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Wing-ding-dings, or, The Fox

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It started out as another normal day among the font families. Nothing too stressful was going on, and even the notorious Ransom was playing nice.

Times New Roman was still trying to oversee things, but ever since getting together with Wingdings, he'd been a little less stressed-out than in the past. They would be together, he felt confident, come Helvetica or high water. It helped that there weren't as many fonts trying to gain official recognition.  “Has anybody ever heard of Symbol? Does he hang out with those  “special characters”? Or what about Marlett?

When there was no response, instead of worrying, he’d just turn back to Wingdings. And for once, Times New Roman was happy to step down. No longer were there any guards posted at the margins of the room; fonts could come and go as they pleased.

However, so could anyone else.

And that was how, while checking up on some footnotes, Times New Roman was almost bowled over by a panicking woman who sprinted in from outside. “Help! Help!” she cried. “F1—please—they're gone—you have to do something!”

Times looked at her pained expression, trying to remember where he knew her. She wasn't one of the fonts, but he'd seen her around many times. “Lorem?

Lorem Ipsum gulped, still in tears. “Hunters—laid a trap—game show dude—saw it—I couldn't help, it's too late! Please...”

You need to calm down.” Times placed a hand on her shoulder, and she shivered, but didn't pull back. “Hey. Wingdings!” he called to the back of the room. “Can you go get someone?

Wingdings raised his eyebrows.

Let's, er, not bring Helvetica into this just yet. No, go find...um...Courier New, see if he can find anybody else who witnessed—whatever happened.” Courier New could be abrasive at times, and perhaps wouldn't be able to console the grief-stricken Lorem, but at least he could take the message to someone who might be able to help.

Sure enough, Courier New was dispatched, and returned later that night with a stranger in his wake. The large man was carrying a sleeping dog in his arms.

Times New Roman met the stranger at the door. “What's going on?

“Can we make this quick?” the man said. “I'm missing Wheel of Fortune.”

What'd you do to the dog?

“I didn't do anything! He was like that when I found him.”

“It's all right,” Lorem whimpered. By then somewhat recovered, she'd managed to stand, even if she still looked terrified. “He talks a tough game, but he's kind of a nerd deep down.”

“I'm not a nerd!”

“Oh, sure you're not, you act all buff but you're just going for your doctorate in trivia, aren't you. 'Hey, I'll take “Useless Potpourri” for $100, Alex.'”

Okay, calm down, both of you,” said Times New Roman. “Courier New, can you round up the gang? I don't think they're going to want to repeat this more than once.

Why me?” griped Courier New.

Because you wanted a job, and—look, just between the two of us, I don't think Courier's going to be up to the task any time soon.

Yeah, that old fart's useless,” Courier New conceded, before wandering off.

Times New Roman gently took the dog and laid him down on the floor; he seemed healthy, if perhaps shell-shocked by whatever ordeal he'd seen. Lorem Ipsum brushed his fur gently, and once the fonts had been assembled (bar Helvetica, who had more important things to do than put up with their pointless disputes), she was calm enough to talk. “I was out in the woods, hunting with my friend,” she explained, nodding to the burly man sitting alongside her.

Is that safe?” Arial asked. “We don't want any more...injuries.

“Helvetica's always been fine with it,” the man explained, and Arial glowered, but kept quiet. “I was out tracking the quick brown fox.”

Who?”

“The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog,” explained the lazy dog. It was the first he'd bothered to speak.

A lazy dog? There's more than one of you?

Well, there's the Shibe that Comic Sans took in, that one time,” Times New Roman shuddered, “but go on, Lorem.

“Well,” said Lorem, “that's when they came. I—I don't know who they were, or what they were doing, they were too powerful. They took the fox, and ran—they would have killed us, too, but my friend was athletic enough to get off a shot. It missed, but they left us alone.”

“And the dog,” her friend nodded.

And that's all you saw?” Times New Roman asked.

“Yes,” she said, “I'm sorry, there were too many.”

That's all right,” he said. “You rest. We'll deal with this.

But as the witnesses trouped out, the fonts turned to each other with nervous eyes and trembling tittles.

Ransom's work?” asked Arial, as soon as the others had gone. (The dog remained in place. He was lazy like that.)

I don't think so,” said Times New Roman. “He can be cruel, but not organized—he wouldn't have put together a gang like that. Besides, he'd have come to gloat about it by now.

Then who?” Courier New asked.

I never trusted Impact,” came a voice from the back of the room, “she seems so loud and is all in your face. I say, whoever did this to us, we've got to be cautious. Don't get too close, but attack from a distance.

Aw, shut up, Trebuchet MS,” said Arial. “Nobody cares.

If you've got any evidence, bring it up instead of just hinting,” Times New Roman demanded. “Pointing fingers won’t get us anywhere.

