It really is her! Isn’t that just swell?
Swirling spots of white covered the sky, dotted over a swirling sea of purple poised to fall and drown out everything below.
And beneath it all, a figure moved through the shaddows, its scraggly hair rippling against its eyes, running.
The world in front of Heye became blurry as tears balled at the base of his eyes, flashes of the leech sucking at his brain, flashes of him, and he ran further still. How long until Floop was back up?
UGH! He jerked his leg upwards as it snagged against a vine, adrenaline surging through him as his brain matched into the demonic robotic tentacles that had dragged him through the corridors right when we had been about to escape with Mary. How long until he sent that squid back after him?
How long until Floop sent any of his robots out against him? But above all, Heye shuddered at the thought of being needed so thoroughly. He had been amazed that his plan to scramble the brain tube using quotes had worked, but had no idea how much he had disrupted anything outside of Floop’s capture of himself. Did he had enough of his brain to carry out his plan? How would we know?
He had been approaching a denser forest for about five minutes and finally he arrived. He pivoted into it, his arms and legs brushing against tree after tree. He tore through, the shrubbery becoming thicker and thicker, until—
Sprawling out, enclosed entirely on the half he had come from by a thick wood, was a lake.
The many moon lights glimmered against the surface.
Heye gave a long, quivering sigh, and collapsed against a tree, the thorns poking holes in his clothing as he slid down it, resting on the floor in a dishrevelled, quivering, sigh.
OH GOD! SOMEWHERE DEEP INSIDE OF ME IT’S ME!
I’M THE DARK ONE!
He formed his hands into claws, grasping at his head.
Shut up! I said shut up! You belittling zit.
He raised his fists up against the side of his head. He hesitated, then roughly crashed them against his head three times, pain ricocheting through him. He held his fist where it was, then the pressure fizzled as something else let go, his fist dropping down as the tears bubbled up.
Was… was he broken? This game that he had played every second of every day, as long as he had been alive… was it less of a game, and more of a prison?
It felt almost to him then like he had forgotten what defined a game was the consent in deciding to play it… and he was realising now that he had never asked….
Like an autocomplete with no access to the settings…
And the image of the tube flashed back into his mind, the sickly sensation of something being sucked from him…
A new flow of tears began to escape from him, barrelling down his cheeks accompanied by heaving coughs, alighting his entire body…
And through the coughs, his voice strained, he wanted to go home.
An extremely clear thought. I want to go home.
But he thought of home. He pictured his school, every one of what he would call friendships. He pictured what he would have called smiles, and in the wake of Floop’s words slowed down and saw, really saw. And what he saw was not smiles, but forced, fake grins, plastered on as Heye rehearsed the same quote for the thousandth time.
And a terrible question materialised in the darkness of his brain.
What was there for him back home?
The world seemed to almost get darker, as he contorted even deeper into his self made cocoon, his arms wrapped around his broken, broken head.
And he stayed in the nothingness.
“I was there, you know.”
Heye jumped back, terrified. His heard crashed inside his chest as he swiped as his eyes, clearing his vision in a desperate attempt to catch a glance of the source of the voice, and saw… a small, blue man, his skin wrinkled and crude.
“That’s me!” he said, his voice rising and smiling while his face remained low and concerned.
Heye kneeled back upwards, sitting closer to Sam. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “How did you find me?”
For the first time since Heye had met him, he looked almost pensive. He raised a finger, like he had found the perfect words, and said, completely seriously, “I brought the elves back from vacation, chained them up, and called my holiday friends.”
A corner of Heye’s mouth twitched, as at the same time he felt himself sinking into watching Sam with a great, great pity.
Sam cocked his head. “Something’s… wrong…”
Heye continued to stare, wondering if this was the type of question you were supposed to actually answer. But as a sustained look of worry spread of Sam’s features, Heye realised it infact was.
He looked up at the swirling sky, wondering where to start. “I met Floop.” Sam gasped. “He wants to fix you. Says you’re broken. Says we’re all broken, but I’m the least so.”
“That’s me. And I’d appreciate if you stopped saying that.” Sam looked sad. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m just… I’m trying to decide if he’s right. He’s saying our… condition… of quoting. He’s saying it stops us thinking clearly. He says that the snapping sensation — of finding the perfect words to represent you — he said it’s garbage, and that it’s logically impossible, and that we’d be able to communicate better if we didn’t have the desire to quote in the first place.”
