07 November 2011

Nothing to see here

No updates during National Novel Writing Month

Why did I take a database course that consumes so much time in November???

10 September 2011

Do open letters undo closure?

(Alternate) Heart of my Heart clocked in at more than 5000 words. The font looks appallingly tiny on my screen, but I suppose I can deal with it? I can make the font bold or larger type, but that just makes the blog taller with fewer words per line. I need a wider format.

The earlier entry was an exploratory piece that I decided to abandon entirely. It was a story that I intended to be my November is National Novel Writing Month project. It would have been fun to write, but the C-cannon Star Wars Universe is complex, and someone has already written stories about Piett surviving the collision. And the clone of Palpatine. So yeah, I don't have any interest in re-visiting ground that someone else exhausted.

So then I thought that I'd write a prequel to the film 'Escape from New York.' I always thought the film was intriguing - but it really missed... something. I think that John Carpenter had meant for the idea of a walled-in NYC prison to be creepier (like the scene where all those guys emerge from manhole covers). Well, of course, the best monster movies are the ones where you make your own suspense because you don't see the monster for a long time. But when you do see these 'monsters', they're extras wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers. And they mostly run past in the shadows during eerie sound effects. Wooo. So it pretty much missed the horror bus, and all that was left was half of what could have been a decent action movie.

But we never learn much about S.D. Plissken either, and this makes it a little difficult for the audience to connect with the I-don't-give-a-fuck tough guy. Who is 'Snake' Plissken? Why do people think he was dead? There should be plenty off room there for a story. So I did some brain storming and I came up with some really good story ideas, including the origin of the eye-patch. [I had him as a younger man falling out of a tree after trying to put the moves on some girl - resulting in single-eye double vision] Then last week I suddenly realized that it wasn't enough to watch the film to see where a prequel novel should end. If there is a movie, there is probably a book out there, right? Well there is a book. And it starts before the film. And it includes the origin of the eyepatch. And it includes the story of the robbery of the Federal Reserve Depository. So it basically covers all the bases before the film begins.

Well shit. 

Scratch that idea then. It does save me the trouble of how a one-eyed guy could get into Special Forces. A one eyed man flying a plane isn't a big deal though; see Wiley Post. It would have been fun to write though. Dammit. I do have a fallback idea for NaNo, but I'll hang onto that one for now.

09 September 2011

(Alternate) Heart of my Heart

This is a fan fiction based on the characters, stories, and ideas of the Amazingly Nifty Pete Abrams, as His Niftiness made manifest in the worshipful comic: Sluggy Freelance

[Pete, I hope you don't mind me playing in your sandbox. I just couldn't stand the tension betweeen Torg & Zoe. ]

[Ye Olde Sluggite Canon date: December 9, 2004]
            Torg has once again been drawn into a parallel universe - or alternate dimension if you prefer. Torg has been to this world before. On that occasion, Torg was rescued from great peril in the Dimension of Pain. Instead of being tormented by demons, he was suffering in an alternate dimension that had no beer or pornography. Alternate Riff and Alternate Zoe were sad to see him leave, but Torg's Alternate pet mini-lop 'Bun-Bun' showed him the kindness of returning Torg to his home dimension.
            Owing to the wonders of not-quite-happy science, the portal through which Torg was rescued from the Dimension of Pain did not close properly. [Pay attention children! This is what happens when you do not put away your plot devices when you are done playing with them!] When the demons of the Dimension of Pain discovered this, they invaded the dimension of overarching niceness, bringing the terrible "Not Particularly Nice Times." Faced with such uncourteous visitors, Bun-Bun 'requested' aid from the only person he could think of. Thus Torg was again pulled unwillingly into the Dimension of Nice - along with a large section of his bedroom.
             Fortunately, the sword that Torg kept from his previous adventures was among his newly displaced belongings. When energized by the fresh blood of innocent victims, the sword "Unholy Bringer of Death and Bitter Wine**" (but known as "Chaz" to his friends) was able to speak, and otherwise assist Torg in his battles, making Torg a true hero. However, Torg was a single champion fighting a horde of demons through the time-honored strategy of "hiding somewhere with a fair maiden until the wine turns bitter**." Eventually the demons were forced back into their own dimension, where the Alternate Zoe perished before Torg could free the Goddess of Good from her cold prison, whereupon she sealed the rift between dimensions for ever.

** Translator's Note: There has been much debate about this expression used in the Language of the Ancient Guys. It is true that the language clearly invokes some manner of bitterness, causing 'puckering' or 'sucking'. This author maintains that it is wholly improper to make the rash assumption that the Ancient Guys were intentionally trying to say "this sucks."

