Wherein Shit Gets Weird, Then Ends
“Her name is Ana-Lennox Medianu,” I said, “and her friends called her Lenny, and our friends called her Carl. But considering what their nicknames were, she got off lightly.”
“I’m listening,” Carla said.
“A few years back, Carl helped us to save Christmas,” I explained, “which actually meant saving the universe because ‘Christmas’ was actually … how much detail do you want me to go into over this?”
“Let’s see if I’ve got the basics of it,” Carla said. “‘Christmas’ was actually a parasitic conceptual sub-universe that had been feeding off our own, moving its denizens into this universe using a selection of cultural and physical placeholders like reindeers and fat bastards who sneak into your house in the dead of night. A pair of Elves tried to escape but the only way they could do that was by ending the entire universe, which they considered a bargain. Instead, you somehow took their place and disconnected Christmas from this universe, essentially casting it out into … slo-time … where it no longer technically existed. Saving this universe the way surgery and chemo save a cancer patient.”
“‘Surgery and Chemo’ is actually an alternative title we’ve been playing around with for ourselves,” I said. “I’m guessing you know all this because Carl left you notes?”
Carla nodded. “Apparently she figured out there was … something … trying to re-establish that connection,” she said.
“A relapse,” Creepy did his best to keep up.
“Whatever. She said something about how she’d gone looking for whatever it was, and that was when she’d wound up trapped in slo-time. So when the sensory nervous signal exchange pulse occurred, or the potential for it to occur manifested, she rode it back here. And in doing so, apparently, created a cascade effect that bumped everybody one brain over.”
“Except us,” I said, “because she was aiming for us.”
“And she hit me,” Carla said, “because a severely underweight caffeine-addicted vegan eco-terrorist is apparently the closest thing to a … Creepy … she could actually swap places with.”
“Makes way more sense than anything else I could have come up with,” I allowed. “I’m not sure why she couldn’t actually swap with one of us two, but-”
“That’s where it got even weirder,” Carla said. “The universe isn’t really the universe, and slo-time isn’t what you think. You’re not even what you-”
“You’re an eco-terrorist?” Creepy exclaimed. “That’s so radical!”
“Creepy, please,” I said. “This could be important.”
“Did he say ‘radical’?” Carla pointed at Creepy suspiciously.
“I’m afraid so. So – slo-time isn’t what we think? And we’re not what we think either?” I pressed. “I only ask because I actually have very little idea myself. You know, in a philosophical sense.”
“Look, she had a ton of diagrams and pages of notes,” Carla said. “I think all she did was write notes for the apparently one single day she spent here. Felt longer to me but whatever, that’s slo-time for you. A day there, and I wound up in the asylum. A bunch of the stuff she wrote down was crazy, fair enough, but I don’t know how she managed to stay as sane as she did.”
“Carl’s a tough nut,” I said, then winced. “Sorry.”
Carla didn’t seem to care about this. “So she spent the whole time writing notes instead of trying to find you two,” she said. “Then I came back, and was … committed almost immediately. I read through the notes, which were all around me when I woke up, but they took them off me when they locked me up. When I got out a week later, the notes had all been destroyed for my own good.”
“Typical,” I muttered.
“They only kept you for a week?” Creepy demanded.
Carla fixed him with a fierce blue-eyed glare. “How long do they normally keep you for?”
“I withdraw the question.”
“Of course,” I said. “It makes sense. She was trying to get back here but the only way to do it was a consciousness exchange of some sort. So she aimed for us, but we were – like – the epicentre of the thing, nothing she could do with us.”
“Epicentre?” Creepy frowned.
“So anyway, she hit the next closest combination of mind and body,” I said, gesturing at Carla. “And somehow, in the process, bumped everyone else into each other according to a specific set of criteria. It’s not soulmates that got paired up, although I’m forced to acknowledge that there are certain similarities. It’s Creepy and Hatboyesque super-sidekicks. Creepies were bumped from their own bodies into the bodies of their metaphorical Hatboys. Hatboys were swapped with their Creepies. God have mercy on their poor miserable souls,” I mourned.
