Murphy, currently Assistant Chief of Operations for the Yggdrasil Corporation, examined carefully the other seated members of the Board. One of the more important, and yet one of the lower totems on the pole, Murphy was sizing up the group for his own potential takeover even as he worked to help the current administration.

Sitting on the far side from Murphy was the current presiding President of the Corporation, Jasis. Murphy worried what the odd burning rage sometimes present in Jasis’ eyes meant, and spent much of his day either avoiding the President or working not to anger him. Murphy figured there was some reason Jasis was such a vocal proponent for the Corporation’s goals, but was afraid to find out. Murphy, himself, was just in it for the raw chaos it might cause. His long employment with various arms and alternate histories of the Chaos Corporation still his largest loyalty.

Chaos wanted control of Yggdrasil largely because Yggdrasil was competition. Not only that, Yggdrasil was stupid competition that didn’t understand the ball games it was dealing with. To control Yggdrasil Chaos needed to control Jasis, and as afraid to find out why, Murphy need to critically examine Jasis with more detail than any of the other Board members.

Jasis, unaware of Murphy’s careful eye, brought the gavel to contact with table to signify the beginning of the meeting. Murphy already knew what most of the reports would be today. His own would be to acknowledge that the first phase of Operations had been put into motion.

“Well, I’m afraid I don’t have as much time as I thought I did,” the Old Man said apologetically, “I wish I had more time to prepare you, but I don’t.”

The Old Man had visited me before, never leaving a name, rarely leaving without mocking me, and always somewhat condescending. Thus seeing him almost afraid, almost jittery, was somewhat unsettling. He sat on the porch swing, nervously swinging back and forth, his eyes rarely leaving mine but to look sideways in quick paranoid glances.

“It’s ironic to be late,” the Old Man said after another one of the brief flickers of eye movement. “There is a skirmish brewing that intricately involves you, and although you might classify it as a War, it is but one small arm of a much larger complex.

“In my own way I was attempting to prepare you, but I don’t think I did enough to help. I might as well give you a few last tips, though: don’t trust anyone, don’t trust history, and don’t trust your memory.”

After the last statement he briefly flickered. Like a poor television signal he wavered, slightly scrambled, and then pieced himself back together. My jaw would have dropped at the odd effect if I hadn’t already been introduced to some of the powers of the Old Man. This time, however, it looked like a fluke.

“A fluke? I’m afraid it was something much worse. Someone is trying to write me out of this story…” he said. The hanging ellipsis was plainly audible. With a look of painful concentration he placed his wrinkled hand on top of mine and then sighed. “It’s taking too much work to remain here at this point in the story. I’m going to have to leave you here unprepared; I’m sorry.”

As he withdrew his hand the porch swing exploded. I was thrown off the porch and into the bush below by the force of the blast. It took several minutes for the aura of the blast to recede from my vision. I carefully picked myself up and walked up the few steps to the porch. Where the swing once was only the dangling chains were left. The bottom links of the chains were cut clean in half.

My head filled with questions: Was someone trying to kill me? Why would the Old Man seem so apologetic, so not in control, and then appear to have caused some spectacular explosion? He told me not to trust anyone, and all I know of him he’s told me, so I definitely am suspicious of what this has to do with him. Was the bomb instead meant for the Old Man? What sort of a bomb was it? Who could build one? How was it hidden?

Whatever it was, I knew I had no choice but to run. Whether or not it was aimed at me, I can’t feel safe when I know there is someone out there willing to use extreme means to possibly kill me. Where could I go? Who could I meet? In whom could I trust? I was letting my feet lead, and they on their own accord were leading me in the general direction of my car. The questions and paranoia tumbled through my mind and my eyes glazed over, which is why I didn’t see him until I had tripped over him. There, a foot from my car, a penguin with a refrigeration device strapped to his back stood looking down at me as I lay sprawl on the ground.

“What the…?” I asked to the pavement below me. The penguin must be some sort of nervous breakdown; some internal resolution wanted me to believe. But the chill, fishy breath said something else. It said to me, “there is this artic bird breathing down your neck.” He seemed patient enough, waiting there for me to recover from the spill and stand up. I don’t know penguin expressions very well, but I could swear he was smiling at me. I don’t even know penguin genders that well, so I’m not sure how I knew it was a “he”, but something about him just said that to me.

I made a brief show of picking myself off the ground so I could best study the unruffled composure of the penguin. I wiped imaginary dust off my pants and then firmly made eye contact with the penguin. His eyes flashed a large amount of intelligence for such a small bird.

“The Longs of the Ouroboros Council wished to send a representative, but had their hands full. NASA’s Multiverse Weather Center was showing quite a bit of stormy weather across many of the universes and so most of the groups are locked in their own struggles and can’t lend a hand.”

What the hell was he talking about? Multiverse Weather Center? Who is this penguin? Can I trust him? Was this merely delusion? I stopped his speech with a gesture, “Wait a minute! What are you talking about?”

If I could guess, I would think the expression that crossed his face was one of brief surprise. “Didn’t you brief yourself just now?”

