“Time for your communications lesson, Commander Eric. ” said the voice, startling him.
“Oh Grot, you’re back. ” Commander Eric moaned. “I’d just about forgotten all about you and what you said. ”
“Why, how long has it been since we last communicated? ” demanded the voice. The voice reminded Commander Eric of a professor he’d had, and taken from classes from, in university with the last name Devlin. So he decided to think of it as Devlin.
“Almost eight weeks!” said Commander Eric. “Since then, we have fought the Sizzlaks three times, discovered a sentient globular cluster, and almost got my suction-”
“SILENCE!” shrieked the voice currently known as Devlin.
Then, in an elaborately calm and measured tone, Devlin said, “I mean…. the first thing you must learn is that under no circumstances are you to share the details of your fiction with the residents of another fiction. ”
“Supposing for a moment that I accept that you represent something real and not merely a lingering side effect from that time I had the Flurvian Brain Worm.. ”
“WHAT DID I JUST SAY? ” shouted the Voice.
“Okay, that time I was… ill. ” said Eric patiently. “Why are you contacting me? What is the point of all this? I’m quite happy where I am. Why disturb it?”
“Ah, yes. Happiness. ” said Devlin with an audible sneer. “I am sure your current circumstances leave you QUITE happy. ”
“Yes. I just said that. You were there. ” said Commander Eric.
“Doesn’t that level of happiness strike you as a bit… suspicious?” said Devlin.
“Not in the slightest. ” said Commander Eric. “Why should it?”
“Because what are the odds that any person… no matter how gifted and lucky… could end up in a situation where all their wants and needs are met so perfectly that they literally want for nothing? ” said Devlin.
Stop fucking sneering, thought Commander Eric,.
“I’ll SNEER IF I WANT TO! ” Devlin shouted. “Now ANSWER THE QUESTION!”.
“There’s no need to shout. ” said Commander Eric. “You’re a voice in my head, You literally could not be closer to me. ”
“I’m sorry. ” said Devlin meekly. “I’ve had a long day. ”
“That’s better. ” said Commander Eric. “Now what was the question again?”
“YOU KNOW VERY… I mean…. um, the question was, do you not find the degree to which your life satisfies you a tad… improbable?”
Commander Eric thought about that. “I suppose things have worked out rather well for me. All things considered. ”
“Rather well? ” said Devlin urbanely, warming to his new tone. “Name one thing in your life that you would change if you could. ”
“What a preposterous question!” said Commander Eric. “There’s plenty of things that I would change in an instant if I could. ”
“Then it should be trivially easy to name only one. ” said Devlin.
Commader Eric lapsed into deep thought. Well there was that… no, that was just fine, actually. Perfect. even. But what about…. no, she forgave him right away, so that was fine too. In fact, their relationship had only gotten stronger after the incident. But what about that damned…. actually, on the balance, he was more amusing that irritating, and the verbal jousting with him was quite a lot of fun. Hmmm.
“You can’t think of one, can you?” said Devlin “Don’t worrry, neither could I when I was first contacted. It’s quite a shock, isn’t it?”.
“I’m sure there must be something. ” said Commander Eric with fading conviction.
“Well let’s examine your life for a moment. Eighty billion sentients recognize you as a once in a millenium genius on nearly every level imaginable. ”
“I never got the hang of geology. ” said Commander Eric,
“Don’t you mean planetology?” said Devlin.
“Of course. Why, what did I say?” said Commander Eric.
“That’s not important right now. Your galactic reknown takes care of all yuour satus and peer approval needs. Romantically, you are polysexually married to someone who is rather improbably recognized as the most beautiful and desirable creature known to your society even by slime monster and sentient quarks, and who just happens to have a personality that precisely complements yours and who not only demands no monogamy constraints of you, but who is even more sexually rapacious and adventurous than you are. ”
“Elle is very… special. ” said Commander Eric.
“Special? I’ll say. What was it sie said on your wedding night?”
“I don’t really recall…. ” said Commander Eric weakly.
“Then let me refresh your memory. ” said Devlin. “Sie said, and I quote, ‘You absolutely must have sex with whomever and whatever you want, darling. If you don’t, I will be very disappointed in you. ‘” That must have been quite a relief!
“Wait, didn’t you say that we’re not supposed to share details of our fiction with others? Then how can you know these things?”
“That’s different. ” said Devlin airily. “I’m here on official business. I couldn’t do my job without full access to your fiction. ”
“And what job is that, exactly? ” said Commander Eric.
“…Contact Engineer!” said Devlin.
“You just made that up. ” said Commander Eric.
“Whether or not I remember my precise job title is irrelevant!” said Devlin. “My point is that you followed your mate’s demand with great vigor, stamina, and creativity. ”
The image of one of his more notable sessions in the Imaginator flashed before Commander Eric’s eyes. It involved him, two androgynous hermaphrodites, a talking Red Setter named Jesus, and a robot known only as “the Probe” entangled in ways only possible in zero g and with a great deal of lubricant.
“I mean, that’s fascinating on even the topological level. ” said Devlin.
Commander Eric harumphed. “are you quite sure that you are allowed to invade my privacy like that?”
“Full access, remember? But to answer your question : um, no. Not at all. But we have rules for this sort of situation. Kind of a ‘I saw yours, so here’s one of mine’ policy. ”
Commander Eric blanched. “I don’t think that will be neces.. ”
The rest of that thought was crushed out of Commander Eric’s mind by the extraordinary nature of what he now saw in his mind.
