall that was comfortable, clean and unoccupied by persons in various states of sexual congress. I sprawled in an exhausted fashion. Some of us didn't get a nap this evening.

"I am disheartened," said Dana, poring over her notes.

"Whyzat?" I slurred.

"The relic!" she stated, firmly. "While I most certainly agree that the resting place of the Fingerbone of Saint Mannox is more likely to be accessible from this second and far more interesting mall you have introduced me to, the fact remains that we still have no idea of its location. And the AfterMall, for all its curious charm, does not seem to have a map associated with it."

"I'm not sure you can map the AfterMall," I said. "Something about it defies codification."

"Nevertheless," said Dana, her muzzle buried in clutched paper. "We are still no closer to finding it than we were before! All we know is what I have obtained from the writings of sixteenth-century French mystic Guy de Mont Ange -- that the Fingerbone of Saint Mannox will be unearthed in a place guarded by and I quote, 'Three Deadly Challenges'. That could be anywhere!"

I looked up, across the mallway, my eyes bleary. Then I raised a finger to point.

"How 'bout there?" I said.

Dana followed my point with her gaze, to an old and cobwebby store-front whose entrance was flanked by two great stone lions. The sign above, in blazing neon, read:


Dana blinked.

And then, a sinister look spread across her face. She rubbed her paws together deviously.

"Yes," said Dana. "Yes. That will be it."

[Ed. Note. Channing - an entire post with no italics? You were slipping, my friend...]

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:55 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
@Professor - Praise goes to Shaenon for the locale - we just kinda ran with it...
This thing is ~39 pages of text; I just finished posting page 29, so we're about 75% caught up... enjoy the ride. :)

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:56 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
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Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2004 7:04 pm by Fortunato

Of course, gerbil hands do not a good intimidation tool make. A rational objection to the fact that a fast food themed place that deals in deadly challenges would have extensive rules governing the distribution of children's toys themed after the corpses of long dead saints flickered briefly through my mind, along with an objection to the fact that they sold these challenges to children under twelve, but it was quickly batted away as my attention drifted back to what dana was saying to the clerk.

"...And if you don't let us have it, someone will have to shoot Zeta in the belly so she begins dying a slow painful death, forcing me to accomplish the deadly challenges alone, braving horrors no archaeologist should face, only to return gallantly with the fingerbone and its miraculous healing powers that I got from a really old guy reading a big leather book who swung a sword at me!" Here, Dana took a breath, and continued "so PLEASE don't make me do that, just bend the rules a little bit and let us buy two deadly challenges."

The clerk, standing there with a gerbil dangling from his lapel, turned a bored eye towards me and said "look, we're not supposed to, but I guess I could make an exception. I'd ask you not to tell the manager, but she was chopped up maintaining the Rotating Knife Plastic Tube." He took a breath, picked up a flashlight from underneath the counter and shined it under his chin. He then intoned, in a bored voice, "thank you for purchasing three deadly challenges. Through this door you will find terror, hope, and perhaps even salvation. I must tell you of the deadly challenges, now, and I pray you have the luck and skill to complete them. The first challenge is the Jungle Gym of Despair. A riddle to challenge even the greatest twelve-year-old. The second challenge is the Rope Swing of Great Peril. Crossing it is a great risk to all you hold dear, and below lies only a soft pad of oblivion. Finally comes the Bottomless Plastic Ball Pit. Countless seven year olds have dived in, never to surface. Will you fare better? If your pedal is still to your mettle, follow me."

I found it surprisingly refreshing to be faced with unabashed weirdness after the wierdness masquerading as normalcy I'd been facing all day. I pulled out my credit card, paid the $4.98 the register showed, and followed the clerk back. He led us to a door with a sign next to it that said "Deadly challenge room is unsupervised. THREE DEADLY CHALLENGES (-o-rama) is not responsible for lost valuables, limbs, or lives. No shoes allowed in deadly challenge area. Please stow them in the available boxes nearby. Retrieve them if you complete the challenges. And remember, HAVE FUN!" The sign was punctuated by a yellow smiley face with a knife in the forehead. Perhaps one of the most satisfying images I've ever seen.

I took off my shoes and stowed them in cubby number 22. I noticed a lot of other shoes there, all of them children's, and most of them pretty dusty. This deadly challenge business was getting more kooky by the minute.