I didn’t know how to even parse that pretzel of a question. My blank look betrayed my puzzlement, so he bent his head slightly forward and put his flipper to his forehead which was a universal enough gesture for me to interpret. “Something’s wrong with this alt, it appears. It’s running early or late, or there is some variable we forgot to calculate back at the NASA MWC… Either way, I guess it doesn’t matter; this particular story will simply have to accommodate…

“Here’s the deal, I come from a separate universe in which penguins gained intelligence, were mistreated, and fled in a large exodus to another star system…”

Suddenly a brief glimmer flickered in my mind. Forgetful as I often am, I suddenly recognized him, “Rojer?”

He did that thing that I figure is a penguin smile again. “Before you start on any philosophical tangents, I’ve got a bit more information you need to know… My version of NASA has been working on watching currents of influence between universes. These flowing points of what we call narrative influence, measured on a scale known as Klieman Stick Factor, create chronological sequences we call stories.

“I was sent here by my version of NASA in attempt to control some of the flow of this particular story.”

The word “control” made me suspicious. The Old Man said to trust no one, and here’s an artic bird telling me he was sent to “control” some “story”. Even weirder, this penguin claims to be a character I had once written about. Sure I feel like I recognize him, but it’s not like there’s much difference to tell penguins by.

An involuntary shiver passed through my back. “Someone is trying to write me out of this story…” the Old Man had told me. What “story” is this? Is my life merely a story?

As I tried pushing the shiver away, and clearing my mind of ridiculous thoughts of bombs and penguins, my car blew up. I could see it several feet away… a plume of bright red heat rose from where my car once was leaving nothing but an empty parking space as if I had never had a car. Whereas the porch swing I could rationalize as being aimed at someone else, perhaps the Old Man, my car blowing up seemed very definitely aimed at me.

Murphy was having a hard time keeping his amusement secret. The pure rage Jasis was exerting was ravaging a few of the other Board members. Fiona, a regal and stately woman, however, was having none of it. Feline-like she raged back at Jasis, “You cannot blame us for your own failure of leadership.”

Murphy had sized up Fiona much earlier in the game. Fiona, a queen from a somewhat derivative universe, had little to gain from this group except for an excuse to finally get some spotlight in a higher KSF story.

Jasis almost literally snarled at her, then realized he couldn’t match her in a fight and turned to the one person he had skipped past, Murphy. His face molded into a brilliant attempt at fake calm, “Murphy, these operations would be your responsibility, right?”

Murphy sighed because it appeared the entertainment was over for the night. “The operations met out targeted goals and generated some of the KSF numbers we had hoped for…”

Jasis face reddened as the anger boiled back to the surface, “They failed! He wasn’t killed!”

Murphy shrugged, “He was killed in several universes during the course of our actions. We simply were not expecting the amount of outside interference would be involved in pushing KSF values away from his death.”

Jasis’ ears perked up and a thought crossed his mind, “Someone wants him alive?”

Murphy sighed. He really wasn’t in the mode to explain inter-universal politics to someone who apparently won’t understand them. “Both the author himself and the NASA group from one of the alternate Penguin universes appear to have an interest in his continued survival at a fairly high KSF level.”

Jasis furrowed his brow as he attempted to stagger through Murphy’s wording, “How is he able to defeat our changes?”

“Apparently he isn’t, but an older alternate version of himself has been in several contacts with him.”

Next he’ll probably wonder how an old guy and a penguin can threaten his plan, Murphy thought. He really doesn’t understand how the multiverse works.

I still wasn’t sure where I could go to escape the wrath of whomever it was that was trying to kill me. I also still wasn’t sure if the penguin was there to help me or to help kill me, but I figured his tripping me had probably saved my life, he was the only one around who might have some clue what the hell was going on, and he could make an easy hostage should he be playing for the “other side”.

There was only one thing I could think of that I could hope would help me make sense of recent events, and so I trudged the few blocks down the street, penguin in tow, to a Coffee shop. Soon enough I had fresh brewed coffee in hand, seated at a nice wood table, and surprised that none of the other people in the building felt at all uneasy with a penguin ordering a frozen mocha.

Pen in hand—er, flipper—Rojer was attempting to explain the Multiverse to me on a napkin. “What makes this napkin interesting?”

I blinked several times, sipped a bit more coffee hoping the coffee might wake my mind and perhaps make the penguin disappear. “There isn’t anything interesting about that napkin?”

Rojer did that smiling thing again. “Exactly. There’s nothing to differentiate any side of the napkin from any other, even if all of the grains of the napkin might be incredibly different from each other, they’re all still just ‘napkin’.”

Putting the pen to the napkin he made a small black dot. “Now, what if I told you this spot here was really interesting, would it make the napkin more interesting?”

This coffee is really good, I think, If I drink it more perhaps it will make the penguin stop talking about napkins. What does the universe have to do with a napkin? “I don’t know, I’d probably want to know why you think that spot is interesting.”

