“Well, we have a giant *beaver*. How’s that?”
Marion Harding openly admitted to having a thing about trees. Here we see him climbing up the ladder into a treehouse he’s fancied recently. The owners of the main house on the property were never around, it seemed. And there was a gas station nearby which provided a small bathroom and also a bed for his more basic needs. Then there was the nice view of *the* tree.
Most Ancient One (MOA) was the most impressive thing in Capitol City to Marion. “Nothing like this in your South Yankton,” he told Philip Strevor the other day while petting its massive trunk. This is Gaeta V, *not* GTA V. And while bland and boring overall yes, there are still advantages.” He started to mention Heidi as well, but didn’t want to get Philip thinking along those lines again — about “retirement” in this Muff-Bermingham run by that tall, pale dame he’s described. The heist should be the main focus now. That’s what they were meeting about at the tree’s base. For even Philip knew the huge old growth had authentic power. Power to expose and power to hide. Whatever was in the hearts of men at the moment. And, through knowledge gleaned from his wacky weed and attached fantasy friends, Marion understood how to harness it.
They’d left the kid at the playground in the snowier part of town. George was looking after her. George swears up and down that he’s 13 and not the 10 or so he appears to be. And, anyway, both Marion and Philip knew that Heidi Hunt Ives could take care of herself for sure. It’s just the *impression* of caretakers they were after. Part of the cover.
Anson. He’d received the name from The Oracle that is The Tree. An auto, a *bug*, stolen and then stolen again. Formerly buried in the sand at the wrecked ship just north of Fae’s Boat House by Tom the Booker — Tom Booker — now deceased and buried himself somewhere in the eastern reaches of Corsica Prime. Car thieving was his livelihood. But this theft was special. Because there was something stashed in the exhaust system he didn’t know about. A 50,000 linden reward issued by the Purple Gang of the Black Lake District alerted him to the situation. Then the kid plugged her own ultra valuable information into the equation. This is *the bug* she stated more than once she was working on, beyond the old and middle aged women, beyond even the poodle. Not an insect, but at the same time, yes an insect, she cryptically claimed. A philosopher’s stone she termed it for him.
This is why he decided to bring her into their fold in the first place. The bug. And she claimed to have the power to know exactly where it was at any one time. And it would continue to get stolen, again and again. The money would keep roll’n in.
“We’re gonna drive this car all the way to ‘Pumpkintwisters’ this time, Jackie.”
“Shut up and get starting.”
“I’m afraid we have no power to control the theft of the haunted VW, town owner Baker Bloch,” responds Keat Owens Librarian beside the marked up Nautilus City map. “The Oracle has spoken; it will continue to be X-ed out.”
“All right. Time to move.”
play with me
“Thank you for helping me, George. Now we’re having double the fun.”
“Sun’s going down fast, Heidi,” speaks a concerned George, still working on his own castle. He’d been at it for about 45 minutes now. “Maybe we better go look for Philip and Marion. They may have forgotten about us. Especially Marion, you know. And Philip gets sidetracked in a different way.”
“Oh, they’re not concerned about us,” giggled Heidi Hunt Ives. “They know I can take care of myself. *And* you.” She stopped her castle building for a moment and looked over at him. “13, you say?” George nodded, beginning to hollow out the castle door more. “You really don’t look any older than me, truth be told. But look around, George. Do you know where you are?”
“I’m here with you,” he replied smugly, still engrossed in sand sculpting. “In a playground. In Capitol City. On the Gaeta V continent. In Our Second Lyfe. In Virtual Reality. Does that answer your question?”
“Right on the last two counts at least,” Heidi said innocently. With this, George finally looked up, saw the snow-less ground all around the sandbox. Saw the surrounding brick wall peppered with graffiti. Stood up and stared at the tall, disrepaired apartment building behind him.
And then, in an instant, it was all gone, clean, snowier part of Capitol City returned.
Flushing, he turned toward Heidi. Only one castle was in the significantly smaller sandbox now: her own. “There never was a second castle, George,” Heidi explained straightforwardly while still crafting a turret. “Not yet.”
“Do you hear that?” she whispered, strangely concerned now after all that went on before. Then George heard it too. Crunching, soft but unmistakable. Someone walking on the other side of the picket fence.