“So all this time, we’ve been uniting super-sidekick duos?” Creepy scowled.
“No,” I waved a hand. “Not just anyone can be a super-sidekick, Creepy. But the next closest thing? Maybe we have. And now we have one last job to do,” I concluded, pointing at Carla. “We have to reunite-”
“Now hold on-” Carla snapped.
“Don’t say it, Hatboy!” Creepy flung his arms over his head. “If you say we have one last big job before retirement, that’s it for me! I’ll be doomed for sure!”
“Okay, it’s not a job,” I sighed. “We’ll give up on the detective agency. But whatever slo-time actually is, however this whole thing works, we need to figure it out. And we need to get Carl back out of there.”
So that’s where it started, you see.
From there, it was all very straightforward. We sat on the couch and watched television for a while, then went travelling in an attempt to figure out how the exchange pulse worked and whether we could formulate some sort of algorithm to try to recreate the effect; we failed, and Creepy decided he needed to officially retire for his own safety; we rode the spatial intersplicer to the edge of the universe and back again and didn’t even get a stupid hat, let alone any more detailed answer as to how the pulse had worked; we got back to find that Carla had vanished, which we assumed was a kidnapping but which revealed itself to be the entirely logical actions of a known eco-terrorist taking matters into her own hands because she got tired of waiting for us; we put the pieces together and followed her, without knowing we were following her, to the Yuletide Corporation (Don’t Worry, It’s Just A Name) facility, which she then blew up after we found the shadow-government conspiracy’s experimental Christmas-re-grafting machine and figured out that it was using the same weak spot between Christmas and our universe that Carl had taken advantage of to ride the pulse across to swap with Carla and incidentally kick this whole thing off, even though it was nothing to do with her except insofar as she was involved up to her armpits in the whole Christmas fiasco last time; and that was the point at which, after a bit of a rest to recharge our batteries and have one last nightmare about Father Christmas’s Workshop, Creepy and I went to war.
See? Perfectly clear, really.
We geared up, and we met Carla and the two Elves we’d rescued from the lab out on the moonlit street.
The two Elves were not Chester-Buxley-Fitzsimmons-Wolverwover-deKnobes and Archibald-Wangarrison-Todhunter-Wensleydale-Finchley III, or ‘Nobbo and Wanker’ as we’d been forced to come to know them. I’d half expected them to be, but sometimes when you peel off the mask of the Law of Conservation of Characters it’s revealed to be a bunch of lazy readers and writers taped together to look like an actual thing, but it’s not a thing. Anyway, they did know Nobbo and Wanker, of course. Nobbo and Wanker were famous.
They introduced themselves as Archie and Norman, and it just seemed easier that way.
“Okay,” Carla said, “what’s the play? What are we looking for?”
“I’m going to hand you over to my insufferably smug super-sidekick for the answer to that,” I said, gesturing at Creepy who did indeed look even smugger than usual.
“I had my first suspicions when I was hacking the Yuletide Corporation (Don’t Worry, It’s Just A Name) computer system,” he struck a yarn-spinning pose, “and I realised that while, yes, they were certainly responsible for attempting to fuse Christmas back with this universe out of so-called slo-time, and while this did create the phenomenon we called the exchange pulse, it didn’t actually cause The Event. And, indeed, their work was nothing to do with our client. Who is not our client,” he added, spoiling the narration a little, “because we’re retired.”
“Is he going to get to the point any time soon?” Carla asked.
“Probably not,” I said.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Differential Engine was busy pulling Christmas back into reality,” Creepy intoned, “and that was adding a metanarrative charge to every consciousness in the universe. That was the pulse, and that was what Carl used to jump back into this universe, into Carla’s body, while Carla was left to languish in Carl’s, outside of space and time and pursued, incidentally and horribly, by the vengeful entity known so naïvely as Father Christmas.
