As for this litte game of yours, thank the stars it’s over.
“Good to see you’re awake, Heye.”
Heye’s eyes snapped open. The first thought that occured to him was that he only remembered being awake for a few seconds — how could they know?
And who was they?
The sound of beeps and dials echoed off the metallic walls of the room he found himself in, pillars of steel snaking upwards from the floor, joining in robotic unison along the ceiling. The room was dark, grim almost, most of the light provided eerliy from below, the light of a thousand dials and beeps in an awful cacophany.
And Heye’s already frantically sweating body leaped into overdrive as one of the shadows shifted, and he realised with a terrifying coldness that all of it was different, it was a person.
He let out an involunary yelp as he made to get out— what? He flexed his wrists, the very first step of his plan, and it failed.. He faced an unbearable resistance, as his hands were blocked from moving. He made to strain his neck to see what was preventing his hands from moving, and realised he hardly had any locus of movement: he was restrained, all the way along his body.
And the shadow took a step forward.
“Are you done?” came a voice, echoing through the cold room. The same voice that had taunted him as he had been dragged through the corridor. Raspy, and yet deep. Somehow sophisticated in its delivery, at least far more so in those three words than anyone he had met so far.
But sophistication wasn’t enough to dampen the ferocious terror tumbling inside him. A scream bubbled inside of him — barrelling out — and at the same time the shadow lurched from the darkness — and its finger precisely carreened onto a button — and a cocophony of lights cascaded down the dashboard, churning through a wire with the thickness of a car wheel, careening over the ground, across the room, into Heye’s head — and he could feel it, feel a powerful force of change — and the scream died inside him—
And it died! It died inside me because it was half a million ants and half collapsing star!
The room suddenly felt so much colder, and yet brighter, as all of Heye’s attention collapse onto the now deshadowed entity. It was clearly a man, of sorts. His skin tinted only slightly blue, as though he was sickly. He was short, far shorter than Heye, with facial features also simarly mishapen; his nose slightly too crooked, his ears slightly too pointy, his cheeks slightly too floppy and his wrinkles slightly too deep…
And his mop of black hair sat above, mess splattering out from a clear attempt to keep it clean…
And eyes, slightly too indented, staring directly into Heye…
“How was that?”
Heye stared at him, shivering.
“Look,” it said, its voice almost gravelly, almost refined. “This isn’t going to work if you don’t talk.”
“W-what’s not going to work?” Heye blurted, relieved to find he could say at least it without it being killed inside of him. “Where am I? Who are you? What do you want?”
“My real name is Grussletov Yungleback, but I hear they can’t even manage to get that out. What are they calling me down there? Floop?” Heye tried to nod, but failed. Floop understood. “They can’t call me by my real name, they can barely call eachother by their real names. You’ve been with them since I brought you here, right? Have you noticed the way they talk to eachother? Have you noticed the simplicity of their thought? All the possibilty of nuance, of detailed, collapsed into soundbytes?”
Heye watched the creature speak.
“What do I want, Heye?” he continued, locking eyes with him. “What do you want? What have you wanted, submerged inside their broken brains all day?”
Heye paused, and reflected apon his experience with them. He remembered the overwhelm of emotion when he first crossed paths with the Sokotians, the damn that had been building, brick by brick, over the last decade and a half as no one had been like him in that oh so very important way. And then someone came over, and made everything click together, with a picture of blinding clarity. Could he imagine how good that felt?
Well, he didn’t need to imagine. He had felt it.
Heye had instinctivly wanted to go along with what had been said, “respect the premise of the question” and so on, but he realised it was nonsense. What broken brains? He loved it. He needed it.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said after a pause. “I love it.”
“And you need it.”
Heye snapped to full guarded attention once more. How had he—
“—known what the rest of the thought was?” Floop completed. “What does it mean on your planet someone has a massive tube hooked up between a computer and your brain? Anyway, that’s not the important bit — not yet. You don’t love it, Heye, you need it. You didn’t have it back on earth so you’ll take it in any form its given to you, anywhere in the universe, convenientially wiping over every time you could barely have a conversation, where they could barely prep you with more details for me outside of ‘Floop is a madman’. You haven’t had one normal conversation since you arrived and you think it’s what you want? You call that ‘love’?”