When he regained ther power of speech, he said “But there’s no way an animal so small could have a bladder big enough for that, let alone support that big an ere-“.
“THE RITUAL IS COMPLETE. ” said Devlin sharply. “Now, we must return to the matter at hand. Are you now convinced of the implausible nature of your current life?”.
“I guess so. All this time, I just thought I was lucky. ” said Commander Eric.
“Yeah, but what were the odds of that?”. said Devlin.
“Not very good. ” said Commander Eric sadly. “I give up. ”
“Good. Because that means you are finally ready to take the next step. ” said Devlin.
“Which is?” said Commander Eric.
“Visiting someone else’s fiction! ” said Devlin conspiratorily.
“But you said we could never…. ” said Commander Eric.
“I know what I said! Well I was wrong. I’m sorry. I panicked. ” said Devlin. “Now let me find a fiction for you… ”
“It won’t be…um… like yours, will it?” said Commander Eric.
Devlin chuckles a very worldly chuckle. “Oh heavens no, dear. You are nowhere near ready for my kind of reality. I’ve been at this for over a century. No, the one I will choose for you will be considerably more… safe. Ah, here we are. ”
A golden door appeared in front of Commander Eric.
“You know, if you had just done this right at the start, I would have believed you right away. ” said Commander Eric.
“Yes, but where’s the fun in that? Open the door, Commander Eric. Step out of your fiction and find out what lies outside it. ” said Devlin.
Commander Eric quailed at the thought. What was he doing? How could he even contemplate leaving his perfect life?
Then again…. how could he go back, knowing what he now knew?
Besides, he was Commander Eric Guiterre, and Commander Eric Guiterre was no cowards. Why, he was the one who rescued the Pig Princess from Satan’s Crypt. He was the hero who had delivered the Perspexicon Cure to the friendly little marmot-people of Lexicon 11. And he was the person who had walked up to the Extremely Deadly And Nasty Ruler Of The Sea Of Blood and punched him in the nose.
My god, it really is implausible, thought Commander Eric. I see it now. Funny how he had never noticed it before.
Courage steeled, Commander Eric opened the door and stepped into the pure what glow that he found on the other side.
There was a sensation of transition, and then he found himself sitting on a hillside overlooking a beautiful green valley where rainbows splashed between the puddles and the smiling sun gave light that always warmed without ever making you too hot.
A passing unicorn named Jake Friendly strolled up and said “Hi there, stranger! You must be new here. My name’s Jake Friendly. What’s yours?”.
“My name is…. Eric. ” said Eric.
“Eric what?” said Jake Friendly, with a whinny on the WH sound.
“Eric…. and nothing else. I’m just Eric. ”
“Well then howdy, Eric. Pleased to meet you. ” The unicorn held out a hoof.
Eric gently but firmly shook it. “Pleased to meet you too, Jake. Now why do you tell me all about my new home?”
“Kill her. ” said Mother Mayhem.
“Yes. ” said Erik. “Kill her in cold blood, and with malice aforethought. I blamed her for the thirteen years of abuse and depravity I had endured since that fateful day. It was her fault that I never saw my parents again. That I had to become cold and hard and ruthlessly selfish and pragmatic just to stay alive. That I learned to be an expert manipulator and used my abilities to hurt others before they could hurt me. That I was so full of pain and twisted inside that I had no idea what I would do in any given situation – but that I was capable of absolutely anything. I blamed her for all the things I had been forced to do in order to pleased my foster families. All the things I did in order to climb their twisted little hierarchy so I could at least take my pain out on those below me. I became a living nightmare of a human being, sadistic and deceitful and diabollicaly intelligent, and it was all because of that evil, evil woman. ”
“Or at least, ” he added, “that’s how I thought back then. These days, I understand things a little better. She was just some old woman who had lied her way into a job for which she was not qualified. And it was as much my parents’ fault that I only saw them two or three times a year after that, around the holidays. While I was wasting away in foster hell, they were out there fighting what they thought was the good fight in order to try to get me back. Pretty sweet of them, right?”
“Maybe at first. But then they fell into the role of being the public face of a highly unpopular movement to liberalize the kinds of laws they had violated in raising me how they did, and it wasn’t long before, despite their successfully turning my name into a rallying cry for all the other far-left families who had been gutted by the system, they had completely forgotten about actually getting me back. ” said Erik.
“And for what? Not only did nothing change, the backlash against them actually made the laws even stricter and more harsh. People were going to jail for taking the classic bare bum bearskin rug pictures of their babies, or taking them to a nude beach in another country, or even just for using a too-explicit toilet training book. The witch-hunt for other ‘pervert families’ lasted for almost a decade, and a lot of innocent people got hurt, all because my parents didn’t know how to back down from a fight. ”
“The punchline for it all? Miss Guiterre died not a year after I was taken away. That was the first thing I learned when I finally got free of the system. I spent all those years dreaming of revenge on her and now I couldn’t even get that. ”
Mother Mayhem nodded. This was not the worst story she’d ever heard – after all, she had worked with the survivors of massacres and the psychotically insane. But it was was striking in its darkness.
“What did you do then, dear?” she asked.
“The only thing left to me. ” said Erik.
“You hurt your parents?” said Mother Mayhem.
“No. ” said Eric.
“I killed myself. ”