He put the pen back on the spot and started drawing a line from it, the branched that line into two and those two into four and several more until a child’s stick illustration of a tree was on it. “Does this mean anything to you?” he said.

I shrugged, “I think it means I need another cup of coffee.” He waited patiently while I got a refill. I don’t think penguins get ruffled that easily, luckily for me.

As I reseated myself the penguin gestured a final time at the napkin, “In the end the Multiverse is like the white napkin. Just like the white light reflected is a superposition of many of the other colors in the spectrum, the Multiverse is a superposition of all the possible Universes. Sentient beings like you or I act as prisms precipitating possibilities out of the All. NASA MWC scientists believe this to be something of a naturally evolved self-cataloging mechanism for the Universe, with creativity providing the last measure in cataloging all potential states of the All, or at the very least, the most interesting ones.”

I could feel the large dosage of caffeine and small amounts of theobromine attempting to assuage my mind that even as a porch swing and my car had just blown up and a penguin was telling me that people were “prisms precipitating possibilities”, everything was going to be all right. Somehow, bizarre as it sounded, Rojer’s description of the Multiverse came to seem plausible. I figured I might as well play it out, “So you’ve now mentioned interest and influence several times… How does this play into the game?”

“My version of NASA,” he responded, “has been working on watching currents of influence between universes. These flowing points of what we call narrative influence, measured on a scale known as Klieman Stick Factor, create chronological sequences we call stories.”

The copy and pasted version of his earlier speech pulled together most of this for me. “So you are saying that these KSF numbers are basically akin to the television ratings of the interestingness of universes?”

The penguin seemed to sigh a brief sigh of relief, “That’s basically KSF in a nutshell.”

The Old Man’s eyes briefly wandered across the room. “I’ve bought us some story time,” the Old Man said, “at a more than exorbitant rate.”

The Paranoid, as usual was the first to respond, “…and you don’t think that Chaos might have their agents on the lookout should we play our hand this early in the story?”

Much of the room’s illumination was provided by a beautiful, simple, and elegant design of a grand tree in bold neon green lines etched into the black surface of the table. Unlike the fake Yggdrasil Corporation run by the crazed Jasis, the tree on the table was much more than ornamentation. Its branches swayed in an invisible breeze as it followed the peculiar KSF fluctuations of the focus of the tree. Dark gradations through it discreetly showed some of the twisted and interconnected gnarled sections. The functionality and austerity of this boardroom purposely provided a bold counterpoint to the ostentation of the other.

The Intellect sighed, “We’d eventually have to reveal ourselves no matter what. Our presence in this particular story was determined necessary upon the failure of the Old Man in diverting the story around huge damages in the KSF. It is the opinion of the Intellectual Committee and in particular the Revelation Chair that although this timing is inopportune with respect to certain other endeavors of this Corporation it most likely will not be met with undue resistance from the forces of Chaos in this story. In fact, most estimates are that Order has a much more vested interest in resisting our changes, as our overall action pattern of late has swung towards the chaotic.”

The Ego spoke up, “Let Order meddle as much as they want, they can’t match us and let Chaos try what they will, they don’t care as much. They’ve already proven they are more than willing to instead grab our flat, 2-dimensional cousin instead with the insertion of Murphy.”

The Paranoid laughed. “Chaos has done nothing of the sort. Don’t mistake their moves for predictable. They take whatever opportunity they can to embroil the universe in their own perverted vision. Their lack of any form of organization is just frightening. We can’t make any assumptions about them at this time.”

The Treasurer, typically silent surprised everyone when he stood up, “I have to admit that for once The Paranoid is correct. The cost of creating any assumptions of Chaos’ actions is extremely prohibitive. However, my committee’s cost/benefit analysis of the current situation in this particular story and KSF values agree with The Intellect’s analysis that Chaos appears to be best served by leaving us to our own actions in this story.”

The Old Man glanced at his watch for show before standing up, “Gentlemen, this debate has exceeded the limits placed on it as per the bylaws. Unless one of you has a complaint I suggest we move forward to the next item on the agenda. Does anyone have anything to complain? Good. The next item on the agenda is the matter of the Penguin NASA.”

The Paranoid jumped to his feet immediately, “Shit! Why didn’t one of you cowards tell me they had gotten involved?”

Now it was a chance for The Ego to laugh, “Obviously we all realized it wouldn’t be prudent to mention it before it was absolutely necessary because we expected such a reaction. There is no reason that the Penguin NASA could be a threat to our own agenda.”

The Paranoid started to agitatedly pace the edge of the board room, “The introduction of the Penguin NASA throws an interesting monkey wrench in our plans. I can only assume that they are hoping for a larger piece of the pie this time. They must be intentionally trying to circumvent our earlier treaty legislation. I’ll have my committee begin an exhaustive analysis on what this could mean for our plans…”

Without bothering to stand The Old Man silenced The Paranoid with a gesture. “Whatever their motives, their actions finished the diversion I started. Obviously they saved the Kid’s bacon in this story, so thus far their actions seem to be in line with our own.”