Heye blinked, the words firmly settling inside his brain as they were spoken. “But-“ he started, scrambling for a thing to say. He could feel the emotion, feel the shape of the thing manifesting, then feel the snap as the words became clear! “But look at how much fun we’ve had! Look how much we’ve both grown!”
“Look at Sprig — I gave you this! I gave you everything!”
“I just, didn’t wanna be alone.”
And despite it all, despite the maybe-chains wrapped tight across his wrists, and the everpresent feeling of a leech suckling at his brain, Heye smiled.
“You’re worse than I thought.”
Through Heye’s faded smile, Floop briskly strode over the metallic floor, his footsteps lightly echoing. He then hit a button, immediately knocking the boy out of his bliss. The sucking sensation from the tube plastered onto his skull quadroopled, despite being very barely a physical sensation. He gritted his teeth against the feeling, the feeling of something so very comfortable leaving him…
And then it stopped, and he took a huge gulp of air, what still permitted to move from his torso convulsing in the movement.
Floop stared at him through this, a hard expression on his face.
“What are you doing?” exhaled Heye finally,
“Heye! The word you’re looking for isn’t fun! Trust me! I am intimately familar with whatever you choose to call that little experience you just had of ‘finding the perfect phrase’, and it’s a handicap! Could you not feel it just then? You call it snapping onto something, like the plastic of a balloon collapsing onto a toy, like it’s a good natural beautiful thing. But just then, just then you almost said a thing. Heye almost said something. Not Alex Hirsch, not Rebecca Sugar, not Dan Harmon. Heye. And then you lost it. You portrayed it in your mind as an expression of your freedom, rising upwards, but you’re falling. And each step you take you get closer and closer,” he jerked a thumb sideways, “to them.”
Heye stared at him, playing back over his memories of the last two minutes, trying to feel if this was true. But Floop didn’t stop.
“What’s the phrase you use for it? What do you call it, each time it happens?”
A picture of blinding clarity, thought Heye, directly quoting one of his favourite pieces of media ever. He opened his mouth to say it, but Floop carried on as though he had already heard it.
“Yes! ‘blinding clarity’. As though the quote your thought results in is somehow higher fidelity than your original thought. Like a stenographer hoping her records of a court case would be more valuable than the case itself, as if text ever carried more expression than speech, as if a drawing ever held more than that it was mimicing, as if a copy could somehow scream in more detail than that which its derived… you know what ‘fidelity’ means, right?”
He once again tried to nod.
“Okay. So you get that it’s impossible for you to have as many shades of emotions stored inside quotes from carotons in your head, as you do feelings, right?”
“And so necessarily, as a logical certainty, any quote you have to explain any feeling, is inherently worse at describing whatever you’re feeling, than actual real words? That it is not ‘blinding clarity’, but a fundamental laziness, and inability to say what you feel?
“And anyway, isn’t one of your quotes literally the word ‘baby’? It says here that you liked the way they said that word in a show so much that permenantly hitched itself onto your vocabulary, the excact way all the other things do? Tell me Heye — and tell me truthfully, for you already know that any lie to me is a lie to yourself — what’s the effect on you been from this? It’s been obvious enough to even you, despite the lengths you’ll stretch your observations in favour of denial.”
And Heye pondered, but he did not have to ponder long — a part of him already knew what Floop was talking about. Had always known. He’d known it has started as being funny, a small, harmless jab at those younger than him that he could deploy in speech a few times a day. Knowing it wasn’t necessarily funny to anyone else, but funny to him all the same. But as he used it more frequently to gloss over more and more, he had felt himself struggle to describe those younger than him in any higher fidelity than “baby”, even when the situation called for it. He’d flinch at the realisation that he had just shamelessly used the word “baby” to describe a mutual contact, then go back and provide all the scaffolding for what the label “baby” pointed to inside his mind. And he did it over and over, still without learning any better way to just initially point at what he wanted to point to…
But… so what? So what if other people didn’t always get it? It was a game to him. Saying the quote itself was part of the fun, generating the excact intonations from his very own lips, his own vocal chords, mimicing excactly how he heard it said whether it was minutes of years ago. It wasn’t a game where his actions mattered to other pepole. He wasn’t on a team, so there was no way to lose. It wasn’t chess, it was…
“Solitaire?” finished Floop, as though he had been listening to Heye’s brain.