(Alternate) Heart of My Heart

Finally. I can go home. I’ve been stuck in this bland Dimension of Nice for... uh...

Well, it's been ages. I'm not even sure what day it is, and I don't much care. In fact I'm kinda numb about the whole thing now that it's over. (She's gone) Shut up! Stupid brain! Don't think about it! Think about something else. I’m so very close. I'll be home soon. Back home in my own dimension with Riff... and Zoe.

And now I dread going back.

Stupid 'Dimension of Nice'! This place just rubs me wrong. Everything here is wrong! It's all off-kilter and twisted compared to Home. It's like the story of my life if it were written in a garish font. The people and places seem to be the same, but I can't look at anything here without being annoyed by how wrong it is compared to the reality that I know. There's no alcohol, no meat, even their “pornography” is really a celebration of healthy sexuality. There, you see, that is just wrong; pornography is supposed to be dirty. Everything here is so upbeat that it drives me buggy.

What's worse is that my own annoyance is also at odds with this dimension. When I show my disaffection with their 'socially progressive' ways, I'm immediately casting myself as the Bad Guy in this endless parade of smiles. These people listen patiently to my long-winded complaint, even take notes sometimes, in order to be properly attentive to my ranting! Then they respond with kindness and acceptance. It makes me feel guilty and ashamed to have raised my voice to these nice people in the first place. 

Home could never be like that. Hollywood would curl up and die for lack of plausible tension. People would be afraid to change the channel on their televisions for fear of slighting the actors or writers in the sitcoms. Politics would be a smiling contest between two boring suits with slightly different ideas on how to make the world a more cheerful place. And reluctantly, I have to admit that things at home could be vastly improved in the direction of “Nice”. This place though, this place is just nuts; so much pleasantry and well-wishing makes my flesh crawl.

Anyway: I am going Home!
Steak! Tequila! Beer! Spicy food! ... and Zoe.

(She's gone) Shut up!

Just the thought makes my heart sink. The idea of facing my dimension's Zoe disturbs me in ways I had never thought possible.

What the hell do I say to Zoe? I have to say something; we live in the same house for Goddess' sake!

“Hey sweetheart! I didn’t miss you because I was with you!” Yeah, that’s a non-starter. Maybe I’ll tell her, and then quickly turn her into a camel? Nah, she’ll just carve me up with my own sword when she changes back to a human again. Actually, I could probably keep her in camel form for a long time. That might actually work... except Gwynn would get suspicious at all the camel droppings. Then Gwynn would change Zoe back, and happily show her how to make her revenge much more painful. 

“I loved her, because I love you!” Yeah, I might as well break my own arm first. That way there's maybe a 50% chance I could get a little sympathy before she kills me. 

And now I feel like an ass for thinking up these silly excuses. Was I a victim? Not really. Alt-Zoe loved Alt-Torg. Alt-Torg died... somehow... apparently there was a fission popcorn experiment. When I showed up again I took Alt-Zoe into hiding from the demons. Alt-Zoe loved Alt-Torg, and somehow that translated into her loving me. I went along with it because... because... I guess because it felt right. I guess I've always been in love with my dimension's Zoe. So I loved Alt-Zoe willingly, and now that she’s gone, I’m quick to dishonor her memory by making excuses for my actions. Pretending she didn’t mean anything to me is pretty poor behaviour for a former lover. ... Replacement lover? ... Alternate lover? ... whatever. Stupid confusing alternate dimensions. I got involved with Alt-Zoe, we were happy, and I don’t think I would have done anything differently there. Well, except for the part where she died... argh... Shut up brain! I can cry about this later, let's go home first! Hurry up Goddess!

It’s going to be hard to look Zoe in the eyes, whatever else I do.

“Hurry up Goddess, I have to go home and suffer!” 

How do I get mixed up in all this stuff anyway?
Riff's inventions, usually. And tequila. I miss tequila.

[Ye Olde Sluggite Canon date: December 9, 2004]

I’m really back? This place... it’s been so long that the house seems strange to me. I’m back, but now it feels like I don’t belong here anymore. It's very quiet. (She's gone) shut up! I'm in the kitchen, and it's not quite like I remember. Oh, now I understand, someone finally got the jalapeno hot pocket stains off the stove! The place got cleaner without me. Woah! Maybe they moved out after I was zapped to the other dimension? It’s dark outside, so it must be late at night? Maybe they’re all asleep? That could be a good thing! Maybe I can sneak up to bed and surprise them in the morning...