“Well? How’d it go?” asked Jim the Pirate Bartender about Marion’s exploration of Anson. He was nosey that way. Regular customers usually liked it. Strangers sometimes put off. Like Marion Harding. But he relented, wanting to abate rumors while telling the real, *checkable* facts as much as possible.
“Nothing much there except a hull,” he tested. “No autos within now for certain.”
“We *know* that, Mr. Hardware,” Jim said, speaking for the bar collective he felt he presently represented.
“Harding,” Marion corrected about his name.
“What about Anton? What’s he look like these days? Use to come in here you know. Alternated between a bloody bucket of nails and a naily bucket of blood. Rough drinks both. Usually dove back into the sea pretty wasted. Surprised he didn’t actually drown he was so sloshed.”
“You know that’s impossible,” Marion corrected again. “You know we can all breathe under the water. Above the atmosphere, under the water. Survive fire and flood — although there is that rumor about a volcano on the Old Continent where avatars could actually perish.”
“But look at your friend Stinky Brinkman you spoke about earlier. Riddled with bullet holes. You said you were there at the funeral and another gunfight erupted, with three more dead. Then at *their* funerals nine more dead. What was the total at the end?”
“138,” replies Marion in a level tone. “138 avatars killed so far. Chain reaction, yeah.” He shook his head, thinking about Stinky more than any of the others. “But they aren’t really dead, see. The *core* remains to rise another day. Actually,” he then reconsidered, “there is another way to truly die. You can deactivate yourself — obliterate the core. I’ve been told it’s possible but I’ve never known anyone to actually do it. The problem might be: when you deactivate yourself that way you rub yourself out of existence, so no one remembers anything about you, past or present. It’s as if you never existed in the first place. Working theory mind you.” He took another sip of his Brewmeister’s Quarterly, still being careful not to drink too much. Because that’s when he gets in trouble with the revealing.
“Well I never,” Jim replied, wanting to get back to Anton. He wiped the counter in front of him a bit and collected his thoughts again. “I’ve heard he’s only a beard these days. Anton, I mean.”
Close, Marion thinks. But then utters: “I didn’t see him. No autos, no Anton.”
“Impossible,” returns Jim. “There’s a green dot on the map up there. It’s usually there. It’s gotta be Anton. We’ve had ships pass over the wreck and examined their NAR (Nearby Avatars Radar). Anton: usually the culprit. In fact — let me check my own map right now (Jim’s face went blank for a moment) — well he’s not there now, but *usually* is. Sometimes, anyway.
A cyberwoman walks into the bar and settles into a stool two down from Marion, paper airplanes whirling ’round and ’round her head. Spy? he considers. Jim keeps talking about Anton. Marion wishes he would really shut his yapper now.
“Maybe he’s totally invisible. He use to be whole, like when he came in here. But then there were reports of just a beard and a coat, just a hat and some pants. Maybe he really is gone, man. Dead even.”
“Is this Anton a boy of about 10 years old,” Cyberpaperdoll then inserted.
“Um, no,” Jim answered.
“Well, never mind, then. Paper plane cocktail if you will.”
What Marion actually saw:
Shoes buried in the sand — uncovered. And the left one holding something small and green and almost priceless he soon found out. About $500,000 lindens worth of almost priceless. Enough to leave Second Lyfe altogether if he wished. But, truth be told, he only wanted to get back to that ice fishing shack over in Horizons-Spica. He dreamed about it almost every night.
the evolution of the ring
“I’m just waiting for the significant other to finish up inside,” spoke Roger Pine Ridge from his *self named* chair. “How about you?”
But metallic green robed Junbug said nothing and kept reading her book of spooky stories. There were codes inside.
“I’m glad the Floyd Man is gone, Owlshead, because my book is now not full of glitches.”
“Do you have *any* clothes around here that’ll fit me?” the small green being now seated opposite her replied, “because I’m f-ing cold as old mold, *shiver*.”
“Okay,” Junbug relented. “Hop on back up and let’s go see how Anton is holding out. This was just a test anyway.”
“I’m thinking of changing my name again to Kelp, Sidechick… Anton. Whaddaya guys think?”
I am Kelp.
Yvonne — not there.
Doflia (formerly Doreena): check.
Roger Pine Ridge kept looking at the flickering white glow beneath the water that he knew was Anton. Shoes stolen; mission accomplished. Like finding the ruby slippers of Oz, he thought. Anorexia’s gonna be pissed off as hell.