“But! It was not the ultimate source of the connection,” Creepy continued over the gusty sighs and meaningful watch-glances of his companions. “For Carl, at some point before all of this occurred – quite possibly only shortly after our original dramatic defeat of Christmas in what we now recognise to be the opening salvo of a war rather than the war itself – found her way into slo-time and was then forced to take advantage of the Yuletide Corporation (Don’t Worry, It’s Just A Name)’s machine to bring her back. You might want to keep that in mind, Hatboy,” he added, “if you ever plan on telling this in order sometime.”
“I’ll make a note of it,” I lied.
“My poor innocent super-sidekick Hatboy thought we were looking for a space/time differential sinkhole,” Creepy said, with a knowing smile and forbearing roll of his eyes at the audience, “a saggy squishy thing in space.”
“You’re the one who said-” I began.
“And when I told him of my success, he assumed I had found it. When I told him I’d found her, he compounded his error by assuming I meant Carl,” Creepy posed again, and extended a hand. “When in fact I meant Carla.”
“What?” I exclaimed dutifully. “The sinkhole that Rudolph was running off wasn’t in a set place? It was Carla all along?”
“Wait,” Carla’s eyes narrowed. “I’m a saggy whatever in space?”
Creepy sniggered. “Hatboy’s words, not mine.”
“Wait a second-” I fumed.
“Yes,” Creepy struck a third pose, and almost overbalanced due to the weight of the anti-Christmas ordnance he was carrying. “I had my first suspicions when Carla said she was an eco-terrorist…”
“You just started your exposition again with exactly the same phrasing,” I complained.
“Consistency matters. It was then a simple matter of tracing ‘Carla’s’ movements back to a certain point where she was involved in a protest against illegal waste dumping from some corporation or other. She was the only survivor, none of her fellow eco-terrorists were ever found and she was forced to go underground and hide her identity.
“But! She was not unscathed by the incident. I have reason to believe that this company was attempting to dump its waste directly into the mists of slo-time, and when she snuck into the lab in order to blow it up, she was irradiated with possibly the lamest superpower ever,” he posed a final time, but I had to admit it was dramatic. “The ability to sort of carry around a doorway to beyond the universe that could only be used in really stupidly specific circumstances.”
“Try fitting that on a super-suit,” Norman, in an admirable attempt to join in, challenged us all from somewhere below waist-level.
“That’s what Carla meant when she said that Carl’s notes revealed slo-time wasn’t what we thought,” Creepy declared.
“That’s not remotely what I meant when I said that,” Carla declared flatly.
“So how did Carl use her to get into slo-time?” I peered at Carla.
“I’ve never even met Carl,” Carla snapped. “I have no idea-”
“That was the tricky part,” Creepy admitted. “Figuring out how Carl had used your superpower without you even knowing about it, to transport herself-”
“Carl would never have done it on purpose,” I said. “It must have been initiated from the other end, after Carla had been irradiated with this preposterous bullplop superpower you mentioned.”
“Exactly the conclusion I came to some time ago,” Creepy approved. “The transportation was in fact initiated from the other side – by none other than The Claus himself.”
“You’re absolutely just making this up as you go along,” I accused.
“Maybe I am and maybe I’m not,” Creepy said, unslinging his trusty axe, Bob, from among his equipment. “But this is war, so-”
He swung the axe at Norman’s head with full force. Before it hit, Norman vanished in a puff of mist. So, aside from Creepy and myself, did the rest of the universe.
“Alright,” I said, looking around, “I’ll grant you that was pretty cool.”
“Thank you,” Creepy said, returning Bob to his back. “Now let’s find Carl and get out of here.”
I was still looking around. “Yeah,” I said, “any bright ideas on how we might do that?”
“I think it’s your turn to have a bright idea,” Creepy said, “isn’t it, Hatboy?”
“Alright,” I said, “how about we reminisce about how amusing it was when we kicked Father Christmas and his shoddy workshop so hard it detached itself from the actual universe?”
“I liked the squee-hee-hee noise he made,” Creepy offered. A sourceless bellow of rage reverberated through the mist. No, not sourceless. Directionless, perhaps, but we both definitely knew the source. “Did your bright idea include what to do after that?” he asked.
