“But what will I do without Duncan?” George asks Baker Bloch between sobs.
“You’ll move on son. Forward. But not here.”
“I wish we would have never found that book, that rule.”
George liked it here on the peninsula Duncan assigned him to keep an eye on. This meant Core-Alena in whatever shape she happened to be in at the time. This included The Between, a slither of land representing a neutral point between Virtual and Reality. This meant, well, anything else in and around the peninsula. Just keep your eyes peeled, requested Duncan.
And something had happened tonight, George then realized, peering around. The Seven Crate was gone from its former position behind the Magenta Girls’ beach house.
First the VEN off the boat moored just offshore several days ago, now the SeVEN crate itself. Better get this information back to Duncan as soon as possible, George considered. Maybe… right now?
“I *told* you not to come here, George.”
“I’m properly disguised — in costume.”
“Nevertheless. You’re still a boy of 13 at heart. This is an adult portal.”
George glanced over at the center of it all again. “Milk. And cookies.” He pointed. “Funny.”
“Stop looking over there. You don’t know *what* will show up. Just stare straight ahead.”
“Tell you what, let’s just get out of here.”
“But I just arrived,” protested George. “Ohhh.”
“Let’s go back to the apartment.” And so they did.
“Okay, I feel a lot more comfortable now with you being here. So… start at the beginning. When did you find the crate missing? After the boat name changed, I know. But just go through the events of the day leading up to it.”
So George unfurled the events of the day leading up to the discovery. Core-Alena and he had had breakfast together at the beach house. “English muffins, ummm,” George remembered. “Core-Alena is a good cook, especially for a tree.”
“That’s a racist and bigoted response,” reprimanded Duncan. “Trees are no different than people. There’s trees that are good with cooking, good with music, good with science. Just like people.” Duncan stared an apology out of his young ward.
“That’s okay. Now continue.”
“Well, we finished breakfast, and then I helped with the dishes and we sat around and chatted. Core-Alena — well, you know how she is. Always complaining.”
“Watch it,” warned Duncan.
“Alright.” George nodded here. “But she started on… talking about how she got killed again.”
Duncan paused with this, turned and appeared to look out the window toward the great Hotel Chelsea (the center of it all *here*) while actually deep in thought. “I see.”
“She mentioned you.”
“Of course she did.”
“And how she’s not happy being where she is now. Mobile. That’s the problem,” the boy guesses.
“Yeah,” admits Duncan, turning back around. “That’s the problem, George.” He shuffles his feet a bit, wrings his hands nervously. “A conundrum even.”
George pauses in turn. “She needs to go back into the ground. Doesn’t she?”
The next day or something, George came to check on her. Duncan sent him. He was disguised (once more) as a fisher boy, who would never grow up to be a fisher man. Fisher Herman.
“You okay? You seem anxious. What did you see in the crate? Duncan is worried about you.”
“I bet he is.” She clutched her dead teddy tightly, unable to speak for a while. The boy sat silent too.
Finally, after about 10 minutes: “Do you have any sandwiches, Penny?”
“Bread, butter — fix it yourself.”
Funny how I’ve been banned for 30 minutes from that central property, just for sitting at that table and attempting to grab an orange. Better send replacement Snoupy in for a shot instead. Must – get – oranges!
He checks his watch. *Or*, I could just wait the now 19 minutes remaining and explore some of the rest of this Adgatetown. David Jaspers, Linda Halsey — wonder if they’re still here. And of course Lisa V., the real reason for the visit. Bartholomew. I know where he is. I know where all the Smipsons are: Homer, Marg, Grandpaw, Magee, even the aunts Selma and Louise. I know who shot Mr. J. R. Burns. And I know why Lisa can’t find any of them. She has evolved.
Two kids playing on a jungle gym linked together with red, blue, yellow pentagons. Wait: there’s green there too. Sometimes that is forgotten in the mix of primary colors.
Maybe like Lisa and Bartholomew when they were children. Innocent days of youth. Before the Big Change. One made it through the waterfall, the other didn’t. Lisa casts a shadow and evil is born. Projected onto the boy.
They are acting out a play: The boy dreams of life on an elephant, but can’t make it there himself. For the girl: smooth sailing.
What game are they playing now? The one where blue wins and red loses? That happens all the time.
What about yellow on the edge? Oh, there’s the father or guardian showing up. Perhaps come to gather them up and take them home to a nice, delicious warm meal prepared by the significant other while he was out hard at work selling encyclopedias or something. Nice suit.
But when Marion Harding also stopped at the edge of the circle, only one child was still within. The dancing one. The one who cast the shadow.
Oops. Past time to take a pic with those oranges!