The Intellect, having calmly waited for the floor, stood up, “Glad we are for their help in this matter they have in fact violated our recently orchestrated treaty and so my committee’s opinion is that they should be terminated from this story with due diligence.”

There was no reason to vote. Within their expertise, each member’s expertise often triumphed whether a vote was cast or not. The only person willing to raise a dissenting vote was The Conscience, “It is a huge regret that we have to resort to such an action.”

Joe was waiting outside the board room just as Murphy had asked. Had anyone asked, he was “Assistant to the Assistant Chief of Operations”. Joe was intrigued to be pulled from a low KSF assignment to assist the somewhat time looped Murphy.

Murphy was smiling as he walked out of the boardroom. “I suppose it went well?” seemed to be the obligatory response from Joe.

Murphy glanced around, and smiled wider, “They don’t know anything about anything, but they are doing exactly as we had hoped.”

The board had decided to continue on its course. Jasis continued to spiral towards madness. Murphy still had the reins on Operations and the ability to tweak the KSF values thereof. The Chaos is in the subtle manipulations to cause the fake Yggdrasil Corporation to spiral into its doom of its own free will, just as it most likely would have anyway. Of course, this fake Yggdrasil was a mere bauble for Chaos’ belt as it was much more concerned with several larger pictures that this Yggdrasil had only a small inkling of.

Joe decided now was as good a time to report as any, “As you suspected, the WorldTree group would reveal themselves with such a large failure on their hands. Both the penguins and the WorldTree rely too much on KSF predictions and weather reports. As much as both groups understand the politics, the multiverse, and the methods of manipulation they have no skill for marketing. They have no style or panache.”

Murphy shrugged. “Obviously the sole reason I’m involved in this mess of a story is because both WorldTree and the Penguins are bigger than they appear to you. I suggest you go beyond extorting them for KSF and try to find the big picture. I hired you for this job because I assumed you could do it. I also hired you because you know your way around this particular author’s KSF fields. Don’t slip up.

“Meanwhile, I have a few things to take care of for this board.”

Coffee shop; Penguin; Refrigeration Unit; Universes; Multiverse; Stories; Influence.

I wanted to pull these words out and connect them in some sort of mad crossword puzzle. Somewhere I just knew there had to be a clue embedded inside. Somehow I still hoped that I could find some way to make sense of explosions, vanishing cars, and poor segues from napkins to the nature of the multiverse.

Perhaps it was just shock, but I didn’t think another thought about the Secret Service guy ducking into a booth and pretending to be a fairly average guy. He became important soon afterward, but I couldn’t stay focused on him while a penguin continued to chat with me about the nature of the multiverse.

The chat was interrupted by a clanking noise and what could only be called a concerned look on the face of Rojer the Penguin. The clanking noise was replaced a rattling noise followed by several seconds of cold blue steam arising from the refrigeration unit on the penguin’s back followed by a disgusting metal grinding on metal sound. Sure I don’t know penguin expressions that well, but I had a hard time even glancing at the penguin’s face. A few seconds the noise stopped. The refrigeration unit exploded. A piece of shrapnel pierced the ceiling remaining vibrating there like it was trying to become a new ceiling fan. Several gears clattered to the floor around the table. A slice of metal had become embedded into the back of the penguin’s flipper, which was gushing blood. The penguin was gasping for air, his body temperature rising.

“It figures,” he coughed, “that it would stop working at such an opportune moment for the story. Protect yourself. Don’t forget that the real control of the KSF here is in your hands.”

It would be ironic to say that the coffee shop had a zoologist with a specialization in polar marine birds, but it didn’t. It would dramatic if I stared up at the ceiling, perhaps at the quivering metal blade, and shouted, “NOOOOOOOOO!!! How could you kill the poor innocent avian???”

Instead I was mesmerized. It’s not often when one gets to watch the death of a bird that you usually only see in photos or behind several plates of glass. The slow withdraw of life as degrees of Celsius climbed and drops of blood fell somehow was almost one of the most beautiful things I had seen that day. It provided a stark relief to the quick sharp explosions that had ripped apart a porch swing and made disappear an entire car. It was a morbidly poetic way to die, and seemed appropriate for such a noble bird.

A tear escaped my tear duct as I saw the last bit of life finally come crashing down. I made to wipe it off my nose when my arm was held. The Secret Service agent had used the passing of my brief comrade in coffee time philosophy to sneak behind me. He roughly pulled my arm back down and handcuffed both my arms behind my back, holding on with one of his hands on the cuffs. Finally he deigned to speak, “I’m sorry, sir, but we need to speak to you about your counterfeiting and money laundering activities.”

He kneed me in the back to get me to stand and started pushing me in the direction of the door and his car.

“They just don’t understand ME!!!” Jasis shouted more vehemently than was necessary for the small room.

The Professor Carpworth nodded, made a meaningless tick on his notepad and uttered the utterly standard and equally meaningless, yet somehow soothing, “Do go on.” The only reason the Professor was here right now was because he was getting a good fee to baby-sit this twisted incompetent individual while several more interesting groups of people go about their more interesting work, each willing to pay just about as much as the last to pretend to listen to this guy, and none realizing that the others were also paying him. It’s often useful for a noted psychochromatologist to play neutral and keep all confidences. Most especially when large multi-universal groups start knocking on the door.