The clerk opened the door and waved us through to the black curtain that lay beyond.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:59 pm 
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Posted: Sat Dec 25, 2004 8:53 pm by leftcontact
CHALLENGE THE FIRST: The Jungle Gym of Despair

Dana leapt to my shoulder, as He Who Was Not Brendon guided us to a part in the curtain. "I can take you no farther. Do not leave the path, for that way lies madness. After your challenges, the path will bring you back here. Good luck. Your bones await you upon your return."

I looked at him quizzically. "You can go no farther? Is it some sort of dimensional vortex or something?

"No... it's just that I have to man the register."

Shrugging, I went through the curtain. Beyond lay a room way larger than the storefront had given any expectation of it's being. In a normal mall, it'd be an anchor store. In the Mall of America, it'd at least appear on the map. In the AfterMall.. well, things aren't always what they seem, are they?

Dana had been humming something under her breath, and chose that moment to break into song. "AfterMall that we've been through, it comes down to me and you..." Although the lyrics worked, I suppose, I don't think it's what Diana Ross had in mind. "What was THAT?"

"It's been running through my head since you first mentioned the AfterMall."

"With things like that going through your head, there's no wonder you're insane. Please stop before it spreads further." Dana did, much to my relief.

We were on a path, which curved gradually in front of us. A light mist filled the area, preventing a clear view for more than ten or so feet in any direction; I was reminded of old laser tag stadiums. To the left and right of the path were brown patches which I assumed were carpet, but on closer inspection turned out to be in fact dirt. The path itself was a yellow brick that, on closer inspection, was in fact yellow brick and not gold at all. I could see some sort of framework ahead of us. Walking along the yellow brick path, we came upon the first of our trials. This was a metal arch, spanning an eight or so foot black strip in the dirt ahead of us.

The arch itself was a pair of pipes, placed parallel to each other, rising about 6 feet above the ground and then crossing the black strip. Other bars connected the pipes, making a fairly standard playground jungle gym.

"Seems normal enough. What's to despair about?" I climbed the three bars on the bottom, reached up, and grabbed the first bar. As I did so, I heard and felt a click from the Gym, but nothing else seemed to happen.

I swung to the next bar, and the next. Still no despair, still nothing creepy. I was starting to feel let down. I was over the black stripe now, and was focussing on the far end of the Gym. Suddenly, I noticed two things: My feet were starting to get warmer, and I wasn't getting much closer to the far end of the Gym.

The clicking I had heard was apparently some sort of weight sensor on the Gym of Despair. My hanging on to the bars had caused the stripe to retract, exposing a pit of red hot goo which might be oil, probably wasn't magma, but was quite definitely directly below me and starting to make blurping noises. I starter to swing faster from bar to bar.

Dana, of course, had figured it out. "It's like a wheel - you're just spinning the bars in place. I hate those things, though they are useful as energy generators when there's no thunderstorms handy..." She trailed off, looking thoughtful.

"So how do I stop this thing, and avoid making Gerbil Fondue?"

"Oh. Grab on to the edges of the pipes, not the bars. See you on the other side." And she promptly leapt up to the pipe, and scampered off to the other side, taking a flying leap off the far end of the pipe and landing on the path.

Looking closer, I saw that she was right; the bars were running in a little sort of track, and all I had been doing was pulling the bars along the track instead of myself along the Gym. Despair, indeed. I changed my grip to the pipes themselves, and awkwardly managed to cross the pit.

Landing on the other side, I rubbed my aching wrists. "Wow, they're serious."

"And quite clever, too; did you notice that the pit started to cool down as soon as you changed your grip?"

I hadn't, being somewhat more concerned with not becoming stir-fried, and said so.

"It looked like they were using the energy you were generating from pulling the bars to heat up the oil - or, more likely, to control how much it got heated up; the faster you went, the hotter it got. "

"So the more panicky someone gets, the hotter the oil?"

" Pretty much. The more the despair, the higher the temperature, until... blorp."

"And we can expect the other two traps to be as twisted?"

"Probably. Unless that's just what they're expecting us to do, in which case it'd be ridiculously simple. But we won't know which until we get there."

We wandered off down the path towards the next obstacle.