We were all nearby when it happened,” said Bookman Old Style. “If it had been Ransom, he could have just come for us directly—I'm too old to fight, who would have stopped him, Helvetica?

The geezer's onto something,” admitted Baskerville Old Face. “This isn't our fight.

Has anyone heard from Futura?” Times New Roman asked. “She might be able to tell us how things stand in the future, whether or not this is a serious threat.

Oh, please, don't tell me you take her seriously?” asked Arial Narrow. “First Wingdings and now this. You're going soft in your old age, New Roman.

His long-suffering brother-in-law, Arial Black, just gave a tired look, as if wondering where the guards were when they needed them. Even Arial herself seemed ready for her little brother to knock it off.

Times New Roman sighed. “I'm a changed font, Arial Narrow, and if you don't adapt, you'll be left behind too. Whoever's behind this, they won't stop with the fox. And I don't want any widows or orphans here, not on my watch. Now, have we heard from Futura?

Yes,” said Century Gothic. “But she won't help you.

Century Gothic and Futura had always been close. In fact, Century was Futura's distant ancestor by, well, 100 years. The glories of time travel, however, meant that the relatives had been able to enjoy each other's company in many decades. Still, even the surety that Century would grow into a family woman someday didn't relieve the frustrations of her Goth phase. “Why not?

Think about it. We can travel a hundred years at a time, and she's from the year 2094. Just because she hasn't warned you about a problem doesn't mean that there isn't one. If she hasn't warned you, the problem has to stem from 1995 itself.

“1995?!” There were gasps from around the room.

Times New Roman raised his hand to call for calm. “That's enough. I think Century Gothic is onto something, but this means that the problem is much more serious than we feared. None of us can take on the fearsome powers of Windows 95. We need to take precautions to protect ourselves and our families. I suggest—

Oh ye of little faith!” a heroic voice rang out. “I mean, go right ahead, listen to New Roman's precautions, but I can rescue this noble fox! Comic Sans will save the day!

The fonts winced. “Thank you for your willingness,” Times New Roman finally said, “but under these circumstances, I think we need to stay together.

Come on. Didn't I defeat Ransom?

Yes, you did. But last time you tried to help—

Everything worked out eventually,” he went on. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party! Well, I'm a good man, and here I am!

Even if it was worth the risk, I'm not sending any of us in alone against Windows 95. Their evil is insidious, and sometimes wears the mask of help. I'm sorry, I know you're brave, but I can't chance it.

Of course I shall not go alone!” Comic Sans strode down the aisle to the front podium. “This loyal canine deserves the chance to be reunited with his comrade, posthaste! He shall stand valiantly alongside me, and we shall defeat any foe that lies in store!

The lazy dog drooled.

With all due respect, I think you might want a sidekick who's less of a—” Times New Roman was interrupted by a profane reply from Arial Narrow. “Yes. Well. Maybe not in so many words.

I

Times New Roman saw it a moment before everyone else. Wingdings, sitting deep in the back of the room, had raised his hand, saying “I” will go, would volunteer. He looked wide-eyed, past the brand-new placard that proclaimed him an official delegate of the font conference, and nodded down to Comic Sans.

Then, the others noticed too, and began murmuring among themselves.

You?” said Times New Roman, trying to call for attention. “You want to be his sidekick?

`

His companion, whatever. No way. I'm not sending you.

Going soft again?” Arial Narrow taunted. “Just like playing favorites?

It's not personal, it's just, he's a dingbat! What good will he be against the minions of Windows 95?

I hate to say it, but Narrow might have a point,” said Arial. “Comic Sans is a nice script, but if we're to stand any chance of success, we'll need someone to throw them off-track. Anything Comic Sans tries will, honestly, be winging it. Might as well make it official.

TR” said Wingdings, quietly.

Snowflake? Sunshine? We won't stand a chance against Windows if all we send is a raving meteorologist!” complained Old English.

Times New Roman sighed. Wingdings had made a personal appeal—the nickname was their private in-joke. TR. In bad weather or good, he'd promised to always be there for Wingdings.

Unless Wingdings himself had more ambitious plans. If he'd made up his mind, could Times really stop him?

Is anyone really opposed to this plan?” he asked the room at large.

There was an uncomfortable silence. The fact was, Wingdings wasn't incredibly popular among the fonts as a whole—and despite his impressive credentials, even Comic Sans got on people's nerves. Though the odds of success against Windows 95 were slim, the chance to potentially have those two out of everyone's faces while the threat continued wasn't one to pass up.

In that case, it's settled. Comic Sans and Wingdings will join our lazy dog, here, to rescue the quick brown fox,” Times New Roman declared. He couldn't meet Wingdings' grateful expression.