Uh oh, someone’s stirring in the living room. Well crap.  So I guess it’s time for my triumphant return. I step into the room, into the light... and into my new private hell.

Oh God please help me. It’s Zoe.

All my thoughts evaporate and I want to cry.

I want to say something but I can’t. I can see dark streams of blood on a mountain of bleached bones. A nightmare punctuated by my own screaming. I can hear her pouting - only because I was too slow to reassure her that I would return to her safely. Poor meek, doe-eyed Alt-Zoe. I can taste her gentle kisses. She's dead and gone and she's looking right at me. The real Zoe. The Zoe that I secretly loved before... before...

Her eyes are wide with amazement, and then she smiles. That smile that always brightened my day before; now it destroys me utterly. What do I do now? What can I do now? Say something Torg! She rushes to me, barefoot. Each light foot fall breaks my heart. I can't bear it.

“Torg! You’re back!” She takes those arms that Alt-Zoe held me with, and throws them around me, sealing my torment. It’s too much, I feel helpless and start sobbing. I sink to my knees but Zoe stays with me. She’s surprised, but she hugs me and says that it’s alright. She says that I’m safe now. The Zoe’s have the same smell! Oh, Zoe. How can I tell you? Where would I start?

“You can't imagine... how happy I am to see you ... alive”


“Of course I’m alive, silly!”

... what did I say? The shock of realization helps me recover.
“I... it’s a long story...  that I’d... I'd rather not talk about right now ... and I’m so tired...”

I’m still coming back to my senses, but at least I’m talking. Say something meaningful, Torg!

“I’m glad you saw me first, Zoe. I missed you...”   so much? Should I say that part? Wait a minute? Is she still seeing Leo? I don't know. I can't remember. Wait until you feel yourself, then you can confuse the poor girl with professions of alternate love. Wake up Torg! Wake up, and get back to reality, Torg.

“I'm sorry. I ... feel a little silly, Zoe. I’ve been away too long, huh? I... uh... I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Is that alright?” We help each other up, and I start to tramp upstairs to bed. 

 Wait a minute, I can't go to bed. My bed is in the Dimension of Nice! Way back when that crazy Alt-Bun-Bun showed up. That stupid auto-something took a large part of my bedroom to the Dimension of Nice! 

So I’m sleeping on the couch...  and if I’m going to do that, I may as well get comfortable. Oh man, this is going to be difficult. So I muster all the energy I can find, and stop climbing the steps. I turn around, and look directly into those beautiful eyes. It was never this painful before. Every conversation is a new horror. What should I say? Somehow, I even manage to smile.

“Hey Zoe? You know what? I just remembered something. I seem to have left my bed back in the Dimension of Lame. Join me for a beer - or ten - before I sack out on the couch? Maybe something stronger if we have it?

"Wine??? Really??? Er, is Crystal’s bar* still open?
"Well, alright... but just because it’s you.
"Do we have any of those microwave jalapeno pizza-puffs?
"So what’s that you’re reading?”

And for God’s sake, please don’t see the anguish in my eyes.

[*Sorry Pete, I couldn’t remember if Crystal’s bar had a name.]

[Here endeth the canon. The above thoughts and words could reasonably take place within canon. This part of the story isn't even close to the Worshipfully Nifty Sluggy Freelance multiverse.]

Days later....


Oh man, am I ever hammered! Boy, did I need this! I’ll say this for the Dimension of Nice: after drinking sping water and rice cakes for-FREAKING-ever, I have no tolerance at all - and it is awesome! OK, sure, it was more awesome *after* I was sick, but: there can be no overindulgence without after effects! It is an immutterable law! Or something! And becaush it is a law, I am always happy to be in complic... agreement! (Haaaarf!)

I was starting to think something was wrong with me. I don't feel different, but I am. Everyone around me can see something’s different about me - and I still can’t bring myself to explain. What could I possibly say? Everyone around me was dying because they were too nice to be aggressive. They didn't even think to defend themselves, because that would be a kind of violence. I was terrified, but I was the only one who could do anything. I was a terrified beast among a docile people. Terribly nice dead-people-to-be. 

