It wasn’t a refugee camp any more.
It was a town. It had streets. They had names. It had addresses that contained those names, and numbers too.
It had organized municipal services. A gang of cartoon racoons ran a highly efficient and thorough garbage collection service. Water was provided by a spindly network of improvised pipes that snaked crazily through the town.
“But where is the water coming from?” asked Eric.
“You don’t want to know. ” replied Bumper with a tone of finality that convinced Eric he really, really didn’t.
“Just know that it is clean, healthy, and sterile. ” said Bumper.
Eric chose to take that on faith.
There was no (potentially very disturbing) mystery about where the electricity was coming from. It was coming from the 20 stories tall kaiju bat-monster who called itself Kaminari no akuma, “but you can just call me Kami, okay good?”
The beast (of no determined gender) had shyly offered its services as a power source early on in the development of the community. A gang of mad scientists immediately seized the opportunity and figured out how to tap into Kami’s seemingly limitless energy within a couple of hours.
They then argued over whose name would be first on the resulting article in the Nournal Of Applied Lunacy for a couple of weeks.
They even had a kind of mail service run by a group of squirrels who provided a service much faster than traditional mail at the cost of the envelopes arriving with toothmarks all around the edges and faintly wet with squirrel spit.
Bumper had a whole platoon of bureaucrats from an office-romance fiction at his beck and call now, which allowed him to delegate most of the administrative work to others and go back to his true calling as a child psychologist.
There were a lot of child-fictionals amongst the refugees, and a lot of them were upset and confused by the disruption in their lives and needed a sympathetic ear to listen to their stories and soothe their fears.
The fact that said ear was a long and velvety rabbit ear helped immensely.
And then there were the children who had witnessed horrors no adult should have to see, let alone a child. They needed more intensive therapy. And some needed a lot more than that, which is why Bumper’s clinic now included a small asylum.
It was a soft and quiet place with a beamingly matronly drag queen running it and making sure the poor little ones felt safe from their inner demons.
Bumper thought she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen.
And at the middle of it all was Eric. His charm and wisdom and popular appeal had made him a natural fit for the job of mayor of their crazy little town. And he was an excellent leader as long as nobody made him nervous by treating him with dignity and authority and thus reminding him that he was responsible for everyone’s wellbeing.
Most residents caught on to this quickly and knew to remain casual with Eric and treat him like an average citizen who just happened to be the person everyone came to for important decisions and the resolution of disputes.
And the sex (extremely) friendly Pink Tent district had developed its own red light district, where sex in a bewildering number of forms (and genders, and species, and forms of architecture) was available for all.
It had its own genuine red lights, display windows, lists of available services, and even its own marvelously smutty little flyers to keep the local community informed of who and what and where and when (but not why) was available.
In fact, the only thing that distinguished it from a traditional red light distrinct was that nobody was charging money.
This caused one local wag, a bizarre sex-robot named the Superfuckatron 9000, to say that “It’s not so much a red light district as it is a well organized association of sluts. ”
This remark was deemed so hilarious and apt that it was put on a plaque at the entrance to the Pink Tent district.
Most importantly, everyone was getting along with one another. The sense of camaraderie and the powerful bonding influences of shared trauma and common goal rapidly built rapport between disparate groups and before long, this sense of shared identity had turned an adhoc response to a terrible tragedy into a real community.
A community without a name but with a very big heart.
Eric could not have been happier.
Into this situation wandered a petite redhaired woman with blood on her hands and the thousand yard stare of one who is not quite there any more, and doesn’t want to be.
“Mother Mayhem!” said Bumper, aghast.
“Orgy lady!” said a fan, aroused.
“My god, what have they done to you? ” said Eric, angered, as he rushed to her aid.
At first, Mother Mayhem didn’t seem to know who she was or who was around her, and stared blankly ahead. But then something in her stirred, and in a flat, emotionless tone said “Did someone say something?”
Eric took her hand, and in a calm, clear tone said “Yes, Mother Mayhem. It’s me, Eric. You remember Eric, right? ”
Mother Mayhem turned towards Eric, her eyes blank. “Eric? Eric? I knew an Eric once, I think. ” she said in a faraway voice.
“That’s me, Mother Mayhem. I’m that Eric. Remember? We met on the Astral Plane. ”
Mother Mayhem wrinkled her nose. “NO. No Astral Plane. Bad. Gone. Gone away forever and it was mine. Mine to have. Mine to create. Mine to destroy. Mine, mine, mine. And it’s all gone now. ”
Her eyes focused, dimly, on Eric. “You… were there in the beginning, right?”
Eric smiled. “Yes, Mother Mayhem. I was there. ”
Her nose wrinkled again. “Bad beginning. Bad start. Bad you. Everything was normal and okay. Then you. You started it all. You. Bad, bad you. ”
Bumper sputtered with outrage. “How dare you try to blame Eric for… ”
“No, honeybunny. Now’s not the time. I understand what she means by that. ” said Eric.
Bumper retreated into a glowering silence.