“Butchourwrong” “Floop is a mad man help us save us”
Sam rested a hand on the boy, and said gently, “Floop is a mad man.”
“For how much longer!? One more rip and Andy’s done with me,” retorted Heye. And then he noticed what he had done, and a rising growl turned into a grunt as he shifted his direction, turning slightly from Sam. The purple lake and the shrubbery each now took half of his view. “See what I mean? How many times do you get to call someone a mad man before you sit down and listen to what they actually have to say?” Heye pleaded. “I mean, isn’t he right? Isn’t having different desires actually not painful? Doesn’t it just feel like how we are now?.”
Sam shook his head. “Butyou’rewrong.”
“Can you imagine how glorious it feels? To be in a state of total confusion with such overpowering emotions that you don’t understand, and to have someone come over, and in a sentence make everything click together, which a picture of blinding clarity? Can you imagine how good that feels?”
“Yes, Sam. I know the feeling and I know the quote.”
“And well I owe this all to you!” sang Sam. And Heye looked at him, a meaning deeper than the words apparent in his eyes, an incommunicable expression pleading Heye to understand.
“The quote? I didn’t write that!”
“What do you mean everything?”
Heye got the Community reference, which he knew in itself was a reference to something he had never seen. But what did he mean? Sam owed Heye… everything…?
“What I believe you were trying to say, is thank you.”
“Yes, yes, that’s it!”
“You’re thanking me for the rescue party?” Sam nodded excitedly. Of course, thought Heye. He had almost forgotten why he entered Floop’s tower in the first place. The whole trip felt so very, very distant.
He gave a gentle smile. “Don’t mention it.”
“Heye are you crazy? We’re all gonna—”
The boy couldn’t help but smiling then. As far as he knew, his library of quotes covered every conceivable emotion, every imaginable scene. Yet few scenes were as intense, as endlessly novel as the one Sam had just quoted. But the look on the alien’s face was bleak. Flashes returned to Heye of the bar, of Sam within the robot, the sharp wires piercing his skull and draining away at him. And how his body had bounced lifelessly as they had saved him from the tower…
He realised that Sam knew more than anyone excactly how it felt like. He’d been lucid… he’d already gotten, for a spell, excactly what it was like to not have a broken brain. Was it long enough?
“… no please no, no no we’re all gonna be. No please no, no no we’re all gonna be…”
If anyone would know, it’d be Sam, wouldn’t it? He’d been dragged screaming into quotelessness further than anyone, more than even Heye. Did Floop being right require Sam’s happiness after the fact? Could Sam only be unhappy because they interrupted the process?
“… no please no, no no we’re all gonna be…”
Heye’s insides felt weak as the incalculable weight of responsibility flooded through him. Did.. did he have to go and fight Floop? God knew the Sokotians weren’t going to be able to stop him. For whatever reason, his tech was unequivocally eons past theirs. If Floop was wrong, then their entire race would communicate completely differently, forever. But if Floop was right… if they really were better off not quoting…
Heye’s eyes clicked back into focus, more torn than he had ever been as he looked downwards at the baby below him.
And his eyes were so very pleading. Like he had pulled out every last stop he had, and there was nothing else he could think of. Like he wanted something so very badly, and had tried his very hardest to get it, and now all he could do was beg, trying to subdue the torturous sorrow that would wash over him if he took seriously the possibility of failure to convince the boy to help them then…
And Heye didn’t know who was right.
But, did it matter? Was any promise enough to say that he was going to stand back and put every member of this species through the suffering he knew as such a certainty, right then? Even if he didn’t know the ins and outs philosophical implications of desire modification, who was he to decide which brains were better than which other ones, when the primary stakeholder, the very brain, was right in front of him, begging of him, telling him with all he could what he wanted to?
And who was Floop, except someone who wanted something different?
Heye made up his mind.
”I’m going to tell them. I’m gonna tell them everything.”
Sam smiled. Understanding fully. There was no one to tell, and nothing to say. But the resolution was clear as day — and hadn’t come a moment too soon.
The pair’s ears pricked up at the excact same time.
Far, in the distance, was the unmistakable sound of screaming.