“But solitaire is played in the confinement of one’s room, not forced apon others unexepectedly, without the slightest shred of consent. Solitaire does not drown you in it’s unending stream of barely related nonsense. Solitaire is not a stream of noise, mildy annoying by its nature, aggressively torturous by its ceaselessness. Solitaire is private self-stimulation, and I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned private self-stimulation is something pretty fucking disgusting once you forcefully turn it public.”
What? What are you TALKING ABOUT?
Heye’s eyes darted back and forth, his brow increasingly furrowed. Was quoting things really non-stop area damage to those around him? All this time?
Heye scowled. “So what if I sometimes say something slightly different than what I mean, or play solitaire in front of people?” he frantically retorted. “You’re making it sound like I have some sort of speaking disorder.”
And Floop said something the boy never could have expected. “What did you think it was?”
Heye stared, and Floop, in a move as if to provide evidence, danced over ot the dashboard and with a flick of his fingers brought a thick, arcaich monitor mechanically descending from the ceiling.
He did a quick search, and read the phrase “Echolalia: causes, symptoms, preventions.”
Floop began to read: “People with echolalia repeat noises and phrases that they hear.”
Heye, for the fifth time that night, froze.
“They may not be able to communicate effectively because they struggle to express their own thoughts. For example, someone with echolalia might only be able to repeat a question rather than answer it. In many cases, echolalia is an attempt to communicate, learn language, or practice language.”
“Repetitive speech is an extremely common part of language development… commonly seen in young toddlers who are learning to communicate… By the age of 2, most children will start mixing in their own utterances along with repetitions of what they hear. By age 3, most children’s echolalia will be minimal at most… It’s common for children with autism or developmental delays to have echolalia further into childhood, especially if they’re experiencing delayed speech development… The main symptom of echolalia is the repetition of phrases and noises that have been heard. It can be immediate, with the speaker repeating something right away after hearing it.”
What did you think it was. Floops words echoed in Heye’s brain, juxtaposed squarely with the mirror of his own life, of his entire childhood, of nearly every second he had being himself, was read out to him.
He… he’d thought he was special.
Well, he wasn’t not special.
He was disabled.
The boy’s mind relayed as his skull stayed perfectly stationary, something unexplained still sucking at his brain.
He was disabled? Did… did he have autism?
I’m not autistic it’s just a collection of traits! went his brain. An autocomplete… with no off switch…
Wait.. but that was insane! If he were disabled, he’d know it, wouldn’t he? But, here he was, right where the disabled one would be, about to blow up the star!
Somewhere deep inside of him it was him!
He was the disabled one!
And in a feeling that felt almost comparable to becoming concious for the very first time, Heye looked apon his thought process. Floop’s… diagnosis… seemed almost… reasonable… As if he was trying to think something sharp, something new, which wasn’t symetrical or perfect but it’s beautif— AH! He’d done it again! As if he was trying to think something UNIQUE! And it had devolved into… nonsense…
“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” he yelled, yanking at his restraints and convulsing his torso. “Why. Am I. Here.”
Floop himself had gotten lost in the website’s entry. He almost reluctantly tore his eyes away, looking at Heye with an incomprehensible expression. “I’m going to use your brain to fix everyone.”
“Yes, Heye, fix them. The sole topic of conversation thus far. All my life I’ve watched every single “person” around me stuck with total incapacity to have an original thought, never have a real conversation.
“Everybody on this planet has broken brains. Even me, technically. I’ve wanted to fix them for years but I had no idea how, I didn’t have any blueprints for what a normal brain was like.”
Except… me! My thoughts can’t be read.
“I spent years trying to figure out how to modify their brains to cure them of their unthinking without a functioning blueprint. I knew it was at least possible, because I existed, but even when I scanned my own brain, it was far too fundamentally similar to everyone elses for it to be of any use.”
So I found the music box and I had no idea it would actually work but it DID! And it took us to a place where we’d never have to grow old where the three of us could be together forever!
“So I’ve spent the last ten years searching. I found many creatures, but none of their facets mapped remotely cleanly enough onto us Sokotians that they could be of any use. I needed a creature close enough to my species in that one crucial fashion. I had to seek out what I was trying to destroy.”
Something clicked together in Heye’s head. “So… you set up a tracer for when… someone repeated a quote a certain amount of times?”
“Excactly. And it activated for you, Heye. Heye from Earth.” Floop smiled crookedly. “You were supposed to come out right there, actually.” He extended an arm, gesturing towards something Heye hadn’t quite noticed yet. But… but that’s crazy! Heye only now fully noticed the two round spikes protruding from a large slate base in on the ground, curling upwards and rounding at the top in two pointed spikes. Cleary the shape of a portal.