A smile spread across Mother Mayhem’s face. “Is that the bunny? Funny bunny. Funny little bunny. So cute and soft and perverted. Likes wee wee. Big big wee wee!”.
She then giggled like a little girl, then abruptly stopped.
Bumper seethed at her remarks, but a pleading look from Eric kept him quiet.
Eric took her hand against, and looked directly in her eyes, and very clearly and firmly said “MOTHER. You need to come back to us, Mother. We want to help you, Mother, but you have to come back to us first. ”
Then inspiration struck. “We need you, Mother Mayhem, We’re in a lot of trouble and we need you. We need your help. ”
Mother Mayhem stirred, and after a long silence, her eyes fully focused on Eric and her surroundings, and she blinked her eyes like she had just woken up.
She looked at Eric with faint disdain, and said “Oh. It’s you. ”
“Yes, it’s me!” said Eric, with a smile. “It’s me, Mother Mayhem. Eric!”
“I’m not an idiot. ” she muttered crossly. “I got it the first time. ”
“And that’s really you in there, Mother Mayhem? ” said Eric,
“Let’s just say, ” said Mother Mayhem, “that I am as close to her as you are going to get for a while, and move on, okay?”
“Can you tell me what happened to you, Mother Mayhem? ” asked Eric gently.
Her eyes went blank again, and she put her hands on her head and said “no, no, no” over and over again for a couple minutes.
But then she snapped out of it, and this time, her expression was one of someone with terrible news they feel the urgent need to share.
“What happened is that I know now, Eric darling. I know it all. I know why we are all here. I know who I was before I came here. And I was bad, Eric. Very very bad. I was a horrid, screeching, clawing, carping, bullying bitch from hell before I came here, Eric. I was such an awful person. And now that I know, I can remember it all, and it’s like she’s still alive in me, Eric. And that makes me want to die. ”
“LISTEN. ” said Bumper. “you are not that person any more. Okay? If you were still that person, those memories wouldn’t bother you, But you’re a different person now. That terrible person is dead. Dead as surely as if you’d murdered her in cold blood. So there’s no need to harm yourself to get rid of her. She is gone, gone, gone, and you never need to think about her again. Okay? ”
Mother Mayhem nodded. “But then… but then there’s the Astral Plane. I told everyone they would be safe there. Safest place on the System, I called it. But then when we got there it was all wrong and people died and I can’t stop seeing that poor cherub getting eaten by that horrid cloud again, and again, and again. ”
“I’m sure you did what you could, Mother-
“NO! ” she screamed. “No I didn’t! Because it was ALL MY FAULT. I’m the one who forgot she was a Primary and left her fiction to fall apart and decay without her. I’m the one who led those people to their doom in the one place I thought they’d be safe. I’m the one who has failed people again and again and again because no matter how hard I try to help people, it’s never enough. There’s always more, more, more. More pain. More injustice. More predators. More lions to tame. More ground to sow. More diapers to change. More dirt to scrub away. More everything. And I am just… so… tired. ”
She hung her head low, then looked up to Eric with eyes full of desperate hope. “Is everyone okay? Can I rest now? I’ve been so tired for so long. But people need me. How can I rest when people need me? So is everyone okay now, Eric? ”
“Yes, Mother Mayhem. ” said Eric. “Everyone is just fine. We’ll take care of ourselves for a while so you can get some rest. ”
“It’s bedtime, Mother Mayhem. ” said Bumper. “Time to go to bed. Time to lie down and go to bed and get some sleep. ”
“Okay. ” said Mother Mayhem. “You’re sure you will be okay without me? ”
“We’ll be just fine, Mother Mayhem. Now you get some rest. ”
“Then I think I will take a nap, then. ” She lay down on the couch some quick thinker had thought to go get.
Her eyes half closed, she looked at Eric and Bumper and smiled. “you’re good boys. You know that? You’re both good, good boys. And you make such a cute… couple…”
And with that, she fell asleep.
“Don’t believe him!” screeched an amplified voice. “He’s lying to you! Lying to you all! Can’t you see it? He’s lying to you to make you think he’s a nice person. But he’s not nice. He’s not nice at all. He is greedy, sadistic, self-centered, egomaniacal maniac who won’t stop hurting people until someone puts a stop to HIM. ”
The crowd turned to see a small man in a giant mecha suit that bristled with weapons of all kinds and made loud pneumatic actuator sounds as he paced.
“And that’s what I am going to do. ” screamed the little man. “I’m going to kill you, Commander Eric, and I am going to take long time doing it. All of it… all the scheming and manipulating and lying and waiting and cutting Primaries off from their fictions… all of it was just a prelude to the orgy of pain I am going to inflict on you for your crimes.”
“Now DIE, Commander Eric. DIE! DIE DIIIIEEE! ” screamed Eegee as two wicked looking aircraft machine guns on his mech began to spin up to power.
And then petered out and fell silent.
“Well now. ” said a radiant goddess known formely as Mother Mayhem. “I think we’ve all had just about enough of THAT, don’t you? ”
Eegee screamed incoherently, and attacked.