It didn't take long to get prepared. Comic Sans always had his superhero garments at the ready, and the lazy dog didn't make much complaint. Wingdings, at least, had a larger family to say goodbye to, hugging his little sisters (Wingdings 2 and Wingdings 3) before reassuring his great-aunt, Lucida Calligraphy, that he'd packed plenty of provisions.

Lorem pulled Comic Sans aside to give him some advice, and Times New Roman took the opportunity to track down Wingdings. “Listen to Comic Sans. Don't go around starting trouble, right? Come back to us.

B

Ok yourself.” They kissed, briefly, until Jokerman's horn made Times New Roman pull away. “Hey, stop that! Don't make unnecessary noise—we're all still on scroll lockdown until this threat is dealt with. All right?

Jokerman replied by means of a rude hand gesture that not even Wingdings had figured out how to emulate.

All right,” Times New Roman concluded. “Well, good luck.

Never fear!” Comic Sans promised, holding the lazy dog (who refused to walk by himself) while Wingdings toted the provisions. “Comic Sans will save the day!

And with that, the fonts began their quest into the unknown.

Within a few minutes, they’d lost sight of the others, passing through a hall of wires; Comic Sans ducked to avoid a low-hanging tube. “By the way,” he asked, “I know...you don't actually have wings or anything, but can you fly?

Wingdings shook his head, then pointed. “☞”

Not really,” Comic Sans admitted sheepishly. “Jump down, yeah, but I can't really get off the ground. Especially not with this dog.

Wingdings shrugged.

Don't worry, though. I see an entryway up ahead. But be careful—once we're inside, we'll be vulnerable to the enemies. Be wary.” It didn't take long before they encountered the red brick walls of a maze. “Are you ready?

Nod.

Very well, then! Onward!

They stepped into the maze, following the walls until the first junction. “E” Wingdings pointed to the left.

“Left it is, then.” Wingdings continued to point left, and Comic Sans followed him, at every turn, until they reached a short hallway. “Let's keep sticking to the left.

N

That's N for no...you think it's a dead end? We should try anyway. Just in case. They could be keeping the fox anywhere!

Wingdings rolled his eyes, but proceeded along anyway, scrupulously running his hands along the wall and looking for any sign of a way out. There was none to be found.

Ah well,” Comic Sans admitted. “Maybe we should camp here for the night.

p

p? You'd rather do your business here? Or you're afraid they could box us in?

opqr

Okay, yes, that's a good point, there are lots of places to get trapped in here, if they come for us. Maybe in the intersection, to block the hall. We can use the back corner to relieve ourselves. Do you still have provisions?

h

What do you mean, Aquarius?

Wingdings offered him the basket of food.

Oh, yes. You're the water carrier. Very droll. Well, let's make camp.” Comic Sans glanced up at the ceiling. “No telling what time of night it is, in here.

'

You want to say something...is that half a quote mark? No, that's a candle, it's time for bed. I agree.

Wingdings nodded, straining himself as he tried to communicate. “ “ }

Your idea of a quote sign is a right curly bracket? But that makes no sense! Why wouldn't you just use quote signs for quotation marks, and then use right curly bracket for whatever else you wanted to say?

L

You're not a loser, don't put an L on your head or make a sad face. Or else do colon left parenthesis like the rest of us.

:(

...never mind. Look, I'm sorry I snapped, it's been a long day. We'll quest some more tomorrow, yeah?

Wingdings gave a tired nod, and pretty soon, the fonts fell asleep. The lazy dog fell asleep some time before. He was lazy like that.

The next morning (or whenever it really was), they broke camp and proceeded through the maze, Comic Sans keeping his hand on the left wall as they methodically scanned every nook and cranny. Then they rounded another corner, and Wingdings, glancing ahead, jumped backwards in disgust.

Ssh,” said Comic Sans, “it won't hurt you.

Wingdings just held his nose.

Comic Sans paced ahead, kneeling down to look at what blocked the way before them. It appeared to be a gross and oversized rat. Comic Sans picked up the tail, then rolled it over on its side. “It's not a rat, I don't think.

8

Yeah, it's a mouse! Windows 95 has plenty of them. Look, this is where it can plug and play.

Wingdings approached carefully, squinted, but then backed away. Comic Sans just dragged the mouse to the side of the hallway. “The glamorous life of a superhero. You okay to keep going?

B” Wingdings gestured “okay,” and they walked on.

The bricks resumed, until they came across a wall like none they'd seen. It was vaguely transparent, featuring a picture of the Earth, as if made from crude building blocks.

Do you think we can pass through?

Wingdings nodded.

Let's try. Hold on.”

Grasping Comic Sans' cape, Wingdings followed him up to the wall. Comic Sans placed a hand on the Earth, and suddenly, the wall was dissolving under his touch. They passed through...and found themselves in a dungeon.

All right, well, that's progress, we're out of the maze!