“But?” asked Heye.
“But you came out on the other side of the wall.” Heye couldn’t help snickering slightly at this. Floop continued, “But no matter now. you’re here aren’t you? And it was easy enough to bring you back to where you needed to be. I’m going to take your brain, and use the non-broken side as a blueprint, and then finally fix everyone on this planet. Including you.”
“Me?” screamed Heye. “You’re going to fix ME?”
“Yep. That’s the thing about saving people, they never want to be. You tell them ‘your valuations are litterally broken, and this is what it means to have broken valuations! That you won’t want to change them, but you’ll be grateful aftwards’, and they never get that!”
Heye ran over this logic as quickly as he could, and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. He paused for a moment, and assessed what he now knew. And realised even if Floop was right, even if he was broken and annoying and autistic, even if Floop needed his brain to save everyone else, what he wanted then was leave.
But how? He was still physically constrained by every means imagineable, and from his brain dredged the dreaded wire. Heye could feel with every thought he had, the wire sucking out something minute in a consistent pulse. He gave an internal sigh. What would [he] think of [he] now?
Huh? Undistracted by the flow of conversation, Heye noticed in that moment he had quoted Steven Universe the pull felt… different? Almost like it had been in, reverse?
WHAT? What are you TALKING ABOUT? he quoted once more, and he certaintly felt it that time. The machine had gone from pulling parts of his brain that he wanted to almost reluctantly accepting that which he gave it, with a good chunk of delay as the sensation was fed to him.
Heye had an idea.
“I mean…” continued Floop. “There are ways of making it clearer right? Like if you had an itch and someone offered you to either continue scratching it or make it so that you never got itchy again, you’d obviously—”
Floop was clearly distracted by his own monologue, trying to find the perfect metaphor. Heye very much understood this feeling, it being rather similar to the feeling of trying to find the quote that most cleanly mapped onto the current situation. But that wasn’t important. Heye stilled himself, quietened his thoughts, and focused solely on the raw body sensations he was receiving. Then he opened up his mind, and asked into the silence a single, poignant question.
What do you want?
And it said back. I’m tired of running in circles.
He felt it, almost a gulp, as through the wire had gagged against the quote, triplefold as it was so very dear to what Heye indeed felt.
I’m tired of running in circles.
It felt almost then like he captured some of the purpose that was being injected into him. Captured and held it.
I’m tired of running in circles.
Captured and held it, tight within his brain. And started to send it back…
I’m tired of running in circles.
Floop continued to pace up and down, explaining excactly why choosing to stay with quotes was such an irrational desire.
And Heye focused deeply, cutting out Floop from his locus of attention. Everything faded to darkness aside from his emotions, richocheting brightly within him and forcing their way back down the pipe. He could almost telepathically here it screaming as the quote’s hissed and dragged against the mechanical insides as he sent them down… deeper and deeper… almost there.
And he still focused deeper, only on himself… only on his feelings. What did he want?
And the emotion crystallised, sharp and pure, and within him he cried
I’m tired of running in circles, for one trillion years I’ve been trapped!
And the machine exploded into a frenzy of orange frames, Heye barely noticing Floop’s tiny body ricochetching off the wall. He tugged savagely at his chains, weakened by the suffocating heat, and manaegd to pull his hands through, desperately yanking the flaming suckle off of the side of his head.
He tumbled off of the platform, his plan clear in his mind as he barrelled towards the switch the groaning man had indicated earlier. He flicked it up, chewing ferociously during the microsecond as he stared at the dashboard, wondering if in truth there was nothing he could— YES! It lit up, an unmistakable buzz of electricity hissing above the cackling of the flames. On it went, the portal flickering on.
And Heye barrelled towards it.
“NO!” screamed Floop, as Heye clenched his teeth shut and cascaded through the silver portal.
There were few things Heye was expecting, and tumbling through the air was not one of them.
He didn’t even have time to be scared, as he barrelled towards the ground for the second time that day. He clenched every body part he had, bracing for impact, as he slipped like a bullet through the cold night air.
He flew into a bush, rolling and rolling until he tumbled into a splatter.
Aching, he craned his neck upwards, then upward further, at the endless purple sky.
Then he picked himself up.
Heye started to run.