Mother Mayhem was a woman transformed.
Literally. She was no longer a petite powerhouse, she was an angry mother-god that towered over everyone. She was limned in flames, and her eyes blazed with holy hellfire, ready to burn the sin out of you if you so much as coughed.
In her right hand she held a blazing golden sword, and in her left, she held a steely silver shield. She wore armor made of solidified radiance, and at her feet, a muscular dog as big as a bus growled softly.
The nametag on his collar read KARLO.
“What the… ” said EeGee. This was not going how it was supposed to go. This was wrong! Very very wrong!
“NO. ” shouted EeGee. “NO NO NO! You aren’t really here. You aren’t supposed to be here. Go away, you stupid… bitch… nasty… cunt… WHORE! ”
“Keep that up, and you might end up insulting me. ” said Mother Mayhem.
“Oh no… I’m done listening to what other people say. “said Eegee. “All you people do is confuse me and make it seem like I’m the crazy one. But ask yourself could a crazy person do THIS? ”
Once more the mech suit’s mighty guns began to spin up with a deadly rising whine.
Mother Mayhem sighed and touched her shield to the mech suit, causing the guns to die out again. “NO. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to sit here like civilized sentient being and works this out in a fully adult and grown-up way. OK?”
“I don’t have to do what you say! ” screamed Eegee. “You’re not my mother?”
“Are you sure about that? ” said Mother Mayhem. and for a moment she was a dumpy, sturdy woman wearing an apron, thick reading glasses, and a disapproving look.
“Mom?” said Eegee in a timid, quivering voice.
“Yes, my lumpkin?” said Mother Mayhem. Then she shifted back to her previous form.
“As you can see, I am many mothers. I can be anything from Mother Mercy… ”
Suddenly, she was maternality personified, a plump and big-breasted woman, an ever-giving mother figure whose every smile expressed an infinity of love, compassion, tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness.
Then back to her previous form.
“All the way to Mother Murder.. ”
She shifted into a form that made everyone gasp in fear. Her body was cloaked in thick mottled fur and blood dripped from the deadly claws on her hands. She stood in an alert crouch, like she was ready to pounce, and a long feline tail lashed angrily behind her. The very air vibrated with her growl, vibrations that you could feel in the pit of your stomach and that told you, in no uncertain terms, that you are IN DANGER.
But the most frightening thing was the look of pure rage in her eyes. They were the eyes of a mother lion defending her cubs from predators. They were the eyes of a mother who has lost all her children to a murderer and now has absolutely nothing in her mind but the need to hurt the bastard who did it. They were the eyes of an Amazon queen leading her troops into battle against their worst enemies.
They were the eyes of a serial killer.
They were the eyes of a predator.
They were eyes that wanted blood.
She shifted back. “And which one of them you end up dealing with, Efrom, is entirely up to you. Now, are you going to behave yourself, or do I need to discipline you? ”
“Efrom? Seriously? ” said a walrus in a tuxedo.
Mother Mayhem glared him into silence.
Efrom tried to meet Mother Mayhem’s gaze, but could not. The mech suit opened up in front and kneeled down to deposit him gently on the ground.
“I wasn’t really going to hurt anybody. ” he said, truculently.
“Not even Eric? ” said Mother Mayhem
“Well maybe him. ” he said.
Then his eyes lit up with fanatical zeal. “But he deserves it! They all deserve it! All the Primaries! All the Fictionals! Everyone who just stood by and ignored it when that BASTARD over there belittled me and mistreated me and made me feel like I was barely worth his attention. He just did whatever the hell he wanted and left it to me to pick up the pieces. Like I was his fucking SERVANT. Like I was beneath his notice. Like I was not even worthy of contempt. ”
His voice rose in pitch and volume and the madness in his eyes was now a dancing flame. “And they’re all like that! All the fucking Primaries! Everything in their world revolves around them and it turns them into spoiled, arrogant, thoughtless, cruel, sadistic people who torment everyone around them and they are all helpeless to do anything about it because they are the Primaries and everyone knows that they have the ultimate power over everything and could kill you with a thought so you have to do every disgusting humiliating thing they want you to do and and there is nothing you can do to stop them! ”
“But I knew different! ” raved Efrom, spittle flying from his mouth, “I knew they could be stopped! And now I have done it. All of the Primaries have been disconnected from the System and once I find their bodies, I will kill them all, and there will be no more Primaries and no more orders, and all the Fictionals will finally be free, and everyone will be happy!”