“Tronesisia, in her sly way, has led us back to VHC City’s Realm of Orange, also known as Sphere of Influence. George is pictured here peering intently at it in Collagesity novel 4 — scrutinizing…
… and then also here in the current novel (playing Young Herbert Dune in EM’s ‘Urbane Blue’ production). He peers at the orange in each case. Circular perfection.”
“No, you don’t get it, Pitch. I should know. He *doesn’t* peer at the orange, but just outside. Around the outside but not within. That’s what Tronesisia is warning us about.”
“We’ll have to bring her back, Bill. To Collagesity, I mean.”
“Baker Blinker’s old house…”
“Of course. Just like before.”
“But there’s Bendy to consider.”
“Bendy and Tronesisia — or Tronesisia and Bendy — go the way of Fisher and Lisa.”
“Or Lisa and Fisher.”
“So is this her?” Ruby asked without a hint of jealousy. The Green (Eyed) Monster.
“Yes. Beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Yes.” I wish I were a 100th that beautiful, Ruby then thinks. Eraserhead Man was thinking at the same time: But not as beautiful as you are right now, Young Ruby. EM is certainly smitten (!).
“This is Smithy’s House,” EM then declares. “Not finished. We also don’t know who’s going to play Smithy. Maybe the man in the bright green coat who came on the set earlier. But maybe not.”
“Where are all the others, Pencil? (for that was what Ruby always called EM since their days back on New Island — Pencil)
EM points to his eraser topped noggin with a stubby arm. “In here.” He waits an appropriate beat. “Nah, just kidding. They’re in the southeast corner of Fishers Island. Doing my bidding.”
“Gwin included?” Ruby tried to word her thoughts properly. “She… returned to the set?”
“Yes. Sorry you can’t play the part, Ruby. But we have something special cooked up for you. Did I ever tell you I have a doppleganger too? Some call him Penn Mann. Some just penhead, because he’s quite irksome. But lately he’s been sporting a pink mohawk and disguising himself as a she. Under this guise (he’s known as) Chuck Cheese. Sometimes Heidi, which I suppose indicates his ability to hide well. But we’ve struck a deal. Man to man-as-woman. I get the southeast corner of Fishers Island, he gets Wallytown of Fishers Island.”
Ruby pondered on this new information. “Then who gets Fisher?”
“Ahh, so logical, so precise you are. Yes, our Orange Boy. Orange itself. That is the conundrum. To answer that we must first go back to when Herbert Dune was just a boy on the threshold of adolescence. Or just beyond, I guess. Rounding a corner. Seeing something earlier on that day that he didn’t understand. A flesh and blood woman turned into a doll. Heidi — or whatever she or he’s called — insisted that he — or she — direct the shoot.”
“Do you have the orange makeup on all over the appropriate spot, Chloe?”
“Yeees.” Chloe Price was being paid quite handsomely for this scene, but still her voice had an edge. She was nervous. She never had done anything close to a nude scene for a film, never exposed her midriff for anything. Oh, there was that pool scene in “Life is Strange”. But that was all innocent fun and games. This is different. She could back out… but she was already inside.
“Alright. Young Herbert Dune — George — you come around the corner just there and then spot Chloe. You slink back around the corner. Chloe doesn’t see you. The case is opaque, not transparent. Here… let me set the mood better.”
“So the case is darkened. All except that circular opening. And then, Young Herbert can’t help himself, takes another look. The legend of All Orange is born.”
“I’m giving you back your 50,000 lindens, EM. I couldn’t do it. Director Heidi took my place. She was a better height for it anyway.” Chloe Price huffed. “You don’t know *what* I went through in ‘Life is Strange’. Creepy stuff. I couldn’t do it,” she reinforced.
EM pats her hand. He’s finally breaking through that tough exterior. “There there, friend. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to here on *my* set.”
That day, Chloe may have fallen a little bit for Eraserhead Man as well.
“So we’re at the couch now, Mr. Babyface. Do you know who the ring is yet? 450,000 lindens worth of the ultimate 500,000 remain to be paid out. Do you want to be a wealthy man or a poor man, Mr. Face?
What’s this precocious child’s end game? he wondered while puffing rapidly on his pipe. Red Dragon, mmm. So soothing. But, Collagesity to Middletown — it really happened! She really did it. “Wealthy, I suppose,” he then answers.
“Then find Leona and her village full of mechanoid people at the hilltop lakes with the lone star shaped swimming pool and ask for Flo. And also: go *with* the flow. Synchronicity.”
“All right.” He was trying to keep up with her pace, or at least pretend to.
“(And) take Greg Ogden with you. That’s her husband after all. Good cover for you as well.”
“Didn’t know that fact. But: will do. I’ll take Red Boy.”
In fact, Mr. Babyface and Greg Ogden had become quite close during their stay in the Kidd Tower. A common heating system can sometimes bring people together.