Now that I'm back, I don't want to remember. No, that's not true. Alt-Zoe was real. I don't mind remembering Alt-Zoe, but all the crap around us was surreal. It was so awful that it's hard to reconcile it with reality. How do you wipe pieces of your friends off of your shoes and go on with your life? So I haven't been talking much. To anyone. My friends have been good natured about it. Except when they ask each other if I'm really the right Torg for this dimension. Riff was so concerned that he got me a stripper in a nurse costume. I need to ask him if that’s going to be a new custom; a beer every year, and a stripper every time we go dimension-hopping? I guess that was a nice thing for him to do, but it felt awkward. What’s worse is that I’m still so wrapped up with my obsession with multiple Zoes, that I had no interest in that poor girl. I sure hope that’s normal.

"... hate to look a gift nurse in the blouse. Ha!” Torg muttered as he tried hard to make his key go into the lock. How strange that the keyhole doesn’t swim around like this in the daytime... Yes! There we go! The trick is to move with the lock! ... Or did I move in the opposite direction? Doesn’t matter, I’m inside now with my good friends. Oooh! I need to go thank Zoe for giving me the few dollars it took to get me obliterated. That was very thoughtlessful of her. Ha, ‘thoughtlessful’, that's funny. I should remember that. Ooooh! There she is!!

“Do you see, Zoe?” I announced, “I always return to you!” and with one arm I corral her and kiss her passionately. Then I had some strange notion that this was wrong - for some reason that eluded me. There was definitely some reason why I'm not supposed to do this, but at the same time... call me crazy, but I just don’t see why it's wrong. After a few wonderful moments, Zoe pushes me away. That's... odd. Zoe is startled, out of breath, and starting to blush. Crap, I just bet she’s going to ask if I’m the right Torg for this dimension again. Then suddenly I remember why I wasn't supposed to kiss her.

“Torg?” she finally manages, “Torg, you’re drunk! I mean, I know that was the idea, but what...  I mean - wow that was really nice - but what was that for? Also, ew what’s in your mouth?”
Zoe’s turning crimson now. Oh yeah, that was definitely a bad idea. This is the wrong Zoe. I mean it’s the right Zoe. I mean... argh! Stupid alternate dimensions! Hot remorse washes over me. Embarrassed, I want to run away. I don't, because... because of the stupid Dimension of Nice. I don't run away because Zoe deserves better than me moping about and running away. Well, OK, technically I did run away. I moved about 5 steps away so I could throw up in the toilet down the hall. But then I came back. Gwynn was in the adjoining room, but I can just bet that she didn’t miss out. Wouldn’t matter if she did, she’d hear about it from Zoe soon enough.

“I... I’m sorry Zoe, I’m so glad you’re alive.” I hung my head, my numb and dizzy brain trying to think of a solution.

Zoe is very crimson. She can’t decide whether she should be furious, insulted, impressed, or just embarrassed.

“Alive???” Zoe sputtered. Oh yeah, she’s definitely decided to be mad at me.

“Thats the second time you said it. Torg, what the hell happened?”

Riff is coming down the stairs, with Kiki the ferret, to see what’s going on. Zoe still doesn’t understand, but Gwynn... Gwynn was always smarter than I give her credit for. Gwynn feels like she’s intruding and hesitated to speak up, but decides to do it anyway.

“Torg, you said there was another Gwynn in that dimension....” she trails off. She doesn’t need to finish. Absolutely right in one, Gwynn. Remind me to treat you with more respect. That's the key idea for this situation. Alternate dimensions; alternate people. Zoe will figure that out all by herself. I’m not getting out of explaining it this time. I can feel tears on my cheeks now. The tears of a drunken man; the brain can no longer feel pain, but the body remembers the pain. So many people were dying around me; I can't say that I mind weeping now. The tears are welcome. But my friends don't know yet. So now they'll think that I've gotten into Riff's psychotropic drugs too. I need to tell them the story right now. Except that, even if I really wanted to, I’m not in a good state of mind to tell the story. Fortunately, I’ve thought about this long enough to come up with a solution. And best of all, it's a solution that doesn’t involve Torg telling Zoe that he loves both of her! Or all the 'her.' Should that be 'hers?' Stupid alternate dimensions!

So I began with a cop-out:
“I’m sorry Zoe. You’ve been patient with me. You’ve all been good to me since I got back from that stupid dimension. I want to tell you what happened, but I can’t. It was pretty awful. But I have the next best thing. Someone else can tell you... if you’ll give me a little blood.” I was looking directly at Zoe when I said that.

“Blood...??? What the hell!”

“I know that sounds crazy. It’s no crazier than me being in another dimension for... how long was I gone Riff?”

“I dunno.” 
[Now why in the world did I just say that to Torg? Riff wondered.]