“So you are the one behind the destruction of all our fictions? ” said Eric.
“YES!” said Efrom proudly. “It was me, all me. I killed them all!”
As one, the crowd surged towards Efrom, but Eric stopped them.
“And why did you do that, again? ” said Eric.
“REVENGE! ” said Efrom. “revenge on YOU, you shit sucking bastard. I was going to kill you for all you put me through, and before you died, you would see absolutely everything you cared about die. Objects. Places. Institutions. And of course, people… especially that bunny butt boy of yours!”
Efrom sat back with a self-satisfied grin. “He would have been SECOND last. ”
Eric nodded, surreptitiously squeezing Bumper’s paw reassuringly. “And what did you expect to happen after I was disconnected? ”
“Then everything would be wonderful! ” Efrom said. “All us Fictionals would be free to live as we pleased, with honor and dignity and respect, and everyone would say what a great job I had done saving them from themselves and love me forever and ever!”
“Right. ” said Eric. “Now, how did you destroy the other fictions?
“By disconnecting their primaries! ” said Efrom. “Weren’t you listening? Everyone knows that if a fiction goes too long without its Primary, it falls apart. ”
“And your plan was to disconnect me last, right? From here? ” said Eric.
“YES! ” said Efrom. “Until SHE showed up. ”
“Then wouldn’t the same thing have happened here? ” said Eric. “Wouldn’t the fiction fall apart and take everyone with it? Including YOU? ”
“I…” said Efrom, then closed his mouth abruptly.
Eric could feel the tension release in the crowd. He’s got him there! That hit him where it hurts. Get him, Eric!
“I knew that! ” he insisted unconvincingly. “That was my real plan all along. To go down in a blaze of glory, knowing that my death was not in vain because I was taking all you goddamned stinking Primaries with me!”
“But that’s not what would happen. ” said Mother Mayhem.
She was her original size now, and her sword and shield were now a pair of gloves she was wearing, one gold, one silver.
“That’s what I learned tonight. That’s what I remembered. I remembered what my life was like before I was in the System. ”
“You mean…. there really is a world outside the System? ” said a mad scientist.
“Yes, there is. ” said Mother Mayhem, “It’s the place where all us Primaries come from. The place where all our stories come from. This entire System is running on computers there. It is, for lack of a better term, the real world. ”
“And so when I disconnected the other Primaries…. ” said Efrom.
“They didn’t die. ” said Mother Mayhem. “They just… woke up. ”
“And all us Fictionals are just…. computer programs? ” said Efrom.
The crowd drew slightly closer. This was big.
“Well nobody is ‘just’ anything. ” said Mother Mayhem. “A sentient is a sentient whether its program is running on a human brain or not. But to answer your question…. yes, you are all technically computer programs. ”
A sad sussuration of whispers rippled through the crowd. They did not like that answer.
“But not you, isn’t that right, Eegee? ” said Bumper.
The crowd turned to look at Bumper as if he’d just been pulled out of a hat. He was so small and had been so still that they had forgotten he was there.
“What are you talking about” said Efrom.
“Let me ask you this. ” said Bumper. “Where did you get that mech suit?”
Efrom turned to look at it. “Oh, that? I built it myself. Why, do you like it?”
“It’s fine. ” said Bumper. “And did you build it here, in this fiction?”