Jasis was still shrieking. “…You can’t even understand me, Professor! You don’t know what it feels to be given so much potential and then come to find a Pink Slip for your entire Universe and your entire destiny forgotten! Do you know what its like to learn that your entire life’s work, your entire civic duty, was nothing more than ‘busy work’?...”

A standard psychologist might listen to this entire rant and come up with “inferiority complex”, but the Professor noticed the huge color imbalance this man had been living in the moment he walked in. He was curious as to which of the groups who were paying him had seriously mentally and chromatologically scarred this guy, but was afraid to inquire too deep for he really did wish to stay neutral and well within the bounds of all of his confidences. It’s much easier to not give information that you never received.

The only thing that nagged at the Professor as he pretended to listen to Jasis was that he had noticed the entrance of the Sprite. Few people noticed the arrival of a Sprite, and often few remarked on it because sure enough they died relatively soon after said arrival. The Sprites, largely manifested as chaotic broiling pockets of random atoms, like some brutal high-speed accounting and then re-shuffling of the more basic pieces of matter, were the face of Order. Often called by the members of the Chaos Corporation a “Corporation” to keep themselves in the feeling and metaphor of a 9-5 fulltime job, Order was a much scarier subterranean component of the multiverse that chaotically and ruthlessly sought efficiency most often through death and destruction.

Order, if it could be classified as anything, was the Multiverse’s cancer, slowly eating at it from the inside. The Sprites were the perfect fractal avatars of the coarse nature of Order. The Professor couldn’t help but keep glancing towards the corner of the room where the Sprite’s tidying had already started to eat at the tree decorated carpeting and upholstery. Slowly the colors faded and the fabrics aged. The Professor watched in abject terror as the Sprite kept inching forward towards Jasis, leaving a trail of torn discarded fabrics and furniture, and the ineffable air of a stilted, desolate world. The process was a slow one, bringing to mind the movement of Glaciers, but the Professor was afraid to warn his supposed patient. The Professor was afraid to move. Jasis, on the other hand, was still raving with equal vigor, “…and then they had the gall to question my own authority to lead my own company!”

Most forms of torture become tolerable when you are expecting banjos. Not, by any means, that I was planning to be untoward in relation to what I like to call “the facts”. It was simply because I knew that no matter what I said, I was in for a rough night.

I was stripped of my possessions. My cell phone, wallet, keys, sunglasses, pens, and assorted scraps of paper had all been wordlessly extracted from my pockets. Of all the annoyances, the vague nakedness a guy feels with empty pockets was at the top of my private list. I wasn’t sure where my stuff had been put, but sitting in the uncomfortable metal chair in one of the random warehouses in the east end of the city I had an odd feeling of being able to touch them.

The Secret Service agent, who appeared to be a particularly poor copy of the stereotype, suffering from analog copy decay, had stopped pacing the empty warehouse only a few minutes ago. Now his eyes were focused on me in some sort of assumed rage that whatever it was I was being accused of was in fact my fault and I should just confess so that he could get back to whatever Xerox machine he had come from for reporting and shredding.

I think I was infuriating him further by my refusal to angrily ask for a lawyer, ask for what exactly it was that I was being accused of, or yell about being wrongly accused. There weren’t any banjos in earshot, so I was happy to just sit in quiet solitude while the Secret Service Agent worked on his rage.

Finally he reached into his blue suit jacket and pulled out a plain manila file folder. An ugly rusting card table in front of me had the single lamp in the large warehouse. The agent placed the folder onto the card table, allowing me to clearly see the name that was written in bold black strokes on the tab. The name was, unsurprisingly, mine. I didn’t even feign interest. I scoff in the face of manila folders!

After another careful standoff between his manicured rage and my pruned indifference, he finally began to move his hand towards the folder in order to open the file for me.

I’d prefer to think of it as simply some odd short in the poor desk lamp combining with some odd property of the long abused rusted folding card table that caused what happened next rather than yet another random explosion. As the agent’s hand was a mere inch from the folder it began to smoke and char. He jerked his hand back as the folder caught fire and began to be consumed. The lamp’s light bulb exploded, raining glass shards onto the top of the table. The table itself had reached the red color that melting metal gets, which burns your eyes from the heat it generates on your retinas. Finally the table and lamp gave up and melted down into a liquid puddle a few feet from my feet before hardening as a poor grade glob of assorted metal with embedded glass. As a freeform abstract art piece, it added quite a bit to the boring warehouse. Its glow faded quickly, leaving the warehouse shrouded in darkness.

“What the fuck was that?” the agent said, breaking character and slowly seeming to resolve into an actual thing.

“Just be glad they left us alive,” I replied.

“They? Who are they?” he squeaked in what was left of his voice. It sounded like he was afraid of the dark containing banjos.

I uselessly shrugged then spoke, “I don’t know.” I heard that awful thuck of head hitting concrete floor and figured he passed out.