“I was gone for far too long! Get yourselves seated comfortably, it's going to be a long story. I’ll be right back.” I carefully went upstairs, because the stairs were still moving upstream. I pulled Chaz from his cradle, grabbed some items from the bathroom, and made the return trip a little too fast. I landed mostly upright, but Chaz poked a hole in the opposite wall. I’m pretty sure they were speaking about me in urgent whispers and hushed voices while I was upstairs, but it won’t be anything like what they will say after this.

“Whoops... So Riff, given the whole 'Good' and 'Evil' thing, would you say Zoe is innocent?” I asked as I stepped cautiously back to my feet.

“I dunno.” 
[What. The. Hell. Am. I. Saying? thought Riff]

“Innocent of what, Torg?” Zoe asked cautiously, eying the sword. Now why didn't I consider drunken sword-waving before??? This would do the trick... No! I have to tell them now! Explain it to her quickly, while she’s too anxious to be mad at me. It won’t last, but it makes this next part easier...

“’Innocent’ in general. Have you killed anyone?" Not counting you killing me about 2 hours from now, of course. "Gwynn's been using that book of E-Ville, so I’m guessing she’s not particularly innocent. We can all agree that Riff is not innocent.” I gave Riff a nod, and he beamed back at me.

“Thanks, buddy!”

“So here’s the sitch." I raised the sword - wow, this feels good. "This sword has been keeping me alive. I can take some credit for killing that evil Aylee clone thingy, but even then Chaz was helping. This sword helped me kill demons when I was in the Dimension of Lame, and let me tell you, those darn demons are pret-ty difficult to kill. Uh... anyway, what happens is this; the sword wakes up, or something, when ‘the blood of the innocent’ touches it. And it can talk, really! It can. I had it with me most of the time, so this sword knows everything that I know. So, for a little innocent blood, you can hear the whole story strait from the swords... uh... lack of mouth. There’s only two of us in this room that prolly have innocent blood. And I really don’t want to hurt Kiki.”

“Eeeep!” Kiki squealed as she dove behind the couch. Riff glared at me.

“Don’t worry Kiki.” I said “Nobody’s going to hurt you.

“Zoe. I’m so sorry. I was wrong, an' I should have known better. But it is a pretty horrible story, and I still can’t bear to talk about it. So, for a little blood..."
 I held up my thumb and forefinger and pressed them together for 'little'...
"you can have the whole story.” I moved over to where Zoe was sitting, and handed her the sword, some bandages, and the bottle of antiseptic.

Now that Crazy Man had stopped waving the sword around, Zoe was calmer. She considered the bandages and antiseptic, and realized that I had actually been thinking about this. Everything about the situation was wrong. But it was wrong in the same way that Torg... wasn't quite right. Zoe hadn't held a sword before, it was sharper than it looked.
“So I just...” Zoe winced as she moved her forearm on the blade.

Zoe's blood gleamed on the blade. Then slowly, a crimson gleam spread out across the blade. Zoe was so alarmed that she cried out "Torg! What's happening?"

I couldn't help but chuckle; "It's alright Zoe. It's like this every time." Chaz was glowing again, just like old times. That transformation always amazes me. I started having flashbacks of fear and violence. I shook my head to drive the thoughts away.

“Good evening Master, whom shall we slay tonight?”

The looks on their faces was priceless. Stark disbelief. These moments always fills me with a strange kind pride. My. Talking. Sword!

“No killin' tonight Chaz. Can I interest you in some conversation?”

“That would be... agreeable. You’re quite certain that there’s no-one to kill?”

“Chaz, these are...” my breath caught, I looked around at their faces, and I went on when I could “these are my closest friends. Would you please tell these nice people about our adventures in the Dimension of Lame? They think talking swords are really cool, and would really like to hear your version of the story.”*

*[Based on the initial dialogues, I should be within bounds of canon by claiming that Chaz should know the entire story despite being passive on multiple occasions.]

“I should be delighted, Master Torg.”

“That's great, Chaz. I’m sure that they’ll have some questions before you begin, and make sure to tell them when you’re losing power. Zoe knows what to do. I know it's a long story. I’ll be back later.”

Zoe was surprised “What? You’re not staying?”

“Zoe, Chaz will only be awake for a short while each time you bleed on it. So I’m afraid more blood will be needed.”

I looked over at Gwynn. “Gwynn? Would you get Zoe something to eat, please? I promise you won’t miss anything.”

I turned back to Zoe. “But I will miss it. My own memories are pretty darn awful. I can’t talk about it. I sure can’t bear to hear Chaz’ ... pretty words for it all. I’ll be back later. I’m sure Crystal has more experimental drinks to try out on me.