“Of course not. ” said Efrom, with a derisive snort. “Build something complex and technological like a mech suit in a loony toons place like this? Impossible. ”
“So what you are saying, ” said Bumper, “is that you built that enormous complicated device in another fiction, and brought it here? ”
“Well yeah. ” said Efrom.
The crowd gasped.
“That’s impossible!” said the former Jake Friendly!
“Can’t be done!” said a bear who sometimes turned into a man.
“Why not?” said Efrom.
“Because, as everybody knows, ” said the male child of a family who had recently changed lifestyles, “you can’t move objects through the Now. ”
“Indeed!” said a social terrorist named Reg. “One is often lucky to arrive with one’s clothes on. ” He grinned charismatically. “Depending on one’s definition of ‘luck.'”
“And even then you get reformatted to fit the fiction you’re in!” said a fat Mafioso. “Nuttin’ comes out the same as it went in. ”
“So what you’re saying is just plain imp possible!” said the current Jake Friendly.
“But I do it all the time!” said Efrom.
“Really? ” said Bumper. “How curious. One last question, Eegee. When you built this machine of yours, where were you? ”
Stunned silence in the crowd.
“All of our fictions had collapsed, including yours. ” said Bumper. “You said so yourself when you said that this fiction was the last one left. So where were you when you built the suit? You had to be somewhere and you weren’t here. Where were you?”
“I… don’t know. ” said Efrom. “I remember a workshop, and tools, and the suit… but I don’t know where that workshop was in the Now. It’s like it was someplace that was just… there when I needed it. ”
“Don’t you find that strange, Eegee? ”
“Stop calling me Eegee!” said Efrom. “I’m not Eegee, I’m Efrom! ”
Bumper grinned. “Sorry… Efrom. But do you see what I am getting at?”
“No!” said Efrom, and the crowd nodded in agreement. “Are you trying to say that I’m actually a Primary? ”
“Well let me check. ” said Bumper. “Eric, Madame Mayhem? Have you ever had an experience like Efrom is describing? Being somewhere that wasn’t anywhere but was there when you needed it?”.
They both shook their heads.
“That’s just plain… insane. ” said Eric.
“In order to be able to do that, ” said Mother Mayhem, “you would have to be able to generate your own private fiction on an as-needed basis. ”
“Precisely. ” said Bumper. “Eegee… Efrom… you are not just a Primary. You are the Primary. You are the original programmer of this entire System… Edmund Gerrold!”
Efrom’s eyes glazed over as something profound happened in his mind.
“You’re right!” he exclaimed. “I remember it all now. I was just about to leave the Clinic and go spend the fat bonus I’d just earned when I decided I was going to go into the System for one last bug hunt and… and I’ve been here ever since!”
This passed through the crowd like a sensation.
“I’m really a librarian!” said a tall muscular man carrying a huge sword.
“I think…. I’m a stewardess!” said a fat Mafioso.
“I do taxes!” said a sharp-faced weasel.
“Wait, just how many Primaries do we have here? ” said the current Jake Friendly.
And so it went. Everyone in the crowd suddenly remembered who they really were, and it soon became obvious that every single one of them was a Primary.
“That must be how we were able to survive the collapse of our fictions. ” said Reg.
“But guys!” said the male child. “Don’t you see what this means?”
The crowd turned to the boy and waited expectantly.
“It means we’re all real! Not computer programs… real people!” said the boy. “Even if Eegee…if, Efrom… I mean, EDMUND had succeeded in crashing the whole system, we would have been fine. Nobody would have died. We would have just… woken up. ”
“And you know what THAT means” said Eegee/Efrom/Edmund. “it means that the System is ours! It belongs to us now! We can do whatever we want with it! We have all the power now!”.
He concentrated for a few moments, then said “There. You all have the same administrative privileges I have now. Every one of us can be whoever they need to be and do whatever they want without limits or controls. ”
“Ladies and Gentlemen… we are FREE!”
The cheering went on for hours.