Posted: Sat Feb 12, 2005 10:51 pm by annechen67

As the lighting changed, Dana had resumed humming. I did not recognize the tune, but it sounded a bit like a collaboration of Randy Newman and Prokofiev. Contemplating the clerk's instructions, I knew we were to be directed to the Rope Swing of Great Peril, but beyond that, the information regarding the challenge was merely marketing. A soft pad of oblivion would not normally cause discomfiture, but after all was said and done, this was still the AfterMall. A place where Language was, indeed, a virus.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:03 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
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Posted: Thu Mar 24, 2005 10:13 pm by leftcontact

As we came around a bend in the yellow brick road, we saw the walls close in ahead of us. As we approached, between the walls appeared another chasm. A pole high overhead connected the walls. From this pole a rope descended, and was fastened to something on this side of the wall.

Trudging closer, I heard another click. I stopped dead, and Dana quit humming.
"Dana, did you hear that click?"
"Yes, but I haven't heard anything else."
I stepped backwards carefully. Nothing happened.
I walked forward again.
Nothing continued to happen, even when I stood where I heard the click.
I continued forward veryveryslowly.
Nothing kept on happening, except that I started to get the feeling I was being watched.
As I approached the swing, the feeling got stronger, and a breeze started to blow. It smelled of fear and grasses, and I heard a voice on the wind. It sounded familiar.
Dana perked up. "Do you smell that?"
"Yeah. Someone was scared out of their pants."
"no- the alfalfa! That's Kansas Green! I'd know that anywhere!" She leapt off my shoulder, and scurried - no, practically flew- down the path.

I ran after her. "Dana! STOP!"

She hit the brakes and stopped on the edge. "But it's wonderful! Can't you smell it?" She was drooling.

I smelled something, all right, and it wasn't just good grass. It was a mass of humanity. I was hearing things, too- what sounded like Brendon Flynn calling me. "Zeta... Zeta Vincent? Where are you?..."

As I came to the edge, I saw that my senses weren't decieving me. The rope swing hung, cleated to a widget in a track that ran back through the passage between the walls. I noticed the end was frayed. And below it, instead of the nothingness I was half-expecting (though I should have known better), was a very odd sight indeed- a field of alfalfa, waving gently in the breeze, with Brendon in the middle, staring straight at me.

A girl with my looks is used to stares, but usually they're not so direct about it. Nor so... welcoming. And as far as Brendon himself, well, I should have guessed, shouldn't I?

"Zeta! There you are. I've been waiting for you. I've been wanting to talk to you..."

"Brendon. What are you doing down there?"

"I've been thinking about what we said earlier. Come on down here so we can talk better."

"I'm not in the habit of repeating myself. What are you doing down there?"

"Who are you talking to?" Dana was scanning the alfalfa patch, sighting along my head.

"Brendon. I told you about him earlier. He's right there in the middle of the alfalfa, walking toward us."

"Zeta, there's nobody there. It's just a field. A field of DELICIOUS ALFALFA! Look, there's bales of it in a manger on the far side, dried and ready to eat!"

A field of dreams, I thought to myself, just as Brendon reached the sheer ten-foot wall that was the bottom of the cliff. "Zeta, come down here, and bring your gerbil friend. Or give me a hand up. It's been so long since we just... talked... You were always the coolest girl in school, and I was always too shy to come up and talk to you. I'm not that shy anymore."

Once in a while the subconcious sits up, beats the concious up the side of the metaphorical head, and screams what it was trying to quietly tell you. This was one of those whiles.

Wait... Field of Dreams? "Dana, STOP. Listen to me. You can't see the guy standing directly below us?"


"He just threw a stalk of alfalfa straight at... through... you..."

"Zeta, there's nobody there, and I'm starving. Let's go eat!"

"DANA! STOP! It's a trap! Remember what the clerk said!" The gerbil stopped, one paw hovering over the field.

"What, that he wasn't even supposed to be here today?"

"No. He said that we would risk losing all we held dear, and that below was nothing but oblivion. Climb up here and hang on." She wavered.

"Zeta? What's taking you so long? I want to be with you, Zeta."

"Brendon, I'm sorry. Dana, come HERE if you want to stay a Dana." I grabbed her while she was gazing longingly at the grass - size has it's advantages, sometimes - and unfastened the rope from the cleat.

*click* Quite a lot started to happen with that click.

I heard a motor start up.

