Org sighed. He hated Squiggle-Brian-Squiggle so much. He always found links and posted them before Org could, and Org so liked to look clever. It was difficult enough to look clever at the best of times, but he needed to get up very early in the morning to pretend to know something before Squiggle-Brian-Squiggle did. The damned American had learned to post links before he’d learned to talk. In fact, he may not have actually learned to talk yet.
He certainly hadn’t learned to sing.
The responses, as he scrolled down, were about what he’d come to expect.
“This is ironic!” Akantha said.
“No it’s not,” replied Ilya promptly. The incoherent Russian, in the absence of Chucky and Janica, seemed to be overcompensating, particularly when it came to Americans who wouldn’t know irony from their elbows. He disagreed with everything, even when he shouldn’t. Especially when he shouldn’t, actually. Org didn’t like that – he considered it to be his job, and Ilya did it … well, if not better, then at least more loudly. “You wouldn’t know irony if it haloed a basketball and coruscated with coriolis Coruscant television!”
That was another thing. Wasn’t babbling utter crap also Org’s job? Org clicked ‘next’ with an annoyed finger, resolving for about the fifth time to stop trying to smoke goat-hair and try to get his hands on some actual drugs sometime. If he wanted to stay current in this game, he knew, he’d have to enhance himself. Ilya obviously did.
“Actually it is sort of ironic,” Aaron Sanders chimed in regular as clockwork, defending his countrywoman. “We’ve been talking about it for so long, and now it’s finally happened. That’s how the dictionary defines ‘irony’.”
“That’s not what ‘ironic’ means,” Mark Whitaker objected. “You can talk about Martians landing on Earth for a long time, and it isn’t ironic when it happens.”
“It would be if they landed on a fish,” Ilya helped.
“It’s ironic the way it happened,” Akantha burbled. “A fan, that’s ironic, because we’re fans and it makes me feel sort of ironic.”
Akantha tended to use the word ‘ironic’ the way the United States used the United Nations: disrespectfully, inappropriately, and when nothing else came readily to hand or mind. And in a state of blissful unawareness of the fact that the rest of the world was looking on in mixed horror and amusement.
“I’m just ironic to hear it,” she concluded.
“It’s very bad news,” Lorna commented, “and I mean that as a true bisexual Wiccan.”
“It’s not bad news,” Wubbles refuted decisively. “It means they’ll actually get somebody with talent to finish the series and we’ll all be better off for it. Or they won’t finish it at all and we’ll be even more better off. Or they’ll publish the remaining notes and let us finish it. Penis,” he added.
Org sighed again and opened the link.
BESTSELLING AUTHOR MURDERED!
Marilyn Manson CDs Destroyed in Mass Quantities by Steamroller.
A tragedy has occurred in the offices of Tor Publishing in New York City. James Oliver Rigney, Jnr., author (under the pseudonym Robert Jordan) of Tor flagship-novels The Wheel of Time, has been killed by a crazed fan of the series. The man, described by witnesses as ‘very thin, with imitation fangs and a clearly insane look in his eyes,’ broke into the offices as the famous author was making a brief visit for editing purposes. The suspect was then seen by several witnesses, staggering around and talking in what was tentatively identified as a made-up language from the Wheel of Time novels.
He allegedly leapt at Mister Rigney and bludgeoned him to death with a blunt instrument that police and witnesses have confirmed as a porcelain decoration of some description. A leak to the press has identified this object as a replica of an artifact described in the book as being one of the seven seals of Hell. The object was ritually broken in the assault, and the perpetrator made a disorganised escape. He was later apprehended by police and placed in custody, but escaped from a locked cell in suspicious circumstances, killing seven officers, two police dogs, three squirrels and a pizza delivery boy. The NYPD and the NYPD Canine Unit are hot on the heels of the perpetrator. Protestors have lodged a formal complaint at the Bureau of Environmental Protection on behalf of the squirrels, which are a protected species.
The crime has been linked to heavy metal music as a major influence, and experts have pointed out the similarities between the execution and images filmed in a recent Marilyn Manson music video…
Org stopped reading.