“Your turn?” I hazarded.
The figure that loomed out of the mist, however, was not the vast red-and-white spheroid of The Claus. It was the familiar figure of Carl, and the equally familiar figure of Ian.
“You imbeciles,” Ian said before any of us could speak. “We had closure and everything. What the Hell are you doing?”
“Responding to a call,” I said, and explained briefly about the weak spot through which The Claus had dragged Carl in an attempt to get his revenge, and the pulse she had used to attempt to return, and the way this had resulted in everybody swapping bodies for a day, and then Creepy interrupted me to quibble over the terminology again, and that was when Ian stopped us.
“Carl already told me most of this,” he said, and turned to his companion.
“I wasn’t calling for help,” Carl said, “I’m studying this place. I can get back whenever I need to. But they were trying to reconnect The Claus to our universe, so I used the signal to send you a message.”
“It was an unusually cumbersome way of sending us a message,” I said, “and I’m saying that as the inventor of noodle packet stack hex code.”
“If you can get back whenever you want, why not just come back and warn us about Yuletide Corporation (Don’t Worry, It’s Just A Name)?” Creepy demanded.
“Yes, well, I thought I’d be able to contact you directly by connecting to one or another of you,” Carl said, “but … Carla … simply made too deep a depression in the gravity well of reality. I tried to write out a bunch of notes for her. The thing is, I can come back when I need to but that could wind up being some completely arbitrary time and place over on your side of the mist. So it wouldn’t really be very useful.”
“And is that what’s going to happen when we try to go back now?” I asked.
“What the Hell difference does it make to you two clowns?” Ian snorted. “You eat causality for breakfast and wipe your mouths on the fabric of space-time.”
“Don’t you know what this is yet?” Carl asked us, spreading her hands.
“No,” I said. “Your notes got taken away by the nice people at the mental asylum,” there was another shattering roar from everywhere close by. “Maybe we should turn this into one of those running meetings I’ve heard about,” I suggested.
“There’s nothing here that poses any danger to you,” Carl said. “Only him,” she pointed at Creepy, “and him,” she pointed at me. “You’ve never been so close,” she went on. “But you can’t get there from here. Didn’t the Myconet tell you that? You can’t get out by running outwards. All you’ll find is the ragged edge, the Wasteland – the mist. This.”
I looked at Creepy. “Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?”
“Don’t ask me,” Creepy said. “I came out here with the very simple intention of groining Father Christmas with an axe.”
“As long as you destroyed the differential engine,” Carl said, “there’s no more danger of any Christmas crossovers.”
“Carla blew it up,” I said.
“Why don’t we just use this Carla for everything from now on and avoid Doop and Stoop here forever?” Ian suggested.
“Hey,” I said, then grinned. “I’ve missed you.”
“I bet,” Ian said. “You’ve still ruined my exit.”
“So that’s it?” Creepy said, sounding increasingly outraged. “We don’t get to destroy Christmas?”
“It’s all out here,” Carl said. “It’s already destroyed. This is as destroyed as things get. I wish I could explain this to you.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I tried,” Carl said, “and you destroyed the notes.”
“Sure,” she waved a hand. “Okay. Not you. Just as you like. But I can’t give you new information. I can’t make you comprehend. So it’s going to have to wait.”
“Just don’t wait too long,” Ian said, as the mists thickened. “Slo-time’s getting bigger.”
The mist receded, and the street returned.
“What the Hell was that?” Creepy demanded.
“It was you trying to decapitate me, is what it was,” Norman said indignantly.
“Are you going to transport yourselves into slo-time now?” Carla asked.
I looked at Carla, then at the two Christmas Elves. As long as you destroyed the differential engine … there’s no more danger of any Christmas crossovers.
No more danger…
I looked at Archie and Norman.
It was fine, I decided. It was probably fine.
“Let’s go in,” I said, turning back towards our front door. “America’s Funniest Christmas Car Wrecks is starting in ten minutes.”