“Hey Chaz? Don’t forget to mention how cowed and helpless those people were. I ... think it is important to the story.” With that, I aimed for the door, and moved in a direction that was basically forward. So I did run away. Not in a particular hurry, mostly I just tried to move with the room.

This time, the alcohol didn’t help. The business with Zoe had stopped my buzz cold, and the cold air helped keep it down. Yet the buzz came back soon enough, but it did nothing to distract me from the hard questions I was going to face later. Crystal was a little annoyed to see me again. I calmed her down by promising to mop up at some indeterminate future time. She harumphed and gave me something that tasted like an ashtray. Maybe it was an ashtray, but there was some sort of alcohol in it, and Crystal didn’t charge me for it. Then she had me try something that tasted like old feet. Ugh, why doesn’t she use sweetener like everyone else?

I didn’t know how long I should stay away. Crystal started giving me quality drinks. I guess it must be obvious that I’m moping around at the bar by myself. I'm more or less certain that I was literally crying in my beer. I wasn't drunk enough, and my mind was stuck on Alt-Zoe. I tried to think of other things. I wonder where the Sampire is these days. I’ve been gone so long, Riff must have let Sam know he’s not particularly welcome around here. I suppose you can’t blame Riff. Or Sam for that matter. Sam's a man with unique skills. I’m going to need a job soon, I wonder if I can’t find a use for Sam’s talents. Heh. Would I have “a Vampire in the hole” then? It would beat an ace in the hole every time. Eventually Crystal threw me out. Of course, I can't really remember it that clearly. Maybe someone else threw me out? It didn't matter that much. As I walked back, thoughts of Sam reminded me of Valerie. Valerie...  She’s dead too. ‘Saved’ from being a vampire.
It was much easier unlocking the door this time. Chaz was nearly done with the story. Everyone was paying rapt attention. Kiki was whimpering softly. Riff was taking notes. Gwynn was... apparently beaming at the power her alternate self was wielding. Zoe... well, Zoe was pale. That was understandable. I got beer from the fridge and joined them, feeling very self-conscious. Presently, after more blood from Zoe, Chaz addressed me.

“Master, I must confess I am not entirely sure whom the other Torg was, could you enlighten us?”

I distributed wine coolers to Gwynn and Zoe, and handed Riff a beer. I found a chair and fell onto it. A deep sigh, a mighty pull of the beer, and I thought back to a few days ago when the mutated Alt-Riff had confessed to me his sins. They weren't real, actual sins, of course. Stupid Dimension of Nice. “Chaz, that Torg takes us all the way back to the beginning of the story.” My breath caught because of what I was going to say. Then I started anew. “The Torg that belonged in that dimension has been dead for many years. He and Kiki were killed by Riff’s fission popcorn experiment.”

[The words 'fission popcorn' were a semi-audible echo in Riff's direction as more notes were taken.]

“That dimension’s Zoe was married to that dimension's Torg. Zoe and Riff were so forlorn that Riff began a series of experiments with his Dimensional Flux Agitator to ‘recruit’ a Torg from another dimension, much the same way as our Riff did.” I stopped to glare pointedly at Riff. And of course, to drink more beer.

“They found another Torg, but he was definitely not happy with the new arrangement. He tried to use the DFA to escape. He had what Riff would call a limited success. He escaped to the Dimension of Pain, and became trapped in the upright freezer side of the Demon King’s fridge. This happened right about at the same time that our Riff 'accidentally' sent me to the Dimension of Pain. So while our Riff couldn’t find me...”

“Hey! If I had proper equipment...” Riff exploded, but Zoe cut him off.

“Don’t interrupt.” she snapped.

Ooooh boy. Zoe’s real mad. I used the break to take another pull at my beer, found it empty, and switched bottles. “Yeah... so their Torg was trapped, so their Riff was looking for him, but pulled me out of the Dimension of Pain - believing I was that other Torg. It was a coincidence that both of us were there at the same time. That was when I first met their Bun-Bun, and it was Bun-Bun that sent me back home. So when the demons invaded, Bun-Bun knew how to find me for help. And don't worry Kiki, the alternate Bun-Bun is still alive.” I drank more beer.

Kiki beamed; "Yay! I love happy endings!"
That drew funny looks from all corners. Kiki didn't miss the part about Alt-Zoe dying, she was just happy that Bun-Bun was alive. That and Kiki has the attention span of a gnat.