Robert Jordan dead! It was like some sort of wonderful dream. Wubbles was right. With the blocks pulled out from under the creative machine, and some pithy young note-scraper behind the wheel, somebody who would progress the story quickly and brutally, killing off characters and resolving storylines and failing to describe every room right down to the cornices. Did rooms have cornices? Who cared? That was the point. He was sure the people at Tor had racks of eager young copywriters and assistant editors willing to take on the job of finishing what Jordan’s appetite for caviar couldn’t allow him to finish.
There was only one problem, and unfortunately bruce had already brought it up.
“What if this is a hoax?” he asked in that achingly reasonable tone of his, that somehow came across in text form. “It sounds like big news, and we’ve always worried that Jordan might die before the series was finished, and worried about what might happen next, but remember the aliens with cancer?”
Everybody remembered the aliens with cancer.
“Wasn’t that true, though?” Aaron Sanders demanded. “The guy who posted it was stationed at Area 51, where they test saucer-shaped military aircraft. He was there. I don’t see how anybody could doubt the truth of his post.”
“The BBC news website editor worked at Area 51? How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Whitaker exploded.
“Oh look, he’s disagreeing with me, what a surprise,” Sanders responded promptly. “Do you actually believe what you’re saying this time, or are you just disagreeing for the sake of saying the opposite of what I’ve said? Jeez, would it kill you to just agree with me or back up my points or find evidence for me once in a while?”
“I was so surprised I jumped back from my computer and bumped my irony!” Akantha exclaimed.
All the best responses were taken, all the behavioural niches were filled, and once again Org was at a loss. In the end, he decided to respond to the news by not posting any replies to any of the messages, except a couple of completely random and pointless posts featuring phrases like ‘your teh suck’, and by putting off the website updates by another month. It was a sign of how much the story had upset him, that he automatically responded in his regular default way.
And life went on.
Dr. Nick and Cyberwollf padded through Tel’aran’rhiod side by side. That is to say, Cyberwollf padded, and Dr. Nick walked normally. He’d tried to take a wolf form – since he’d learned to walk the Dream as an extension course in Wolf Dreaming and he wasn’t sure if the twisted stone ring ter’angreal even worked, it seemed fitting – but he’d proved unable to maintain a steady form. Plus, when he started to run, his ears caught the wind, turned inside out, and almost flipped him over nose-first into his own asshole.
The World of Dreams seemed to have settled back, more or less, to normal. Occasionally, the landscape itself would go ‘blop’ and dispense a thick bubble as though the whole scene were drawn on a piece of celluloid, under which a cigarette lighter had been lit. The bubble would pop, and there was either a weird smell of vanilla, or a muted nattering of horrified, frightened voices. The first couple of times it happened, Dr. Nick was afraid they might be Bubbles of Evil from the Dark One, but these seemed to be more or less harmless. He concluded that they were most likely aftershocks from the de-repression cascade. Nobody had been of any help about the phenomenon, but at least the damage seemed to be healing itself and they weren’t in any more danger. In fact, the bubbles seemed to be most concentrated around the place where, in the waking world, the Ogier would be sitting around their tiny campfire, worrying about the fact that everybody seemed to be asleep and they were all alone.
“Maybe we should go back and get some proper sleep now,” Dr. Nick suggested as they reached the approximate location of their campsite and the wagon with its load of drugged annoyances. “Did you find the stuff you wanted to find?”
Cyberwollf barked once, which Dr. Nick knew was code for “yes” or “danger, Will Robinson, danger.”
They’d flitted around Tar Valon for a while, but hadn’t made much progress. The White Tower was certainly infested with Darkfriends at this point, but an alarming amount of the town was … shielded, somehow. All the buildings and furniture and things were faint and semi-transparent and colourless, and the Aielman’s hands went straight through them when he tried to pick things up. Details were blurred. It was obviously some mass-ward on the Dreamscape, most likely constructed by a frightening number of evil channelers operating at peak efficiency and with the knowledge of aeons behind them.
He wondered, again, why they were heading directly towards the place.