That vague sense of being able to touch my stuff even though it wasn’t in my pockets came back to me. I felt around for my cellphone and it appeared in my hand. Not one to piss away a brief moment of fortune I used the phone to order a policeman and call a pizza before deciding to take a brief nap in the dark.

By the time Murphy got back to meet with the Professor Carpworth he had recollected himself. The sprite was gone after slowly, and painfully to watch, sorting through the atoms of Jasis and decaying them to a harsh point of entropy. It felt like the slowest death the Professor had witnessed and the Professor was fairly good friends with several vampires all of whom seem to be locked in some intense and extremely slow death that would never seem to come. (The Professor had spent much of his career in helping vampires lead full and normal ‘lives’, and even contributed some to the vampire rights movement, but that was several universes ago.)

The Sprite, of course, was gone; which went a long way to explaining how the Professor was able to drain most of his panic. Now he was just hoping to get paid and a good ticket to some nice universe that was hopefully extremely peaceful and relaxed and devoid of much intrusion from either Chaos or Order.

“Where’s Jasis?” was the first question out of Murphy’s mouth followed in quick succession by such wonders as “Why are you standing in the hallway?”, “Why is the door closed?”, “Why do you seem so pale?”, “Is he dead?”, and “Who killed him?” with only the merest of nods on the Professor’s part between the last two rapid fire items to keep it something of a conversation as opposed to a poor answerless interrogation or a an equally poor question-filled monologue.

The Professor decided the only answer that might merit his pay would be the correct answer, “Order Sprite.”

Murphy cursed for a few minutes and then pulled out a cell phone-like device. He started making a few phone calls to people in other universes.

The Professor, who had done some research prior to sitting down and talking to Jasis understood that the local universe’s fabric created interesting connections between any given group of electronic devices no matter how spread out in time, space, or universe. It was a neat technique to allow trans-universal communications but this “Galactinet” was also a huge hack of a writing technique and ultimately seemed to be one of the reasons the Author appeared to have discarded this universe from active writing. So Jasis was indeed correct in what a poorer Psychologist might have called “his delusion”… The question was who had informed him that his universe had been shafted, and why? Not that the Professor really cared, as multiversal politics just didn’t interest him.

The cops had apparently found the switch for the overhead lights, found a crime scene with no apparent crime and a babbling SS guy talking about magic exploding lamps, and had paid for and ate my pizza prior to departing, all while I slept. It was the SS guy who woke me, and he seemed unusually hesitant to do so for a guy who had just been attempting to interrogate and torture me.

I felt somewhat refreshed from the nap, even if it had been on a concrete floor. Surprisingly my back wasn’t killing me with pain so either I found one of those few contortions where sleeping on concrete isn’t a big deal or the pain was doing me a favor and waiting until I least expected it to wallop me.

All of my stuff was beside me, and it felt even more refreshing to perform the calm ritual of placing each item back into the appropriate pocket and manipulating it to the appropriate space within the pocket. When I finished this I finally decided to notice the SS guy staring at me.

“You know, they told me you could that stuff,” he said, half frightened and half conspiratorially.

I furrowed my brows in confusion, “I didn’t cause that explosion.”

He shrugged, “I’ll reserve the right to believe that you did, but that wasn’t what I was talking about. I do know that you pulled your cellphone to you from the car because it made for a quick easy plot device. I heard that thuck sound, and I heard you as you made your phone calls.”

I brushed some imaginary dirt of my pants and looked him right in the eyes, “So which ‘they’ are you talking about?”

“This guy named Joe told me to detain you, try to keep you out of trouble, and keep an eye on you to report whatever weird shit happened around you. I didn’t believe anything would happen, but now I’m not so sure.” He took off his suit jacket and it became much more apparent why he seemed like such a poor copy of a Secret Service Agent. Without the jacket he seemed much smaller and less intimidating. It also became apparent that the smooth face wasn’t entirely because he anally shaved it every morning to exact government standards as defined in the Rules and Regulations book in the chapter on personal hygiene. It became apparent that he wasn’t much more than a high school kid, and either some trainee in the program or someone infatuated with the myth of the big, bold interrogator. “You can call me Tom, by the way,” he said in what I could only guess was a conciliatory fashion. I guess he felt a little ashamed for treating me so roughly, or perhaps scared that I could melt his head with a glance like I had done to lamp. Had I done that to the lamp? As far as I could tell the explosion much closer resembled the clean overly controlled explosions that had begun the morning and had taken their tolls on a porch swing and my car.

I wasn’t even worried who this Joe guy was. After having met the penguin named Rojer, I had a sinking suspicion that I knew who Joe was, and unlike Rojer, I had a much better idea of why he might be involved in this weird series of events. Joe was a character of mine who showed up from time to time simply to cause Chaos, because that was his full time job, and it made perfect sense that Joe would hire some high school kid to tail me dressed as a Secret Service agent, insofar as an attempt at random Chaos can be called “sense”. The fact that it was just “Joe with no last name” and he was just “this guy”, you know, definitely seemed in favor of this bizarre theory.

