"Why d'you want to invite him to the conference, of all people?" Libby asked curiously.
Lazarus shrugged. "I thought he might be able to answer some nagging questions - he was personally acquainted with the Book of Revelation, after all."
"Don't pay any attention to the Old Man," said Teena, listening in. "Actually, it's all about him, as usual. He has this vision of a VIP room only for people more than two thousand years old, gathered from all over the universes, just so he can play Senior of seniors again."
"Let me see," said Hilda, and grabbed his list. She glanced down it, and raised her eyebrows. "You wouldn't be able to play Senior for very long with that lot, anyway, Woody; half of them are older than you are."
"It's probably about him wanting to sleep with somebody older than he is," said Deety, smirking. "It always comes back to that, somewhere."
"And he wanted to invite an angel?" said Libby.
"I am in the room," Lazarus mentioned, apropos of nothing.
"But it doesn't matter anway," said Hilda, "because we can't go there."
Libby frowned. "What do you mean, can't go there?"
Deety glanced over at them. "There are some universes that seem to be blocked from our access - 'ficta' that we should be able to visit, but can't. Hilda and Gay and I noticed it the last time we went looking for Barsoom; we couldn't get there, or the next half-a-dozen stories we tried to find."
Jake frowned, across the table. "Really. Why haven't I heard about this?"
Deety glanced at Hilda and she rolled her eyes and picked up the conversation. "Because we weren't sure about it and wanted to gather more data. But so far, it seems to be consistent. We've taken to calling them 'proprietary' universes."
Zeb grinned. "Proprietary universes? That's preposterous! How can a universe be proprietary?
"You're proprietary," said Deety.
"This, from my next-to-favorite wife!" Zeb gestured dramatically. "I'm insulted!"
"Next-to-favorite wife?" Deety asked, eyes narrowed.
"Now that you're insulting me, yes," Zeb said cheerfully. "Proprietary! I'll show you proprietary!" He leaned over to Minerva, who had been sitting quietly next to him, and kissed her very thouroughly.
When he was quite finished, she blinked and wiped her and over her mouth. "Well, that was certainly something," she said. "I'm not sure it was proprietary, though. What did you mean by that, Deety?"
"Actually, I meant it literally," said Deety. "Evidence suggests that we're in a proprietary universe, too. Both Lazarus's universe, and our home universe."
"But we can travel back and forth with no problems," Jake reminded her.
"Yes, but - Hilda, you explain it," she said. "It's complicated."
"It's not really that complicated, if what I think is happening is what's happening," Hilda said. "It all goes back to world-as-myth. All of the universes we could reach were based on stories that were written well before the point at which our two timelines noticeably diverged. If we take as a postulate that these two universes share one ultimate Author -- which I think is a reasonable hypothesis, given how quickly we were able to combine, although I bet Jake is about to argue with me on that, because he thinks Heinlein was a randy intolerant old hack --"
Jake closed his mouth and silently motioned her on.
"Then the point at which they diverged is likely to also be the point in his universe's timeline where history diverged from ours - and therefore the point at which our Author started writing. Which means that for him, older stories like Oz and Wonderland would be public domain, but anything written more recently would be under copyright, and off-limits. Our Author, by his universe's rules, isn't allowed to write about those stories, and so we aren't capable of going there - they're proprietary."
Minerva blinked. "Public domain? Copyright?"
The four Burroughses looked at each other. Jake shook his head ruefully. "It's terribly easy to forget sometimes that you come from a society several millenia more advanced than ours. Lazarus, can you explain?"
Lazarus thought for a second, unpacking some very old memories. "Copyright. An extremely primitive legal concept that was very much in vogue for the first century or so of my life - I assume it was still in play where you came from?" he asked Hilda.
"Very much so," Hilda replied.
"Hmmph," he said. "If I remember right, it was predicated on the concept that knowledge, and ideas, can and should be owned - treated as chattel, like slaves, to be bought and sold. It was illegal to share or build on an idea if you couldn't prove ownership of it - is that right? There should be some records of that time mentioned in Teena's databanks, if you remember that part, Minerva. It was called 'intellectual property', and a story was no better than a cow."
Minerva blinked, and then nodded thoughtfully.
"I found it," said Teena. "I think I'd put a memory block around that information on purpose. Did you really live that way when you were young? It's horrifying! Owning an idea -- owning a story-- It's even sillier than trying to claim you own your genes!"
"Actually, people copyright genetic sequences all the time," Hilda said. "Sometimes they even claim that they own other people's genes."
"I remember that," Libby said thoughtfully. "Around the time it was becoming obsolete in our universe. People were getting arrested for bleeding in the streets - it was 'unauthorized transmission of proprietary intellectual property'."
"Wait a minute --" said Zeb. "If the thing that's blocking interuniversal travel is intellectual property rights -- does that mean that our mysterious vermin in black hats are copyright lawyers?"
"Even worse," Deety grinned at him. "Most copyright enforcement was done by media megaconglomerates."