So then they’d done their best to get to Salidar, which was where the rebel Aes Sedai were meant to be heading. They weren’t sure if that would still happen now, because the Tower hadn’t been so much broken as swallowed, but if there were Aes Sedai and Warders who had escaped the net, and they were narrative-characters, Dr. Nick found it pretty plausible that they might meet in Salidar anyway. He thought they should turn the wagon that way, and rid themselves of the wondergirls once and for all.
Cyberwollf was of a different mind. The story had been altered a great deal, and it wasn’t just the good guys. Somebody was helping the Darkfriends. That itself wasn’t much of a revelation – Cybes had known the Monkeys for a long time – but if she and Dr. Nick knew about Salidar, it was a fair bet that the Darkfriends did as well. Which could spell some kind of trap. And if the person – Cyberwollf had already taken to calling this person by the wolf-name Shadow Monkey – got hold of Nynaeve and Elayne, and their power and skill, and Min, with her visions … it could spell trouble, as well.
She barked again, concentrated, and let herself drift into normal sleep. In the flickering shadows near the campfire, her paws stopped twitching and she sat up.
Dr. Nick looked around, and sighed as he saw some telltale flashes at about waist-height nearby. The women in the wagon were coming out of their drug-slumber, and returning to deep, ordinary sleep. That wouldn’t do.
Then he was shocked awake by a cold, wet nose on his neck.
“Blurgh,” he opened his eyes. Cyberwollf sat down and grinned at him. “I thought we were just going to get some proper sleep.”
“Well, you’re right. I need to give the girls some more tea.”
“How are the-” he turned to the campfire, and stopped. “The Ogier are gone.”
“But the bubbles,” he insisted. “They were right here,” he walked across to the fire, and down. They’d written him a note. He picked it up. It was a small novel. He admired the cover, which was leather pressed with a little brand depicting a group of Ogier sitting around a campfire. As he leafed through the first couple of pages, it became increasingly obvious to him that Coarshus, Frendli, Wyse and Hoarni had spent a truly Ogierish length of time composing what was, to them, a hasty and rather thoughtless message explaining where they’d gone and why. It hadn’t just taken them most of that night. They’d probably been working on it for the past three or four nights, while they sat in an assortment of camps and watched everybody sleep. In fact, according to chapter three, Three Days and Four Nights To Explain Things To Matt, they’d spent three days and four nights coming up with the note. And from the look of the fire, and the bubbles in Tel’aran’rhiod, they’d only just left.
He skipped to the epilogue.
“There was a groan from the wagon, and the four concerned Ogier were suddenly certain that everybody would be waking up soon, and perhaps worrying about them. So they left the note lying beside the fire, and stole away to see the circus, because they really didn’t think anybody would mind. The end…” he turned the page. “…?,” he added. “They’ve left room for a sequel, at least.”
Cyberwollf sat back down, and sighed deeply.
“Circus,” Dr. Nick frowned. “Do you know what they’re talking about?”
“Woof,” Cybes replied reluctantly.
“There’s a circus going on nearby?” Dr. Nick hadn’t paid much attention to the landmarks and traffic during their journey to date. Most of the time, he’d been in a state of near-unconsciousness due to lack of real sleep.
“And it’s been travelling in much the same direction as us for the past few days?”
“Close enough for the Ogier to maybe hear it at night while they’re sitting here watching all of us sleep?”
“Oh,” he thought about it. “Oh wait,” he said, as several pieces fell into place. “It’s not Valan Luca’s menagerie with the elephants and the tightrope, is it?”
“Oh,” he thought about it again. “Do you think we should try to stop the Ogier before they get there?”
Mister C of 9 sat up.
He was quite pleased. Now that he’d run the Lord of the Rings storyline right through to its conclusion, it should have purged it all from his system, leaving him ready to get on with more important business. It was a process of cleansing that any psychiatrist would be proud to have recommended.
“Sam?” he looked around, then caught himself. Sam? That wasn’t right. The unconscious figure lying near his feet wasn’t Sam. Had he purged everything after all?
He smiled, impressed at his analysis. Of course, The Lord of the Rings didn’t end here. He was still in Mount Doom. For complete closure, he’d need to return to the Shire and stop Saruman from starting the Industrial Revolution.