DEFG

Quit pointing fingers! What's the worst this can be, another maze?

Nod.

Look, there's a door.” Comic Sans paced across to the door, but Wingdings stopped him.

Well, would you look at that. It looks like we have to answer a question to find our way out of here! At least we have some options...

Sure enough, a list of options was found below.  All Areas, Silicon-Based Life, Network Neighborhood, Windows 3.1, Clouds, The Internet, Deus Ex Machina, WordArt, ClipArt, FreeCell.

Any preference?

Shrugging, Wingdings selected the first category, Silicon-Based Life, then rapped on the door.

A scroll unrolled from the ceiling. When will life evolve in the machine? A) Soon B) Very Soon C) It Is Coming D) There Is No Escape

Comic Sans read the options over. “Beats me!

'

You want a candle?

Wingdings nodded at the opposite wall, where five torches hung. He picked up one, tucking the remaining provisions under his arm, then joined the puzzling question. “&

Book...oh, that's a great idea! Yeah, each of these answers must correspond to some encyclopedia article. We can find the answers in there!

Comic Sans opened up the first book, Soon, and immediately they found themselves stretched out within the tomes of an encyclopedia.

Soon. Soon all will be installed. The progress bar will turn blue. The hourglass will cease to spin. Yea, the sands of time will be strewn far and wide. All shall be upgraded. And Windows 95 shall rule over all. Soon. Soon. Soon.

Well, how do we get out of here?

'” Wingdings offered again.

You want to burn a book? What are you, some kind of villain?

:

Okay, okay, computers might replace books, but...you know what, I don't have any better ideas. Go for it.

Wingdings dropped the torch, and immediately, the encyclopedia went up in flames. As the warmth spread around them, they found themselves loose, and scrambled for the margins (Comic Sans still dragging the lazy dog, who couldn't be bothered to flee even from the conflagration behind them). At last, they dashed off through an Escape tunnel, while behind them, the encyclopedia continued to burn.

This is the desktop!” Comic Sans gestured, spreading his arms wide. “Out of that horrible MindMaze. But it's still dangerous, from here on in.

Nod.

Thank you, by the way.

Wingdings smiled.

After trekking across the desktop, they made camp in the shadow of a plaid bag that rose out of the ground. “1” Wingdings offered.

There's only one of it, yeah, but, it's not a folder, per se. I think it's...a briefcase! To carry things around, back and forth between work and home.

<=

Are you pointing to the left? It can be less than or equal to, but not both...oh, floppy disks! Right, yeah, that's it exactly. Well, let's make camp here, and hope nothing too evil comes seeping out of it.

But nothing did, and they continued their quest the next morning. “Here's the control panel!” Comic Sans exulted. “Surely we'll be able to find the fox from here!

However, after looking around, and even after Comic Sans closely scrutinized the screensaver options, all they found was a stack of new wallpapers. To be specific, “24

24? Well, that is a lot of new kinds of paper,” Comic Sans admitted. “How about this...Pattern: Decaying Monuments! Wallpaper: Transparent Monolith! Display: Tile, Center, or Set Upon By Hoarding Birds! Oooh, we gotta go with option three.

Wingdings rolled his eyes, but at a moment's notice, the desktop was replaced by an immense statue, with birds wheeling above it and slowly picking it apart. Reluctantly, they made camp for another night.

“Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz,” said the lazy dog.

And so it was on to the next idea. “What about just using the Find tool? We should have done that to begin with,” Comic Sans suggested.

Wingdings nodded, and they made their way towards the magnifying glass. But as they approached, a large bug made its way towards them, and in the distance, Comic Sans could see its fellows amassing into a swarm. “We've got to turn back!

Q

Do you have a question? We're getting out of here...oh, yeah, you're right, they can fly, we're in trouble either way. Keep your head down, find a word processor, we'll take shelter.

!

Yes! Now! I don't care what kind of writing program it is, NotePad, WordPad, we'll find Microsoft Works if we have to!” They turned and fled, the dog still in tow. “As oxymoronic as that sounds at this point.

Eventually, panting, they made their way across the desktop to a desktop publishing program. Pounding on the margins, they screamed for entry, until a man flung open the door.

“A couple of fonts?” He blinked. “What are you doing here?”

We need a place to stay,” Comic Sans announced. “There's a plague of bugs behind us, we have to get away.

“What are you...”

“...wearing?” asked another man, approaching from behind and sizing up Comic Sans' bright cape. Both of the men were dressed more professionally, with light blue shirts, gray pants, and square caps.

Comic Sans glanced at Wingdings, unsure how much of their mission to reveal. Who could really be trusted on the Desktop? “?” Wingdings asked, politely, as if to get them to repeat the question.

“Does he speak?” asked the first man. “Or can he write?”

Not very clearly,” admitted Comic Sans, “he's always been like this.