I heard gears start turning.

I grabbed the rope and the freak-mouse and swung out over the pit.

I heard what sounded like knives on metal.

I felt Brendon grab at my ankles like a one-man mosh pit.

I felt tufts of alfalfa graze my shins.

I crossed the nadir of the swing, and it all went away - I was swinging over a trench, about 10 feet deep, with dozens of Brendons milling about below.

I saw ahead of me a large plastic tube starting to rotate.

I saw points coming out of the sides.

I remembered what had happened to the manager.

I didn't think this was worth the chance of a finger bone, but I was starting to really hope the Tiny Wedge of Doom would work, because I knew where I'd aim it first if I had a chance.

"Dana, whatever you do, don't let go."

I clung to the rope, which was starting to decelerate, and waited until it was near the Rotating Plastic Knife Tube.

I wondered what about this place it was that Led To Capital Letters.

I let go of the rope - it could bloody well cleat itself - and flew through the Tube.

Posted: Fri Mar 25, 2005 12:50 am by leftcontact

The knives extended into the 3-foot tube, but somehow I managed to land on the other side with only one cut - a gash on my right arm that hurt like hell but wasn't bleeding too much. Dana, however, now sported a haircut remarkably like mine - the blades got closer than I thought they did.


The tube stopped, and I caught my breath. Ahead of me was a brief segment of path, which was curving back towards the front of the store, and the entrance to the ball pit a few feet away. Behind me -

Behind me, through the now-quiet tube, was the Rope Swing. The rope itself had swung back, catching some wires apparently strung there for the purpose and latching itself into the cleat. Below...

Below were several dozen Brendons, milling about. No alfalfa.


"You made it!"

"Why are you still there?"

"The Swing. It scans your DNA, and shows you what you should most desire, to lure you into the Pit. Touching the floor turns you into this form. My name's not Brendon, it's Alexander Hergensheimer. I'm a priest."

"So why are you still there?"

"We can leave any time we want to - as long as we stay in Brendon form. There's a door here, but the sign says 'Abandon Past, all ye who enter here.' It seems to make the change permanent... everybody who went through started calling themselves "Brendon." The manager said that if we could get someone to pull us out, though, we'd turn back into ourselves."


"Right. That was just before she tripped, and fell in to the knife tube..."

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:06 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Posted by: Fortunato : Fri Mar 25, 2005 3:58 am

Wait wait wait wait... I'm supposed to desire Brendon more than anything else?


That would, if nothing else, help explain my constant repeated viewings of him all day. I'm secretly in love with him.

Ychh. Yichh. Well, OK, maybe not ychh. Maybe just ick.

"So, Alexander, what are you DOING down there?" I said, a little curious. Given the dust on the shoes at the beginning, he'd probably been there a few months, at least.

"I dunno," he said, "We get cable. Since I've been here I've really started to like the Real World for some reason. You know, because it's what happens when people stop being polite and..."

"Yeah yeah yeah, and start being real. I've heard it before. What do you eat, anyway? I mean, how long have you been here?"

"Well, the staff drops in a big helping of Cinnabon rolls every day. I've really taken a liking to them. I think it's in my DNA, now, if it wasn't before. I dunno, my old life is getting so hazy. I don't remember liking hair gel, or fake novelty breasts before, either."

Hmph. So. The pit of oblivion slowly devours your mind along with your body. Slowly, but surely, you become Brendon Flynn.

I was snapped back to reality (such as it was) by Dana.

"Do you like fizzy pop water? With abortive lover's glances, Mr. Alexander? We need FIZZY POP! Oh, and the Fingerbone of St. Maddox. That too."

"Fizzy pop water? What's..."

"Never mind," I said, "Look, do you remember why you were here to begin with?" I looked down at him with a certain disdain. I mean, I guess Brendon was handsome, and he did have a certain way about him, a certain "I can't believe it's not butter tastes so much like butter that it must be BUTTER!" innocence about him that just cried out to my nurturing side. I've always been a little bit of a sucker for that. Well, just a little.

"Well, I was a member of the Universal Life Church. They made me go on a pilgrimage to some holy sites for them and pick up some goodies. The anklebone of St. Maddox was the last one." He (Brendon) looked at me with some pleading earnestness in his eyes and said "would you PLEASE pull me out? I'm really sorry that I got thrown in here, you're so lucky you were able to withstand it..."