He sat up, and reached out to shake Logainwise into wakefulness.
And then, of course, he remembered that he had no hands.
He looked at the ragged, bleeding stump of his left wrist, and the tiny wriggling white forearm that was growing out of the stump of his right elbow, about two inches long, the bones as brittle as fried chicken and the skin like paper. It was quite useless. He sighed, and kicked his loyal friend instead of shaking him.
“Get up! You need to carry my stuff. And also me.”
Logain groaned, and raised his head.
“What happened, Great Lord?” he rubbed his eyes, pressed his fingers to his temples, and clambered to his hands and knees. “I tried to use Callandor, then…” he shook his head. “Then there was pain, and a crushing sensation, and saidin was gone,” he looked at his master, and suddenly noticed the significant piano-playing challenges he was facing. “Great Lord, you’re hurt!”
“Very fucking observant of you.”
“Let me help you.”
“Um, let me think. Okay.”
Logain staggered to his feet, and then bent to pick up his transparent swords, and Stormbringer Sting Snaga, and their bags, and finally turned to Mister C of Bag End. The myrddraal was lighter than the two Callandors, and Logain shouldered him without much effort.
“Ow. I’ve got a sword hilt jammed in my lower back.”
“Sorry, Mister Frodo.”
“Ow. Now it’s in my kidneys.”
“Ow. I have kidneys on that side, too. Now my baby-skulls are coming off. Ow.”
“Are you sure you can’t walk, Great Lord?”
“Don’t make me fire you. You need me.”
By this time Logain had staggered down the wide, gently-sloping tunnel to its entrance, and the looming shape of a second halfman stepped out of the gloom. Mister C turned his head and frowned at the myrddraal eyelessly.
“That’s my cloak,” he said petulantly.
“It’s a bit big for you, I’m afraid,” Shaidar Haran said, “but we’ll see about getting you a new one if you like. That’s what I’m here for. Any help you might need, you’re welcome to it. We owe you that much for destroying the … you know.”
Mister C of 9’s frown deepened. “I thought you were meant to die.”
Shaidar Haran had just become a good deal more powerful with the destruction of another of the Seals, but the Nae’blis had given him his lines and he was cheerfully determined to deliver them as well as possible. As far as he was concerned he was looking at a defective halfman and a hilariously botched turning-job, but the Powers That Be tended to disagree. And it had gotten one of the Seals broken, so Shaidar Haran did his job.
“Oh no,” he said, “not dead. Saved. The Seal was destroyed and we were all freed.”
Mister C of 9 sighed. That was such a typically American lamening of a good story. Freed. Saved. Oh, the cry of the wild Televangelist. He could weep. Except he’d have to do it through his nose because he had no eyes, and he’d have to get Samwise to hold the hanky while he had a good blow, because he had no ever-fucking hands left.
“Do you want some dembas?” Shaidar Haran asked in a solicitous voice.
“Lembas,” Mister C corrected absently.
“We should wait here for the eagles,” he said to Logain, who stopped and let his swords and bags fall readily enough. Shaidar Haran helped set the weary myrddraal on his feet, of which he still had two, at least. For now. “Gwaihir the Windlord and Landroval and Meneldore the Swift will be coming to find us, and bear us home.”
“Fliers, you say?” Shaidar Haran nodded, and spoke quietly into the collar of his cloak. He was in constant communication with the Nae’blis anyway, but Angamael preferred it when the Hand of the Dark spoke into his collar. It looked more professional. In the New Order, everybody was professional, everybody talked to everybody else, and everything was organised. Their new allies already had a network, and Shaidar Haran had high-level access to their flight patterns. “I’m sure they’re on their way. Grayhere and-”
“Yes. And Landrover and Men Galore. Oh look, there they are now. I’ll be off. Congratulations again,” Shaidar Haran stepped into the shadows leewards of the tumbled stones beside the tunnel entrance, and vanished. Seconds later, three great raken settled on the slopes of Mount Doom.
“Ach! Need a reed, do ye, begorrah?”