“Whoo. Is it hot in here, or is it just me? Anway, that Torg was still in the freezer when I got there. I was out of options, and the only hope for anyone was if the Goddess of Good was still in that ‘fridge. I think you know the rest. ... oh yeah, I did have a little chat with that other Torg afterwards. He did help me free the Goddess, and I probably couldn’t have done it without that smug, self-serving jackass - and mister serving tray didn’t like him either. So we expressed our displeasure with him - and I’d like to point out that there was no pointy sword involved.” I smiled to myself at the recollection. I probably shouldn’t be proud of doing that, but it felt really good at the time.

“Ah, good for you master Torg, and unless there are further questions, my power wanes.”

“You did a marvellous job Chaz! Thank you.”

Chaz’ bright glow began to fade away. An awkward silence grew along with the darkness. I finished my beer and said “Hey guys, can I have a few minutes with Zoe?”

They agreed, and moved out of the room, leaving a trail of urgent whispers that grew in intensity as they got further away. Well, maybe Gwynn will respect me a teeny bit more. That wouldn’t hurt. ... Also I could help things by showing her more respect too - but it’s so darn easy to get a rise out of her! I smiled at that, and forgot that Zoe was expecting me to say something.
“Well, Torg?” she spoke louder than she needed to, and it jolted me. Zoe had set her face in a grim expression. It was time to take my medicine.

“Zoe...” I sighed. “I...

Then it came to me. I spoke haltingly.
"Zoe... I’m still in the Dimension of Pain. I’m surrounded by torment, and there’s no shelter from it. I met a woman who looked like you, but wasn’t you. She was killed because she was with me while I was trying to ... well it doesn’t matter now.” I was starting to lose it again.

“What does matter ... right now, is that when I look at you...” Strangled noises came from my throat. “... I see someone else. Someone who died because of me. Someone who I can still feel...”

I looked to the beer bottle for sustenance in my moment of need. The beer bottle was empty. I was suddenly angry at the bottle for being empty. Angry at it for betraying me in my moment of need. The same way that I let Horribus kill Zoe. I was there, but I was inadequate. Like an empty bottle. I jumped up and I flung the bottle hard. It bounced off the wall and landed on the couch. I had jumped up way too fast and got dizzy.

"Someone who trusted me!" I blurted out as I collapsed back into my chair.

It was hard to control myself, but this was important, so I managed somehow. Zoe’s expression changed to alarm, but I was trying to focus on what I was saying.

“I... I know that who she was, that makes things between us ... complicated. But I think that’s...
well, that can't be helped now.

"You were wrong, Zoe, it's not alright. It can't be alright. It's never going to be alright, because she's dead, and she shouldn't be.

"I know that you're mad at me. And I guess that's normal, because this crazy nonsense about alternate dying people doesn't make any sense. But... I wish you wouldn't be mad at me Zoe, because... " And that was all. I just couldn't think of anything else.


I started to sob. "I'm trying to remember her smiling at me... but I just see blood..."

“Torg, I think I should be angry with you, but ... but it makes sense, I guess. But it’s still really creepy!” she admitted.

We sat in growing darkness.

“There’s one more thing.” I said, looking away.

“What's that?”

“Zoe, you're a really great girl, you'll forgive me eventually. Just, please don’t hug me for ... a while. It’s too much to bear.” I said slowly.

“Poor Torg. So much pain, and the very first person you see is Zoe: alive and well. I’m still not sure how I should feel about that...” A few minutes went by. “So tell me about this other Zoe.”

I smiled, “Well, she had purple hair.”

“Ew. Really?" A thoughtful moment passed. "Torg... would I look good with purple hair?” Zoe said with a sly grin.

“Don’t be silly. You’re a pretty girl, but you’re no Zoe.”

That surprised her. Then she half-smiled, not sure how to take that. I tried to grin reassuringly at her, but it wasn’t funny.

08 July 2011

Greatness and Ashes

            Flanked by Imperial Guardsmen, a lonely man in a shabby uniform stands in a busy antechamber.

            There was activity around him, yet this man was the epicenter of a perceptible doldrum. Many people moved past him, into and out of the Emperor’s audience chamber, but all were visibly distracted by him. Groups that were previously speaking amongst themselves would grow quiet on seeing him. All conversation stopped when they recognized him. Some of them paled visibly. On seeing him, some decided to alter their reports to the Emperor. If he was here, the Emperor would be in a very bad mood indeed. Officers who passed him did not salute. They would apologize later - if he survived his appointment with the Emperor. Several passers-by made a note to reschedule later conferences. Best to put off any other business until after His Eminence disposes of this one. Palpatine was always in a forgiving mood after an execution.