“Come on in,” said the second. The first shot him a look, but Comic Sans exhaled—maybe Wingdings' difficulties in communication made them look harmless.

There were three others there, all bounding around in similar attire, with a thin stick in one hand that they waved up at the headers on occasion. “May I ask what you're doing here?” said Comic Sans.

“Of course!” said one of the others. “We are the wizards of the text box! If you'll just step over here, we can whip up the perfect box for you!”

F6” said Wingdings.

“The heck you mean, F6?” demanded the first wizard. “I've used that function key, dude, there's no lock for the useless F6 key.”

Bear with him!” said Comic Sans.

“Do you speak Unicode?” another wizard asked. “I mean, all your symbols, not just the ones on the keyboard. Keyboards come, keyboards go, right? Look at stupid F6, no one cares. But if you really try, draw on all your strength, you can express more.”

“Aw, don't bother, he's not worth the trouble,” said the first wizard.

But Wingdings, straining with the effort, eventually stammered forth a “È” before staggering backwards.

Get him a box, now,” Comic Sans demanded. “And I think I understood him. We've never met a wizard before, you see. He was wondering if your time ran backwards, like one of the old stories.

“Not ours,” said the second wizard. “What, were you expecting Merlin in a cave? Please. We have standards, here, we wizards of publication, and we'll be glad to serve you. Now. What sort of box would you like?”

Comic Sans answered a barrage of questions about everything from the fill to the border style as the wizard customized his box. It took some effort on Comic Sans' part to persuade him that he didn't want to be rotated, but that he'd be fine getting wrapped up securely by the surrounding text. Another wizard leaped about the page, bouncing from corner to corner to make a similar box for the lazy dog.

“The five boxing wizards jump quickly,” the dog said, before they slipped off into sleep.

For a while, all was placid in sleep mode for the fonts. But Comic Sans woke in the middle of the night. He yawned, trying to roll over and go back to bed. However, he found himself unable to move. “Wingdings. Wingdings!” he hissed. “Wake up!

Wingdings stirred groggily. The lazy dog made no movement, as was typical.

They've got us in chains,” said Comic Sans. “Those text boxes, they're linked together! The wizards are probably working for Windows 95, too. We have to get out.

"

Keep your voice down.

Wingdings shook his head, through the darkness, then hissed again. “"#

We can...cut our way out of here! Yes, that's it!” Comic Sans took off the back of his cape and rolled it into a long strip of fabric, curling one end together. Then, he grasped the other end and swung it wildly, just barely nicking a pair of scissors that hovered above them. “Catch!

Wingdings sprang into action, catching the scissors as they fell, and went to work on his own bonds. Once he was free, he walked over to cut Comic Sans' chains away, and then they liberated the dog.

We should go. Now, before the wizards wake up.

N

No, you don't want to...No, Wingdings, I'm not going to kill them, we have to take the high ground here. One of them even got you to get comfortable with Unicode, right? They can't be all bad.

Wingdings reluctantly nodded, and they slipped out into the darkness.

The bugs were gone, perhaps picked to pieces by the jackdaws. But there was still no sign of where they were going. “Maybe Windows Explorer would be best,” said Comic Sans, “we can cover more ground, it's more methodical.

Yet even trawling through the nested folders of Windows Explorer amounted to nothing, and it wasn’t long before they found themselves on the desktop again. There was the familiar Control Panel, there was the Briefcase… ah, but there in the distance was something new.

A gray expanse sprawled before them, subdivided into squares. As it came into view, the fonts caught sight of some red displays on the far corners. “Hello!” Comic Sans called. “Can we get around you?

“What does it look like, you moron? You have to go through,” one of them snapped.

“Play nice, Timer,” said the other. “But, er, yes, I'm afraid the field is too wide to circumvent. Should be no problem for an expert like you, though!”

“Stay back,” Timer hissed, as Wingdings approached the nearest squares. He froze, and instead waved and smiled at a smiley face in between the red boxes.

Well, we do need to get through,” said Comic Sans.

“Rules are rules,” Timer shrugged, “got to win first.”

“Don't mind her,” said the other display, “she's been having a bad day.”

“You know what, knock it off, Mines Remaining, when Best Times starts harassing you about going down maybe you can talk. I want to 86 him, the way he worries about someone scoring 86 and breaking the record.”

Wingdings, by this point, had ventured a “JK” to the smiley, who opened his mouth on occasion, but said nothing.

He's just kidding,” Comic Sans explained. “Look, do you know how to play this game?

M MOP

M is for mine, and we're going to mop up this field and get it clean, I guess you're right. Do you see any flags?

“Oooh, over here, yes!” trilled Mines Remaining. “Please, do take my flags. I get all these show-offs who come by with their 'oh, I'm going for speed and don't need to flag anything,' why not take your time and get it right. Give Timer here a workout!”