He looked over at the green robed woman beside him, face harshly illuminated by the glare of the flashlight she held. Scars. “I’m just waiting for the significant other to finish up inside,” he explained from his chair. “How about you?”
Cyberpaperdoll walks out of Fae’s Boat House with 50,000 lindens in hand.
“Come on, Biker,” she said just above a whisper toward the closest Pine Ridge chair. “Time to go.”
“Don’t forgot to sign the guestbook out there!” Jim the Pirate Bartender called from within, a request they most definitely ignored while leaving.
3 4 2
“I told you to always shut the door behind you when you come in here, Philip.”
“Oh… sorry.” Philip Strevor touches the treehouse door and closes it. He looks back at Marion Harding, at the ring.
“Why can’t Heidi join us?”
“You know why, Philip. She’s a distraction to you. We need to *focus*. It’s time to start deciding what to do with this… core.”
“Is it?” Philip began asking, then hesitated. “I mean, is it really the source of all? Our Second Lyfe itself?”
“Beyond,” answered Marion religiously. “Beyond Second Lyfe. Beyond even Virtual Reality.”
“But… Virtual Reality is *everything*,” Philip protested. “There’s *nothing* beyond. No life could exist in the void.”
“There’s the users,” Marion explained. “The ones in heaven looking down on us and controlling us like puppets.” He leaned forward more, green ring growingly glowing in the fire light. “I want to cut the strings, Philip. I want out.” But, again, he thinks of the Horizons-Spica fishing shack and settles back in his seat, intensity diminished.”
“How, er, did it escape obliteration in the Ichelus volcano again? It’s like that book over there: ‘Lord of the Rings.'” Philip pointed to Marion’s right from his angle. “Caucasian Tommy Brade threw the ring into the volcano, thereby destroying them both.”
Marion blew out air. “Listen, Philip. You did an excellent job of sleuthing about the ring on the illegal interwebs feed out in Minkowski. The dark skies allowing you to connect to the Corsican east coast satellite. Brilliant.”
“Booker’s widow played a big role in that. Give credit where credit is due, I always say.”
“Nice. But we’re not bound to any one path of manifestation. We’re taking different strands and weaving a rope — something different and new. Take Casey One Hole stuck over there in the Gaston-Berry Police Station jail. In ‘Twin Peaks’ his double, this Dopple Coop, was released from Yankton Prison to continue his murderous ways. Casey One Hole will, however, remain in his cell, keys thrown away. Actor Tom Casey didn’t expect this. He expected his role to be larger. He won’t be paid the sum of money he desired. That’s where Anorexia comes into play, and ‘Pumpkintwisters.’ Poodle Doo too.”
“Man this is making my head hurt,” responds Philip. “Any Asprind around here?”
“Aspirin?” Marion alters. “We won’t need any aspirin where we’re going Philip. Because we won’t have any heads.” He stared at Philip, letting the acute declaration suck in the air all around them.
Heidi Hunt Ives suddenly bursts into the treehouse, breaching the vacuum.
“I’m booored. Are you *grown ups* finished with your big boy talk? Let’s go get ice cream. Rey Wisa has a special running until 10 o’clock. 3 triple dip cones for the price of 2. Let’s go! I’m booored,” she reinforces.
to make it all work
“Well this is a wonderful setup Philip.”
“Yeah. Dish pointed right to the Corsica east coast station. Linked to the computer inside. Ring research complete. Now — like you said — just to weave it all together.”
Now if I could just see Spica with this darn, loopy telescope copied from the annex, Philip thought to himself. Soon, though. If everything goes as planned.
Marion backtracked a bit on the property. “But what’s this over here? Looks like a demon, haha.”
“Well, um, it kinda is.”
“Hmm. What do you mean, Philip? Is this some type of joke?”
“All I mean is that it’s something I had to do to, you know, make all this *work*. For the kid.”
“Heidi again,” Marion gruffed. “Should have known.”
“It was just a simple sacrifice. An oo’d or something. Sometimes we have to do the sacrifices for the greater good. You told me that when we first formed the gang, Marion. We had to kill off Timmy, for instance.”
“That was a mistake,” Marion replied sharply. “He fell into a well by accident and that is that.”
6 days earlier…
“Don’t kill me sir, whoever you are! I have so much to live for!”
“Shut up clown. Make your peace with The Lord.”