We made our way to his car, which on second glance the black Volvo did seem to be just a hand me down from father to son, rather than an official government vehicle, and as he was turning the key in the door lock the empty warehouse blew up, leaving a charred foundation as the sole remnants. I did a brief check of my pockets to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, because it looked like if I had, I wasn’t going to find it.

Fiona had simply assumed control of Jasis’ Yggdrasil Corporation. There was no board meeting to discuss it, no need for a consensus, and no bloody coup. Fiona had simply filled the power vacuum that most had seen as inevitable in both existing and needing filled by someone like Fiona. The regal air that permeated from her most likely gave her added weight when she simply assumed command.

Before Murphy could even assimilate that she might have taken control she pounced on him in a corridor. “So tell me, Mr. Murphy, why is it that with all the money you’ve spent on these spectacular explosions of yours that they have all failed?”

Murphy suddenly realized that he hadn’t adequately examined Fiona earlier as her assumption of command proved that there was more to her than he had at first assumed. He realized he had no idea how much she knew about the laws of the Multiverse even though he had known that she had first gotten involved in this story for KSF reasons.

Murphy also realized that the random erasure of Jasis so much earlier than he had planned hadn’t left a power struggle and had the possibility of completely stabilizing the current political climate. He tried to push such thoughts out of his head for the moment as he had already spent quite a while miserably cursing Order.

“Obviously getting the correct KSF values necessary in order to kill the Author requires an immense amount of work and effort. As far as making the possibility of his death more interesting the actions have done marvelously.”

Fiona smiled sweetly, but Murphy cringed a bit as the sight of her teeth seemed to imply that something or someone was about to be eaten, “So they haven’t been failures?”

Murphy had long learned to wield words like shields, so this was familiar terrain, or at least should have been as something seemed to be lurking behind hills that was new and frightening, “It depends on your meaning of failure, but in the particular course of this story I would say that we have been much more successful than some might give me credit for.”

Fiona frowned and turned her back on him, looking down the hallway as if something had caught her interest. Her voice was low and calm, “We as in Chaos, Murphy? You are correct in that you have been successful in causing chaos. Those explosions were magnificently designed and executed to catch KSF values in exciting ways; too well designed, in fact, for it not to be fairly obvious that you were not working for this Corporate Agenda. There will be a board meeting in an hour.”

With that she walked off leaving Murphy stunned and silent. The “great” Murphy had not only been surprised, but completely wrong in his assessment of the situation. He desperately needed a nap, and he also decided it was time for him to retire again; he was getting old and sloppy.

My assumption was that they wouldn’t try anything in a public place as they weren’t particularly of the mind to kill innocents. Of course, it was a hell of an assumption, but it was all I had for the time being. All I needed to do was come up with some good public place to drive to. I switched on the Volvo’s radio and the speakers blasted that tail of “Sweet Child of Mine” that asks the question, “Where do we go? Where do we go now?” and turned the radio off again as I wasn’t in the mood for such irony.

Agent Tom, a.k.a. High School Tom, was leaning oblique to the seat so that he could watch both me and the road. I assume the reason he gave me the helm of the car was that he found it all mildly amusing and entertaining. It might also simply have been because it really was his dad’s car and he wasn’t all that careful with it. He smiled a goofy grin, “So where are we headed to?”

I shrugged, although leaving my hands on the steering wheel, “I was thinking someplace public… The malls are closest, probably. I just wish I could take the fight to them…”, inspiration struck, I finished with a lousy “Wait a minute,” and pulled off onto a side road at much more speed than was healthy.

I had pulled into one of the myriad labyrinthine subdivisions that exist within the city. I was counting on the countless small goofily named streets to help me become as lost as I could get. I lucked out that this particular subdivision did indeed have just enough tree cover to obscure the few visible towers in the area and so I had no landmarks I could have possibly checked. I recklessly rounded yet another random corner and finally hit a cul-de-sac. I stopped just as abruptly as I had pulled off into this subdivision.

I turned to Agent Tom, “Know where we are?” He shrugged.

“Good. Come on then,” I said as I unbuckled and stepped out of the car. The car looked obscenely out of place parked so haphazardly in the center of the cul-de-sac. It didn’t really bother me, and I figured few people would be around to be angry at an ugly black Volvo blocking their driveway.

I was following a hunch, but the way the day had been playing out I had a serious feeling the hunch would pay off. I decided it would be appropriate to the mood if I summoned a storm. Unlike what you may see in films or comic books, summoning a storm is a much more refined art. As I walked toward one of the houses at random a brief breeze flittered past and the tone of light changed slightly as clouds began to maneuver in front of the sun. With a quick glance towards the sky I guessed that it might rain in a half-hour, give or take fifteen minutes. I was hoping for lightning, but had no idea if there was much of a charge built up yet.

Catching my glance, Tom looked at the sky as well, “Looks like rain.”

