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A Medley of Extemporanea

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"You've lost me."

"I beg to disagree. Since I can reach out my hand and touch you -- here, allow me to demonstrate--"

"Ow!"

"My deepest apologies. My shoulder twitched."

"Twitched. Yeah. Sure. Your apology pool fathometer is seriously out of whack if you think that's deep. You've gotta dredge those emotion glands out now and then, keep them from silting up."

"Oh, horrors! Do you mean to inform me I've been walking around in public with silt-choked emotion glands? I shall expire from shame. Unless you're suggesting that you want to be in charge of this dredging? Do you harbor a desperate, unspoken desire to plow through the soft, yielding hollows of--"

"Oh my god, will you stop with the innuendos. I meant psychology. Emotions and shit. That's your bag, you just need to skullfuck yourself sometimes instead of me."

"That would be terribly unprofessional."

"Oh, horrors. I somehow looked right past all the fancy letters after your name and the bitchin' certificates framed on your walls, don't know how I missed them, maybe I'm repressing anything related to higher education and professional accreditation because of a terrible trauma in my past involving a thesis defense board. Or maybe they're just invisible. Because they don't exist."

"Hmph. Anyway, as I was saying, since we're in close physical proximity, and I know where I am, there is no way I could have lost you. I insist you withdraw the statement and apologize for such baseless slander."

"Make me."

"Ooh, Mister Strider, ooh."

"That was not what I meant and you know it."

"Are you accusing me of telepathy?"

"I'm accusing you of avoiding the motherfucking point, which is that I can time travel. At least in theory. I hack a couple quests, win the first level time gear, go back, stop John from doing his gullible dumbshit impression, and hey presto, everything's fixed. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't get started right now."

"..."

"Thought so. I'm gone."

"He'll just die again, you know."

"..."

"We all will. We have no idea what this game's true purpose is, and without that, we have no idea how to win -- or even whether we should win. Sburb destroyed our homes and looks set to give destroying the entire Earth a damn good try. And that's only the entry condition. What kind of destruction might victory unleash?"

"For all we know it might unleash a giant resurrection do-over option."

"And that's my point. We don't know. We need to know. Since there's no way for us to win the game without two of our players, this is the perfect chance to investigate."

"Rose."

"Yes?"

"I can't just-- John's dead. Jade's probably dead too. I couldn't make John's computer hook up to her, no matter how many times I loaded the fucking program."

"Yes. But we can fix that. We will fix that. We have to. I just want to make sure that we never have to fix it again. I don't think I-- that is-- that--"

"Hey, no, hey, shit, uh, yeah, okay, um -- look, here's a kitten!"

"..."

"What."

"Dave."

"What."

"Generally speaking, therapeutic kittens are meant to be alive and touchable, not sealed in glass jars and preserved in formaldehyde."

"You're discriminating against the dead, Rose. This is necrophobia in its classic form. How can you look into those sad, worm-chewed eyes and not feel your heart stir and sing within your chest? How can you stay unmoved at the way its little feet drift in the formaldehyde, pawing bashfully at the glass that separates--"

"Oh my god, shut up!"

"Mmmrph hmmnmf fmrrhhr."

"The same to you, I'm sure. Now where was I?"

"Still losing me, that's where."

"Ha ha ha."

"I'm a genius, I know."

"You're certainly something. But I think that if we want to save our-- that is, if we intend to prevent similar incidents in the future -- or past, or alternate future -- we need to be prepared. We need to learn what we're facing, and why. We need to find the manual and the cheat codes, here and now while we have the chance and the motivation. We need to take this game apart. Then you go back. That's my point, and that's my plan."

"..."

"Was that simple enough, or are you still lost?"

"Lost? Nah. I can reach out and touch you, and you know where we're going, so obviously I've been found all along."

"Of course you have. And I'm the Queen of Romania."

"Is that a game title? Wow, we're learning shit already. Look at that, your plan's coming together like clockwork. And speaking of clockwork, I've got a couple quests on LOHAC that need solving -- time travel doesn't invent itself, you know. Chop chop, time is money, gimme back my kitten in a jar and get busy hacking the game here on your own planet."

"Kitten? What kitten?"

"Oh, you did not just steal that."

"You can't steal a gift freely given. Besides, one never knows when one might require a therapeutic pickled kitten. This game is full of dangerous-- that is, of unexpected-- by which I mean..."

"..."

"..."

"Rose. We are going to save them, right?"

"We will. Or we'll die trying."

"Promise?"

"Yes. Now get lost. We have a game to beat."