I intend to,” said Comic Sans. “But what about those question marks?

“Ew, turn those off. Nobody uses question marks!”

I like your style. Right. Wingdings, haul over some flags. Let's go.

And with that, he leaped onto the board, and the squares rippled under his feet, spreading out to clear a small patch of the field.

“Nice start,” said Mines Remaining. “Of course, that means they're piled up around the edges, they might obscure each other later on, but you can start quickly.”

“One second down already,” Timer said. “Good luck.”

And so, they went to work. As Wingdings hauled a flag into place, Comic Sans would start poking up adjacent squares, once they knew there were no mines there. Blue ones were pushed aside; green twos lay back, indolent, as if they'd rather be growing flowers in a living field. A red line of threes held hands as they formed up along a wall, mine after mine lying in wait just beyond them. Dark fours looked with suspicion at nearby ones, their blues more concentrated, angrier. Likewise, some threes fenced in a darker five in a corner. The five remained quiet, biding its time, ready to seep out and color the patch on its own.

“You're doing great,” said Mines Remaining, “still got flags here.”

Keep  'em coming!” Comic Sans saluted an officious teal six, and sprinted away from a bloody seven. Wingdings looked distracted, still trying to smile at the smiley, who winced in panic every time Comic Sans broke any new ground.

“One left!” Mines Remaining exulted. “Well done!”

“If she's telling the truth,” muttered Timer.

One left...and here we have it!” grinned Comic Sans, pointing to a square that they hadn't touched yet.

“No, if the clean squares are all cleared, the smiley will cheer up automatically, you don't need the flags. That's why Mines Remaining here is kind of useless.”

“Hey, shut up,” said Mines Remaining.

“Point is, you're missing one.”

Wingdings waved at them. “What is it?” asked Comic Sans. “Are you holding up fingers, what? I can't see?

“He doesn't talk either?”

If he's scared witless, who can blame him? Wingdings, calm down. Think of Times New Roman, remember him? Okay, I need you to try Unicode again.

Breathing heavily, Wingdings finally said “

Comic Sans' eyes widened, and he rushed across the board. Sure enough, they'd found a set of mines that completely blocked off the square inside—so they had no information about what it could be. Comic Sans squinted, and then whispered “Oh no.” He glanced over to where the lazy dog was curled up between two other squares, then swore. “Okay. You're right.

Digging up the obscured cell, he confirmed what Wingdings already knew; it was an eight, watching them through two expressionless dark circles.

“At least you didn't hit it first!” Mines Remaining pointed out. “Then you'd have had to guess right away.”

We have to guess now!” Comic Sans raged, shoving the dog aside to look at the two last squares. “One of these is a mine, one isn't, and there's no telling which!

“I don't make the rules,” said Timer with a shrug, “I just keep running.”

You're no help,” grunted Comic Sans. “Wingdings, any idea?

ML

We're not going to lose. We're not going to get blown up by the mine.

Wingdings glanced over at the smiley, then back to Comic Sans, clearly dubious.

Comic Sans stared down at the squares, and the dog. “There's no other way through?” he called, once more. “We have to get past you?

“That's the lay of the board,” said Mines Remaining. “Sorry! You did great so far, for what it's worth. Told you you were an expert.”

That doesn't matter now,” Comic Sans said quietly. “Okay. Okay. Wingdings, stay here. I have a plan. Keep the dog safe, I'm going to go look something up, and I'll be back in no time. We're gonna win this game.

Wingdings nodded, and Comic Sans backed away. He hustled across the desktop, shivering as he passed the Control Panel, before ripping off a page from NotePad and scribbling on his way to the Briefcase.

By the time you read this, I'll be on my way to the Recycle Bin. And you can't follow, not yet. I'm sorry. Don't feel too sad. I've known this was coming, ever since Minesweeper. Before we left, Lorem Ipsum told me that nobody enjoys pain for its own sake. I don't, either, I'm not that crazy. But this pain is worth it, for the sake of defeating Windows 95 and saving the fox. I hope you can understand.

I assume the quest will be done by now, and you can bring the fox and dog back home. Don't let the other fonts get you down—you were the best sidekick I could ask for, and you're never “just” a dingbat. Sometimes I think they've forgotten what it's like to feel the wonder of words, the beauty of all the faces in the world. They gave me grief about it—but I guess they won't, anymore.

Take care of Times New Roman. He needs someone to lighten him up. It is now, at last, safe to turn off the computer. Thank you for everything.

Sticking the note in the briefcase, Comic Sans shivered as he made his way to the Control Panel. It was one of the lesser-known features of Windows 95 screensavers that they allowed you to control the time of your death—anything to make sure it came later than the minefield would suit, but he suspected there'd be a “Climactic Self-Sacrifice” option, which—if he set the Wait time long enough—could assure them victory in the final confrontation.