            He was flanked by Imperial Guardsmen, but it was not at all clear if he was a prisoner. The lonely man was unfettered. Palpatine did occasionally have prisoners brought to him in chains. Not always metaphorical chains, either; sometimes it was the Emperor’s Will that actual wrought-iron manacles and chains be used on prisoners of interest. Modern energy binders were much more effective since they doubled as a means of controlling the prisoner, to the point of termination if necessary. Palpatine enjoyed using crude ancient restraints on certain individuals. It may have had something to do with the vulnerability of energy binders to certain kinds of energy. More than a few Imperial Guardsmen had ‘disappeared’ in the aftermath of a prisoner escape that occurred several years ago. It was rumored that the prisoner’s energy binders were damaged by Palpatine himself. Thus the Emperor had ultimately been responsible for the prisoner’s escape. The small purge was a pointed lesson in discretion to the surviving Guardsmen, and intense fury over the rumor itself.

            The pair of Imperial Guardsmen who flanked him weren’t sure what to think. Not that they had any business forming any opinions. Guards who developed opinions quickly found themselves patrolling the outer rim as rookie Stormtroopers - if they were fortunate! Sympathy was an undesirable quality, one that was strongly weeded out by the Emperor Himself. Imperial Guardsmen were not promoted or recruited from any normal ranks. Battle-hardened veterans, and others of similar unfeeling nature could apply, but many were turned away. Clones had almost no chance of being accepted, unless the individual had done a great service to the Emperor - and even then a trip to Camino for ‘adjustment’ was absolutely required. Even given the strict requirements, some Guardsmen still slipped up. You couldn’t hide your feelings from him, he just knew. This time was different from other assignments. This lonely man had quite recently been in Lord Vader’s favor. Favorites of Lord Vader had the tacit approval of the Emperor. The guards struggled to control their feelings. The temptation to sympathize with this man was very strong.

            Even the smart-looking young man who expedited the Emperor’s audience schedule felt some apprehension; and he was usually safe from any Imperial Fury that took place in the next room. This was highly unusual. The Emperor’s schedule was always tightly controlled, except if the Emperor himself made an exception. Exceptions to the Imperial schedule did happen, but very seldom, and on those occasions, it was more likely that the Emperor was clearing his later schedule than seeing an unscheduled visitor. He always had time for his Sith minions, but that was certainly not the affair of the Imperial Scheduler. Palpatine merely made his audience wait while he communicated with his agents, and occasionally his commanders.

            As the lonely man awaited the Emperor’s pleasure, only one of Palpatine’s vistors behaved differently than the others. He abruptly moved away from his escort, marched up to face the lonely man, stopped, and saluted smartly. “Sir! It’s a great relief to see you! I’ve... ”

            The lonely man interrupted him with a quick motion, but returned his salute with a stern look. “As you were. You have business to attend to. It’s best that you go about it. Right now.”

            “Yes, sir!” The officer tried not to betray his disappointment at being cut off, saluted again, and rejoined the Imperial Guardsmen that had been on the verge of warning him away. They continued into the audience chamber. The lonely man watched him move away, and made a mental note to discover who that officer was. Loyalty (admiration?) in the face of possible Imperial Wrath was a valuable quality. Many of the self-important officers that Lord Vader had disposed of would have made apologies for behavior like that in junior officers, and then have the offender transferred elsewhere.

            His thoughts were interrupted by the Guardsman on his right. The Emperor was free, and they would appear now. The lonely man paled, and moved with the Guardsmen. He chided himself for feeling such anxiety about this meeting. It was the same cold feeling that he had felt many times before. And precisely like he did on all those other occasions, he found the strength within himself to go on. This meeting was his own idea, even though he knew it could go... badly. Many times before, he had found himself in questionable circumstances, with incomplete information. On every such occasion, he had come to one conclusion or another, and presented that conclusion or decision to his superiors. His results had little justification in reason - he just knew. His trepidation was usually self-consciousness at his lack of justification. He had been wrong, and had his failures. Yet time after time, when it mattered the most, he had been right. He hoped that this was one of those times. It could mean the end of his life, but this felt like the best thing to do. And with that, he did the Unthinable; he spoke out of turn in the presence of the Emperor. He saluted crisply, and then suddenly, he knelt down - as he had seen Lord Vader do - and said:

“I have failed, your Imperial Majesty!”

The Emperor was amused; he had actually been surprised by this gesture.

“My dear friend, don’t be silly. Please rise, Admiral Piett.”