"Well, I'll think it over, but you have to answer two questions first." I said.

"mumble mumble FISHBONE mumble" from my pocket.

"First, since when does the Universal Life Church demand ANYTHING from its members? And second, what got you thrown in there, anyway?"

"Well, I joined the fundamentalist wing at an AfterMall in Cleveland six years ago. They're all about getting back to the fundamental texts of the church. I'm pretty sure they were making it up as they went though; they kept giggling as they made up tasks for me."

He paused.

"Yes, and the second question?"

"Well," he said in a way that made Brendon's boyish cheeks blush in the most adorable way, "I've always had this thing for tuna sandwiches. I just can't get enough of them."

Why not? He certainly looked convincing.

I hoisted him out and dropped him on the pavement next to me. As he was pulled forth, he gradually assumed the appearance of a forty year old hippy. He stood next to me, shook himself, and said "Great, which way now?"

Posted by leftcontact : Sun Jan 07, 2007 4:18 am

I looked at him in disbelief, shocked to speechlessness. Again.

When I could talk, I replied, "I'm heading on down the path to the Ball Pit. Unless you really *want* to face the Plastic Rotating Knife Tube Thingy With Extra Capital Letters again, I'd suggest you follow."

"Tuppence more, and up goes the donkey!" Dana added from my shoulder.

Hergensheimer blinked. "Well, I've got a dollar..."

"Ignore her; she's mad."

"Oh. Did you know you were bleeding?"

I looked down, to see a thin line of blood dripping off of my right hand onto the floor. Running a quick mental inventory, I didn't have anything prepackaged handy to stop the bleeding.


"Turn around a moment, please?" I'm no prude or anything, but I'm not gonna strip for a guy I met five minutes ago. At least, not one that looked like that. Anyway, he turned around, and I took my shirt off, tore the sleeves off, and put what was left of the black slinky thing back on. "Ok, you can turn back around now." He did.

Folding up several unused pages of notebook, I tied them to my arm with the torn-off sleeves, making a bulky, floppy, and scratching bandage, but at least I wasn't dripping blood anymore.

"Wow," Alex said. "I didn't realize that was a wig. You know, maybe if you died your hair that color..." The look I gave him left the rest of that sentence stillborn.

Dana scampered back. I hadn't noticed her departure, which meant I was *really* rattled. "I took a look at the ball pit." She sat back and preened her whiskers, which would have been cuter if they hadn't been frayed like that.


"It's a large pit, with lots of balls in. And it totally blocks the path. I tried going around, but it's like the last thingy; the walls close in on it."

Posted: by Peni Griffin : Sat Jan 13, 2007 12:00 am

We must've stared at that thing for an hour. It looked harmless. Friendly even. "We should just dive in," said Dana.

"Yeah," I said, breathing out smoke from the last butt in my last pack. I figured once those were gone, it was only a matter of time before addiction drove me to take the risk. It was the "bottomless" bit that was stopping us. Solving problems while drowning in balls was just so difficult.

The butt burned my fingers as I leaned over the pit for the umpteenth time, and I dropped it.

The flash of fire singed my eyeballs.

Posted: by jhrice : Sat Jan 13, 2007 8:33 am

I was thankful I was still wearing the wig. The purple gel I used daily to get my hair its pointest, is also marketed as an industrial fire starter. I made a mental note to thank the Consumer Products Safety Commission for requiring wigs to be class 2 fire resistant. I caught the fireball in the face, but aside from losing what little natural eyebrows I hadn't yet plucked, I was left relatively unscathed.

Dana was not so lucky.

That little tuft of fur on her tail? Who knew it was flammable. And to make maters worse, apparently Dana had never seen those schoolhouse safety films, most notably, "Stop! Drop! And Roll!"
Posted by annechen67: Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:20 pm
Luckily, she was faster than I was. I finally caught her in my jacket and smothered the flames. Well, crap - it just added another layer of character.

Having rolled to the edge of the path, and once Dana calmed down, I could see the nozzles for the flamethrower. It looked like the only safe path would be to crawl to the left. Dana confirmed my observation by moaning "pass the dutchie on the left-hand side," but she could have still been in shock.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:13 pm 
New Madsci

Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Posted by leftcontact: Mon Jan 31, 2011 10:09 pm. [Now, in other words... which will really screw with someone's mind next year, when it'll be then... soon...]