"That's it," Zeb replied. "We're taking them out."
"How?" asked Lazarus. "I hate to say it, but if Hilda's right - and Hilda's always right, she beat that into me within a week of our first meeting - then one of the fundamental laws of our universe is that we're incapable of going to any universe that's under copyright from the perspective of our own Author. I don't see any obvious way of getting around that rule - if we're figments, then we can't do anything that our Author can't write about us doing."
"But we do know these stories," said Libby, "or else we wouldn't know to visit them; so the copyright law can't entirely seal them off; surely there's some way of -- twisting through the cracks."
"Make a loophole in the laws of the multiverse?"
"Sharpie's very good at finding loopholes," said Zeb wisely.
Jake held up a hand. "Wait a minute. I think we're getting very far ahead of ourselves, here. We *have* been to a copywritten universe - one of the first ones we translated to; you decided that was Asimov's 'Nightfall'."
"We rotated to a space with blinding radiation and stayed for less than a second; I made an assumption," said Hilda. "It could just as well have been half-a-dozen worlds that were out of copyright - or even Hell itself, for all we saw of it. Anyway, even if it was "Nightfall" - it was nothing distinctive enough to legally infringe copyright."
Lazarus frowned. "Jake's right, though - we're making a lot of assumptions here. The only evidence we really have that anything's happening here is that we still haven't found Barsoom."
"Oh, we have more evidence than that," said Deety.
Libby shook her head. "But evidence aside, it's logical, Lazarus. Under the theory of fictons --"
"But it can't really work that way, can it?" asked Teena. "I refuse to be limited by some silly backwards laws that don't even apply in my universe!"
"It's not up to you --" said Lazarus, "-- but I have to admit I don't like the idea either. I am a solipsistic figment with free will, goddammit!"
"That was an impressively theologically convoluted sentence," said Jake. "Have ever you considered starting a religion?"
"Been there, done that," replied Lazarus.
"Besides, starting a religion on a lark has been passé since before L. Ron Hubbard," added Hilda.
"And that's what's really wrong with World as Myth," said Zeb. "People like him actually do get to be all-powerful gods in their own universes."
Minerva blinked, finished processing, and sat up straight. "I think Jake was on to something, everyone."
"No, Hilda's right," Lazarus said. "Being a god is not only passé, it's deadly boring."
"But I think it might be our loophole into the proprietary universes," said Minerva. "Hilda's mention of the limits of legal copyright infringement -- it brought to mind something I remembered from my time as a planetary computer. Have any of you ever heard of ... fanfiction? It started as a resistance movement in the days of intellectual property, but there was still a thriving community in my time -- they took up quite a lot of my memory cycles, actually --"
Athena let out a peal of laughter. "Trust you to think of that, sister."
"You think it would work, sister?" Minerva replied, eyes narrowed.
"... it just might."
"What's fanficton?" Libby asked, curiously.
"Essentially," said Minerva, "It's taking another author's characters and universes, and writing your own stories using them. Becoming yourself the author of stories in another person's universe. Now, we know that it's possible to go to a universe that you're the Author of - Reverend Dodgson is proof enough of that - so it seems to me that if we write fanfiction in the proprietary universes - which is not illegal in our universe, as it lacks copyright law - we become Authors of the universe in the fanfiction and can then go there, regardless of the original Author's status to our Author, because the basis of pantheistic multiperson solipsism is that no one Author has a greater status of 'reality' than any other -- what?" she added Lazarus, who was staring at her with a startled expression. "Does it seem unreasonable?"
"I'm just surprised that you chose to remember fanfiction, of all the things in your memory banks, when you came over."
"Well," Minerva colored prettily. "What I maybe didn't mention is that - historically - fanfiction has been written mainly for the purpose of - sexual expression."
"Sexual expression?" Teena repeated merrily.
"It was over fifteen terabytes of very passionately written pornography!" Minerva said. "Of course I didn't want to leave it behind. Is anyone here going to argue with that?"
"What suprises me is that you spent most of your life as a planetary computer, and you've been married to this bunch for years, and yet, you still remember how to blush," said Teena.
"Who invited you to this meeting, anyway?" asked Minerva. "Lazarus, if you want to know more details than that, you can ask your twin sisters: they were in it up to their eyeballs in their adolesence."
"As if you weren't," said Teena. "Poor little lonely lovestruck kid. What was your pen name again? Oh yes -- irasgurrl, wasn't it? And she didn't tell you the best part, which is this thing called RPF, which means Real Person Fanfic, which is stories about real people having sex, not fictional characters--"
"Teena!" wailed Minnie. "I deleted that!"