Marion Harding sometimes went back to Unity Pond where the breakdowns were first noted. No sign of them today, however. Maybe they went away? Doubtful, though, he then realized, taking a last toke before throwing away the remainer of his joint into the murky waters. The abberations would return.
He had smoked enough. Time to meet Golden Joe in the tree.
“Rubles. Barney Rubles,” the golden head answered to Marion Harding’s first question in his deep, ghetto voice, which was: “What do I do with the ring, the core?” Maybe he didn’t phrase it succinctly enough (even though he did). He tried again, simpler this time. “Why am I here?” Golden Joe sprouted closer to him out of the tree limb so that he could look directly into Marion’s eyes. “Let’s talk more face to face, man. Marion Man.”
Golden Joe winked out again. The tree changed. Marion could feel the energy elevate all around him. He stood up to take in the panorama. Various types of different, colorful plants had sprung out of its limbs now.
Marion felt he was home. Home at last. Not the fishing shack over in Horizons-Spica. But here. He must remember this feeling later, he said to himself. Don’t forget. Don’t forget.
He walked down the limb he was on into one of the tree’s main joints. A patio appeared to his left, connected to it by a long, descending ramp. All was translucent green crystal.
Someone called. “Marion, I’m down here, bud!” Distinctly the voice of Golden Joe again, but more feminine and less Godly and booming. Matching more the full name of the, er, character, he realized: Josephine.
Lured by the summon, Marion headed downward. He’d have to also remember the blend of pot he was smoking today, a weaving he called it while improvising the mix. Good work me!
“I’ve decided to be a man for this, man…”
“So I’ll be over here, then. In the shade.”
Josephine looks down at her hands, her figure. “Oh dear,” she then said, and checked her inventory. “Er, my male shape seems to have simply vanished!”
“That’s okay,” Marion said from across the patio. “Do you want me to come over there to sit or do you wish to come back over here? Your choice. I’ve learned to follow your example.”
“I’ll come back over there.” Golden Josephine was truly puzzled by the inability to transform into the opposite sex any longer. She was stuck!
“Well I must say you look simply radiant today, Ms. Josephine, ha.”
“So I was asking about the ring?”
Still looking down, Golden Josephine was unable to shake off her shock. “Am… I wearing the ring? Is it on me?” She held out her hand to Marion.
“Um, no,” he replied, looking at the fully golden appendage. No green upon it.
“Then where is the ring? Where did you leave it? Somewhere safe and secure, I hope.”
“It’s in my pocket. In a little ring box I found in my service station.”
“Just… found? Like it was laying there, waiting for you?”
“You must be careful at all times. The ring is almost priceless as you know. It has power to alter space — and time — around you. The ring *must* have changed me… changed the tree. Before I was just a golden head. Masculine. Now I’m feminine. The tree has sprouted various, colorful growth. We cannot go back. We are, as you say, treed.” She lets the statement hang in the air, then: “You better check the box. Just to be sure.”
“Never mind. I *do* have it. That explains the change.” But she had somehow switched chairs with Marion, the latter nowhere to be found now.
Golden Josephine was alone again.
Squall Camp Site, thought Golden Josephine. This is where it all started for Gaeta V, planned to be the first of five continents in a Gaeta super-system. Only a bit of a second actually came to fruition: the Willy Continent as some humorously term it because of its resemblance to a penis and balls.
Legendary explorer Magellan Linden‘s airship: crashed on the beach here, or at least washed up here. Parts now on the land; that long, towery thing in the water over there — undercarriage to the dirigible perhaps.
The continent as a huge, peanut shape wilderness, the land closer to shoreline liberally dotted with linden palms. A kind of mountain range in the middle, true, but not like the dramatic, spectacular ones found on the old continents — even Corsica just to the west has a much more interesting topography. Everywhere the gradual slopes tinted that oh so tiresome Gaeta Green, as she called it. You can barely tell you’re walking uphill until you reach the top.
Where has it all led to? Vast majority of the palms long gone. Civilization came. Civilization has largely left now, she thinks bitterly. This is where Our Second Lyfe bleached its face off in an attempt to start something new and different. This was the end, though, and not a beginning. Plans for a continental super-system long in the rear view mirror. Number of Second Lyfe residents decreasing year by year. Capitol City, The Tree, are not too far from being all that we have left here. Lone pit or *sinkhole* filled in and smoothed over. Pittsboro becomes Pittinger becomes Darksity becomes Capitol City. Bland and boring. You need that wacky weed to liven things up, else one could go mad. Poor Marion.