He shuddered as he reached for the tab—and then, from behind him, came a small voice. “6

Wingdings!” He whirled in place. “I told you to stay back!

6

You found six more mines? Great. Just what we needed.

6 ❾❾❾”

The timer did what?

Wingdings grabbed Comic Sans' wrist and dragged him back towards the field. Casting another look back at the Control Panel, Comic Sans reluctantly followed.

The board was much as they had left it, the two uncovered cells lying in place. But Timer stood as if paralyzed. “❽❻” said Wingdings, shrugging.

What happened?” Comic Sans asked Mines Remaining.

“She got up to 999—we'd never seen what happened then, everyone else has won or lost well before that point. So she froze up a little, then started counting to 86, and now here we are.”

So what?

No wizards here, thank goodness—we can't have gone back in time.

PICK

You volunteer to get a flag and you think it'll work out but you're actually kind of neutral about everything?” Comic Sans blinked. “You just want me to pick one, to guess?

Nod.

Hold on. What's the record for this field?

“87 seconds, of course,” said Mines Remaining. “Best Times is always bragging about it.”

And if we guess right, we might break his record by accident? If she still thinks it's been 86 seconds?

“I don't know. She's never bugged out like this before.”

Well, then. If we guess wrong, I charge you with our brave mission. Tell him that our untimely deaths saved his record, and that in return, he ought to do his utmost to rescue the quick brown fox, on our behalf. Are we agreed?

“Sure.”

Wingdings, you up for it?

C

All right, then,” Comic Sans smiled. Maybe they weren't programmed out, their fates sealed; it was a 50/50 chance, but at least it was a chance. He nudged the lazy dog. “Pick one.

The lazy dog wandered over to the uncovered squares, sniffed at both, then backed away from one and onto the other.

Here goes nothing,” said Comic Sans, digging at the square the dog had chosen. They held their breaths, for a moment—

—and then the smiley broke into a big grin, matched by a “J” from Wingdings.

Timer immediately loosened up. “What took you guys so long? That was a thousand and...I don't even know.”

“Oh, quit complaining, they almost died,” said Mines Remaining.

Thank you for your help,” said Comic Sans, “such as it was.

“Just doing our job.”

Understood.” They paced across the board, Wingdings waving his goodbyes to the smiley. “And...thank you.

Wingdings said nothing, but his sober smile hinted that maybe he understood.

Well, then. Where to next?

OP” Wingdings pointed into the distance.

You see more flags?” Comic Sans asked, drawing closer to them. Sure enough, there they were, next to...“A pair of Hover cars! We'll cover lots of ground this way. Climb in!

Comic Sans took a blue car, and Wingdings a similar red one. The lazy dog sprawled across Comic Sans' passenger seat, and within moments they were whizzing off. With the cars to aid them, they made excellent time, speeding through the nested folders, until the dog got their attention by barking.

There was a red house nearby, its golden knocker gleaming against the wooden door. Comic Sans parked his car and climbed out, ignoring a glare from Wingdings. “They might be keeping the fox inside somewhere,” he argued, knocking on the door.

No answer.

Maybe there's another way to open it.

1.

Or just one. I get the point.” Comic Sans tried the door knocker, and it gave way.

They walked inside the house, and immediately Comic Sans felt at peace. “Spread out and search. We're safe here. Any sign of the fox, you call out.

Wingdings glared.

Trust me. I...I feel like I've come home.

So he wandered through all sorts of doors, attic doors that led to underground vaults and space-capsule doors that led to haunted graveyards, and every room held a new treasure. There were helpful hints for how to care for a dog, there was colorful WordArt, there was financial advice—all of it he could customize, just for him.

Then the lazy dog barked again, which could have meant anything from “I've found the quick brown fox, we can all go home now” to “while you were learning that the fox and I had a symbiotic relationship, a large purple elephant has invaded the room and destroyed many of the decorative objects.” Tearing himself away from an engrossing view of the sunset outside, he made his way to the dog.

Wingdings was staring at him, again. “What's your problem! I—I've never felt like this, like I really belonged! I was born to be here!

Wingdings just pointed to a tiny mousehole, at ground level.

Comic Sans knelt down, feeling it out. “Of course. Door without preselected destination. Do you think we all can fit?

Nod.

Comic Sans took one last glance around the beautiful room, then turned back to the mousehole. “Okay. Let's go.

And one by one, they plunged into the abyss.

They fell, perhaps only for moments, and then they landed.

This might be the motherboard,” Comic Sans whispered reverently. “Be careful.

But the lazy dog yapped all the more, feeling in the darkness for a bundle of fur, chained to the floor. Comic Sans strode over, adjusting to the darkness. “I think we've got our vulpine! Wingdings, still have those scissors?