Four. &#@!$. Years. That's how long it felt like, falling endlessly; I had no way of knowing how much actual time passed, as my watch band had melted about the same time as my wig. Realistically it could only have been a few minutes – if nothing else, the AfterMall would have closed up - but let me tell you, from the inside it felt like four years.

The nice safe path to the left turned out to nothing of the sort. I was being as careful as I could crawling while cradling my singed biographee, but about a third of the way past the ball pit, just too late to turn back easily, I heard yet another click, followed by the floor suddenly dropping to the right. This dumped Hergensheimer and me face-up into the ball pit, with yet another click.

I'm really starting to hate things that go click. To the point that I'm about ready to start writing with a fountain pen.

This latest click was the ball pit starting up. As I lay there slightly dazed looking up, I saw a grille with “Laugh this one off” stenciled on it start glowing, then the world dropped out from under us, again, and I was in freefall. You've seen VHS footage, I'm sure, of Shuttle astronauts floating around in microgravity and generally having a good time. I'm not sure what those people are, but they're not my species, I can tell you; all I know was one second I'm laying on my back and the next minute my lunch is trying to come back for a repeat engagement. Hergensheimer obviously shared my view; he did barf, and the force blew him through some of the now-floating balls, which started to close around his trail after a few moments.

I hung there, trying to keep my lunch down, ears up, and eyes open, while I gathered my thoughts. I wasn't falling, really, despite what my inner ears were telling me, what little I could see that wasn't colored balls didn't seem to be moving all that much. The balls were gently flowing down in one area of the pit, and up in the others; that didn't help much but it did mean I'd occasionally spot bits of the world outside the Pit and they didn't seem to be moving. Aside from that, the thing was exactly unlike a sensory deprivation chamber - all I could see, hear, and feel were balls rattling around, over, and past me.

Dana was still out cold under my shirt where I'd tucked her for safekeeping while I crawled.

Time to start crawling some more. Remembering my descent into the Pit, I figured that the way I needed to go was the way my head was more or less pointed – towards the downflow of balls. I grabbed a ball to see what would happen, and while I was able to pick it out of the air, throwing it behind me didn't seem to move me very far. “Swimming” towards the downdraft seemed to work marginally better, in the sense that it worked at all; I started moving slowly towards the edge of the pit, hoping against hope that it was the edge I needed to be on.

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:19 pm 
New Madsci

Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Annnnnnd... we're live, boys and girls; who will get us out of the ball pit? Where will we get more cowbell? Will we find the Fingerbone? And what will become of Alexander Hergenshiemer and the Plethora of Brendons? Will Dana survive to see her Tiny Wedge of Doom destroy the Tri State Area? What is it with people wanting to destroy the Tri-State Area, anyway - is there a Doofenschmirtz in the mall?

(Seriously. Ya got me. I hope someone else joins in here...)

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 5:37 pm 
Mad Scientist Unbelievable
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Joined: Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:53 pm
Posts: 3549
Location: my own little world
I hope so too! Thanks, Leftcontact-this is a hoot.

.. not how Science works, love. 1st, you build the machine, then it tells you what it's for.
Do you think I had the 1st idea what a squidhole was when I invented it? Certainly not! I was just messing about! That's when the very best & very Maddest Science gets done. I thought,Why, this alabaster octopus looks like it wants a nice transmission inside it,& fairly soon I had a thing that obviously had a Use, though what that Use could be was a total mystery.
(Sameness Engine) I haven't the 1st notion of what it's for! That's not why I made it-I made it for the sheer joy of making something new! It's getting up to tell me what it wants me to do, though, I can just feel it. It's been giggling a lot at night.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland
C Valente

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:53 pm 
New Madsci

Joined: Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:41 pm
Posts: 19
Hmm. The free forum apparently censors swearword content. I didn't change anything to top-row symbols by hand...

Chicgeek - Thanks!

 Post subject: Re: Zeta and Dana... the adventure continues.
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:44 pm 
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Joined: Sun Mar 30, 2008 11:22 pm
Posts: 1301
Location: Xyon City
The forum is set to replace the F-word with a string of symbols. No other post modifications are made.

Welcome to the promised LAN.

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