She gets up to examine the camp site itself. Various pieces of trash litter the beach, the majority of which appear to be liquor bottles. Yes, Magellan was noted for being quite the drinker. And litterer.
A teddy bear left behind as well inside the lone, remaining camp tent. Seems to, um, bear a likeness of Magellan Linden himself according to the object’s description (sorry).
Tourists showing up. Time to take my golden hinny back to The Tree.
“Wake up, Tonya Two Egg,” whispered Arale after hopping down from the top bunk. Her internal alarm had just gone off. “It’s 2:01 in the morning, sister. Time to head over to the ice fishing shack. Marion Harding will be waiting.”
Across the house…
“Your *sisters* don’t think I know all about that 2:01 in the morning trick, Annie,” murmurs actor Tom Casey, who has also just awoken and then roused his sleeping partner. “You better go follow them. Let me know what you find out.”
Annie emits a small, retaliatory grunt. But he knows she’ll follow orders.
“They’re coming out of the house now, kid. You better get ready.”
“Already on it.”
Tom Casey always drives fast down the road leading to the club house, because it passes through the dreaded front nine where he almost always plays bogie golf or worse. But it’s a necessary evil to prim and properly reach his beloved back nine… and the 17th hole. Had he replaced the flagpole from the last hole in one? He wasn’t sure.
Marion Harding woke up in the translucent green crystal tree lounge where he’d met Golden Josephine three nights before; promptly walked off the open eastern side and dropped down to the landscape far below; stared up at the tree and saw the two lights on its huge trunk next to the lounge, pinkish red and bluish green, which then faded; turned around to look at some colorful plants; then turned back around only to see the two lights reignite on the tree at the same position. He repeated this pattern several times. Yup, every time he returned his gaze to the tree, the lights were there, then diminished to nothing. *Must* mean something.
“Wake up Mr. Hardman,” urged Tonya Two Egg from the shack’s lone table where she was sitting with Arale. “Our sister Annie heard something over the ridge and has temporarily left her watch station. The time to move is now!”
“Oh,” she then said, taking another look through the ice tinged window. “Never mind. She’s already returned. You can go back to sleep, sir.”
So Marion rolled over and dreamed about the tree again. “Those lights up there,” he said to himself. “Where have I seen them before?”
“They just sat there. In that shack. Daring me to approach with that blasted *poodle* in plain view. You know how I hate poodles. Such an ugly dog now with its hair all trimmed in the wrong places to make it… make it look like a demented toy.” On the stool, she crossed her legs and folded her arms while uttering a grunt of disgust, foot vibrating rapidly.
“Now, now Annie,” actor Tom Casey soothed from the couch. “I have something that I’m sure will cheer you right up. You’re always complaining about how I never gave you anything.”
“All I asked for is a ring. *The* ring.”
“Well, you know I can’t do that right now love. But I got the next best thing for you. A *bug*. Right outside the door. I’ve been keeping it over at the club to surprise you.” He waved his hand toward the front of the house. “Let’s go look.”
“It’s got spider webs all over it,” she continued complaining, unimpressed with the auto parked outside. “And it’s orange; you know I hate orange.”
“Yeah, I’ve tried washing the webs off to no avail; they just keep coming back. I would assume the same with the paint. But you know what this means?” he asks, still unconcerned about her indifference. He knew it would spin around.
“Halloween came early this year?” she replied sarcastically.
“No. It means you don’t have to sit at The Table and talk ‘Pumpkintwisters.’ There’s no way The Eye and The Cat can properly reach it now.
“Oh,” she reconsidered.
“I stole it right from under their nose. In the center of Collagesity.” His smiling white teeth contrasted sharply with his tan face now.
“Yes,” she said, face also beginning to beam. “Yes that *is* good news.” She threw her thin arms around the muscular Casey and planted a big, wet one on his cheek. She’d lost her ruby slippers and rainbow halo but at least she wouldn’t have to revert to being a Zappa groupie again, with all that old baggage resurfacing. Relief!
“Thank you,” she said, tears now running down her face and ruining her mascara. Still smiling too brightly, Tom Casey dramatically handed her his freshly laundered handkerchief with the 24 karat gold “TC” monogram.
Always aware of the camera, this one is.