I overtook the house’s porch and rang the doorbell. When the door opened there was a tall, lanky guy with a greenish cast to his skin, particularly under the distorted white and gray light under the overcast sky. Tom recognized him and mouthed “How?” I smiled.

“Joe, we need to talk.”

Murphy could do nothing more than appear shocked as Fiona took control of what little of the board remained. She announced to the few sitting at the board meeting what she had already informed several of the others one on one before they departed back to whatever nonexistence they held previously, “The shareholders and I have decided to take this company in an entirely different direction and so it is my great regret that the business’ current assets need to be liquidated to provide funding for the next phase of operations. We have decided to provide all of you healthy severance packages and whatever sort of transportation you might be interested in.”

Murphy was sure that Fiona was violating several of the bylaws of the corporation by making such a unilateral move on behalf of it, but all of the other board members seemed rather agreeable to it. Murphy was trying to devote as much of his mental resources as he had at hand to guess what Fiona’s motives were. Meanwhile she efficiently got each remaining board member to accept her package and quietly leave.

By the time Murphy realized it the board room was empty except for the two of them. She turned to him, smiled her feral grin at him, and told him, “I guess Chaos is just going to have to recompense you for your time here as I seem to have run out of budget for severance packages.”

“Huh?” he asked stupidly as he slowly halted his useless thought processes and began to reassess the current reality before him. “So what are you planning to do?”

She spread her fingers on the wooden table in a very claw-like manner, tapping several of her fingernails against it. “I’m going to move on. One empire failed out from under me, but that doesn’t mean the next won’t. The multi-universal assets I’ve acquired from this company in my hostile bid for leadership should be of enormous use in setting up a rather large empire. Chaos should be happy with some of the quick sweeping gestures I have planned.”

Murphy nodded, “If you can pull it off, and if you can make the KSF you can engender a lot of support from Chaos… We all love a good chaotic empire.”

At which point, I, Joe, Agent Tom, and the Old Man arrived in the board room. Or at least, there existed, for the benefit of this particularly story, a KSF nexus point in which the six of us all happened to be in a version of the boardroom.

The kitchen was presently sparse and underemployed. I figured that the family Joe was renting the house from would prefer it that way; no one wants to come home to a messy kitchen. Agent Tom had performed a hostile takeover of one of the kitchen’s bar stools whereas I was simply leaning against one of the poorly wallpapered walls.

By the time Joe had finished preparing coffee and passed out some cheesecake it was beginning to lightly drizzle outside. The slow accelerando tapping of the rain against the window panes was a distinct counterpoint to the sipping, fork scraping noises. Neither of us wanted to be the first to say anything. The coffee and cake wasn’t just polite, it was time filling and we both knew that.

The carefully nurtured silence was broken by someone else knocking on the door. I didn’t even look up from my cheesecake as Joe answered it and ushered the new visitor inside. I didn’t need to look to know who it was. I was beginning to get a real feel for what was going on around me and so it was obvious that it would be the Old Man putting up his coat, which was much more soaked than the current light drizzle might account for, then pouring himself a cup of coffee.

“So what are you planning to do now?” the Old Man asked, presumably to me. Then I realized that the other two and the room were silently asking the same question. All three pairs of eyes were on me.

“Obviously, I plan to end this.”

I watched the Old Man carefully and saw a very careful, almost concealed, nod of his head. Agent Tom and Joe were both just as confused.

“Joe, lead us to Murphy.”

At which point, I, Joe, Agent Tom, and the Old Man arrived in the board room. Or at least, there existed, for the benefit of this particularly story, a KSF nexus point in which the six of us all happened to be in a version of the boardroom.

Murphy’s jaw dropped and Fiona smiled.

“This stops now, Murphy. I’m a bit tired of you trying to make my life more interesting through the use of explosions, and with Jasis out of the picture there is no more reason to take my life, much less pretend to take my life.”

Murphy, somewhat over his initial surprise at yet another wrench in his latest set of plans, vanished. An explosion rocked the room. I shut my eyes as the room instantaneously became a single bright orange fireball. When the bright light and subsequent aura of a bright light finally faded I was no longer standing in a boardroom. Instead, I was standing amongst the smoldering wreckage of what was once a building that had at one point contained a boardroom. I’m not much of a crime scene investigator, but from the positions relative to my own, three particular smoking piles of ash appeared to be the corpses of Fiona, Joe, and Agent Tom. I felt most guilty about the last one, not because he was such a young kid, but because my first thought was to wonder how long it might take his dad to notice Tom and his Volvo missing because I needed to borrow it. After all, an explosion destroyed my own car in this story.

The Old Man, of course, was gone. I made my way back to the Volvo, preparing to control the KSF values of the story of Dead Agent Tom’s Dad and the guy he leant his car to.

The Professor had been leaning against a wall when he felt the heat build up from within. By reflex he jumped back a few feet in time to watch the walls this far from the center of the blast merely disintegrate in much less flames than I had witnessed.

He stood silently from the distance as I examined my immediate surroundings prior to vanishing back to my previous story-line. He stood there for a few more minutes to complete his reflection on the events that had just occurred, before heading back to his own story-line.