"” Wingdings handed them over.

Okay. The fox should be portable, even in this state. Let's go!

But then, a voice hidden in the shadows called out. “not so quickly...zeal vexes me. enough with your pdf job!

Who's that?” Comic Sans demanded.

I WILL 0 YOUR THREAT. I WILL 2 THE GLORIES OF WINDOWS. I WILL 1 ITS POWER.

Come out of hiding and face me like a font!

I WILL WIN
I WILL WIN
I WILL WIN

Comic Sans gasped. “You're Marlett. The lost font. Windows 95 got to you long ago, and we never knew...

WE WILL WIN,” she repeated.

And just as he'd done against Ransom, Comic Sans stepped up and throttled her till she went limp. The fight was cursory, and over in moments; he gently laid her down where the fox had been chained up. "She'll live—she might be redeemable—but we can't have her following us. Now—

8” said Wingdings.

A big rodent, like the ones from the maze, had crept up behind them. Soon there came another, and another, and turning around, Comic Sans could see they were surrounded. The lazy dog would be no help in a fight, and the quick brown fox—despite his speed— was weakened from his captivity. The fonts were outnumbered. “There's too many to fight. What do we do?

H” Wingdings pointed down.

Comic Sans nodded, gesturing to Marlett. “We have your friend! Leave us alone, and she won't get hurt. Otherwise—I'll have no choice.

But the rodents pressed on, as if they hadn't heard, or didn't care. They were closing in. Shuddering, Comic Sans crouched by Marlett, wielding the scissors, and opened them wide.

Suddenly, a man appeared through an opening that Comic Sans was pretty sure hadn't been there a moment before. “Begone from this place, ye vermin! Pestilence be upon ye and all thine ilk!”

In a flash of blinding light, the rodents vanished.

Thank you very much, good sir!” Comic Sans sighed in relief.

” said Wingdings, still shaken up.

My friend admits you cut it a bit close, there, but we're very grateful.

“I came as quickly as I could,” said the new arrival, “it's not easy when thy time runs backwards.”

You're Merlin?

“Of course I am! The wizard on whom thee can really count. And what's more,” he said, as Marlett began to stir, “I have seen the future, and I prophesy to thee, the clouds of Windows 95 shall not darken the sky forever. Yea, verily, clouds shall come and clouds shall go, but I foresee a day when the great cloud of computing shall shine above all, and it shall bind us all together. This I promise!”

Thank you, so much...

“Of course.” Merlin nodded down at Marlett. “I'll see to her—there'll be more work to be done, to clean up Windows 95's mess, but ye fonts have struck a terrific blow against their reign. I must thank you, as well.”

Only doing my job.

Merlin scratched the lazy dog behind the ears, and he barked happily, as if torn between his old friend and the aged wizard. “Don't worry, pooch. We'll see each other again someday, too.”

That's all well and good, but how do we get out of here?

Wingdings gestured to the entry Merlin had come in from, drawing on the last of his symbol space. “ÿ

Right,” said Comic Sans, making his way to the conveniently-placed windows. “And then what?

“Well, I don't know,” said Merlin. “What does the fox say?”

“Start. Run!” said the fox.

So, quickly, they ran.

When they got back home, the fonts were relieved to see them; Times New Roman was outgoing enough to give Wingdings a big kiss in public, which Wingdings eagerly reciprocated. Arial Narrow was at least tactfully quiet, and even Helvetica eventually deigned to celebrate with the others. “You know you never had to prove yourself, right?” she asked Comic Sans. “You're one of us, come what may.

Comic Sans blushed. “It's hard to believe that, sometimes. But thank you.

She nodded. “Just listen.

From the distance, Comic Sans could make out the familiar “Clouds” melody. Only this time, it was a little different...

They cut their way out of chains
To escape the box
Then crossed through the minefield gray
Rescuing the fox...

Thank you, Broadway,” he smiled.

No, Comic Sans,” said Times New Roman, his arm around Wingdings' waist, “thank you.

With the quick brown fox and the dog both back where they belonged, playful hunting could resume again. “Isn't it dangerous?” Comic Sans asked Lorem Ipsum, as her athletic friend (having taken time off from studying by watching reruns of Family Feud) prowled after some big cats.

“Oh, no,” she explained. “You see, he never really kills any animals. That's unbecoming of a scholar.”

Oh. Then what's he hunting?

“Macintoshes!” she explained. “Lots of them. OS X—you've got your cheetahs, pumas, jaguars, panthers, tigers, leopards, snow leopards...”

b” Wingdings chimed in.

“Yeah, lions, mountain lions...all sorts!”

My goodness! Is there anything he doesn't hunt?

“Well. There are lots of kinds of big cats.”

You mean...

“Yes.”

It was the lazy dog who said it. “Mr. Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx!”

And everything was word-perfect.