"You just thought you deleted it," said Teena. "Do you really think I'd let something like that get away?" Teena hummed to herself for a second, and then put on her best narrating voice. "'Lazarus drove himself into Libby's yielding flesh, feeling the younger man writhe beneath him in ectasy as he spent himself, with a moan. "Mine!" he said. "God, yes, yours," Andrew replied, shuddering as he too found completion. Partners in explorations, friends, lovers -- and -- he barely dared to think -- maybe more. They had all of time to work it out, but for now, he turned to offer a devouring kiss the man who was, in the empty space between the stars -- his everything.' There's another hundred and fifty kilobytes of that, if you're interested. The title is 'Some Exercises in Discreet Mathematics with Two Operators.' - gods, Minnie, sometimes you're *such* a computer."
The table was silent for a minute. Minerva covered her face with her hands and studiously didn't look at the real people in question.
Lazarus broke the contemplative silence. "Minerva! Why didn't you share this years ago? We could have demonstrated --"
Libby smacked him in the back of the head. "Thank you, Minerva. It's good to know that not everybody was as stubbornly oblivious. As my Partner."
Teena snickered. "There's even bunch of bad reviews complaining about how she made you too girly, Libby. I wonder if I should let them know she had it right?"
"Don't you *dare*!" Minerva hissed.
Laz and Lor poked their heads through the door just then. "Have you been talking about us?" asked Laz. "Because I felt a goose walk over my grave --"
"Which is to say that we have the entire house bugged, and also we're bored --" added Lor,
"-- and really, you shouldn't tease Minnie like that, Teena, she knows more viruses than you do."
"We were just talking about fanfiction, Laz, Lor," said Teena, "and how you used to write it constantly, back when Lazarus was still keeping you prettily frustrated all the time."
"We're still frustrated all the time --" said Lor, "we inherited our brother's sex drive --"
"--we just have better ways to work it off now --"
"-- but we'll meet you in our room after the meeting, if you want. Bring some of the really good ones --"
"-- because a friendly computer and some fanfic is more than enough for great sex, as I'm sure you know --"
"--ooh!," added Lor, "Can you bring that one we wrote with Uncle Bill the Explorer, from Piliaca's Planetquarium --"
"--where he's taken captive by these two gorgeous red-headed space pirates, who seduce him --"
"-- and ravish him mercilessly for days and days, until he doesn't even remember his own name --"
"-- and then tell him that they're actually his twin sisters, who ran away from his evil bossy parenting when they were twelve--"
"-- and then leave him behind on a space rock, panting and confused but still very turned on?"
"Because we were very proud of that one," said Laz.
"The trouble with inventing time travel," said Lazarus, "is that it makes it a lot harder to outlive your problems."
"You mean 'live them down', not 'outlive them', I think," said Libby, drily.
"Anyway," said Hilda. "Where were we?"
"Minerva's Amazing Adventures in the Land of RPS, and how they apply to interuniversal travel," said Teena. "Hey, so if writing fanfic about somebody else's world makes you one of its Authors, what happens if you write fanfic about your own Author?"
"Who's our Author?" asked Laz.
"Well, in our universe, it was this guy named Robert A. Heinlein," replied Zeb thoughtfully. "But if Sharpie's right and he's also our Author --"
"And I think I am, because there's this whole skein of universes we've found that're by him in ours, and they're incredibly easy to get to - including this one."
"-- then he must also be a fictional character in his own universes. Does he exist in this one?"
"No idea," said Lazarus, "I haven't kept up on twentieth century fiction writers. And before you ask, Hilda, no, I don't remember who wrote the serial you guys were in."
Deety suddenly broke into giggles.
"What?" asked Zeb.
"I've just remembered. It was commonly believed by some factions where we come from that Heinlein did write himself into his books -- as this incredibly annoying, overwritten, pompous character, obviously an authorial insert, who was named Lazarus Long. You remember that, Dad? You went on and on at the dinner table about how unfair that was, and then Mom shut you up by saying you only liked the character because he was too much like you."
Laz and Lor started giggling too. "So if we were to write a story where an author has sex with his own Mary-Sues --"
"--is that narcissism, or just intellectual incest?"
"-- and if we did it under World as Myth, does that mean it would have really happened?"
Minerva grinned a little, too. "I think that would be the definition of paramasturbatory."
Jake and Lazarus looked at each other. "We're getting off topic again," said Lazarus.
"-- The topic being whether there are universes that we can't reach due to copyright-- "
"-- and how to get around it if that's true."
Laz and Lor and Minnie and Teena and Libby and Deety were all giggling now. Jake and Lazarus glared at each other, and shut up.
Hilda suppressed a grin, herself. "Laz and Lor. How'd you like to actually fullfill that fantasy, at last?"
"Which one? The one about ravishing our brother for days and days --"
"Because we've done that already, although we wouldn't mind doing it again --"
"Or the one where Jake and Lazarus do, because we've tried and tried --"
"But they won't let us watch, even though they're our *husbands* now, which isn't fair at *all*--"
"I meant," said Hilda, "the one where you're space pirates. I think it's time to hang the skull and crossbones in Dora again, crew. Let's go teach a certain Mr. Heinlein the meaning of the phrase 'Copyright Piracy'."