Br. Gen. Pottsworth
A good number of well-dressed people milled around on a promenade. The air smelled clean and the people looked friendly enough so Lilah nodded once and stepped through the void, pulling the fun-house mirror behind her so as to cover her get-away. They didn’t need to know she’d run away to another world. How would they possibly understand? Besides, they’d probably get lost or killed trying to look for her. Yes, this was the best option, she thought. As she stepped onto the wooden planks of the promenade the wind whipped her hair and white lab coat around and her stomach turned. The void behind her had closed and behind that was nothing but open sky. “This is a…?” she gasped and hurried to the rail. “What in the…?” Above, a huge balloon took up much of the view and below she saw a rather useless-looking wing sticking out above the clouds. “An airship!”
Lilah laughed a sort of half-terrified, half-thrilled laugh and gripped the rail tightly. Other passengers gave her funny or disgusted looks as they passed. Most of them were dressed in what appeared to be some sort of quasi-Victorian costume and not one of them wore anything like the black jeans, Converse shoes, black t-shirt and lab coat that she wore.
“Uh, excuse me?” she asked a nearby young woman who turned her nose up as she passed. “Ok, um, sir? Excuse me, could I…?” A gentleman coming in the other direction did much the same, refusing to acknowledge that she was there at all. Lilah backpedaled against the outer wall and slid down against it, looking out through the railing at the atmospheric scenery going by. The wind was cold and the setting sun lit the clouds from beneath. “Great. I’m freezing and I have no idea where I am or where I’m going.” She pulled her coat tight and folded her arms. “Still miles better than where I was, even if I end up homeless on the street somewhere,” she asserted and frowned. “Somehow I don’t think I’ll have any more delusions that will tell me where to go and what to do…”
A middle-aged woman walking toward Lilah caught her attention and the sight of her startled her sufficiently as to render her speechless. She was probably four feet tall. Her skin was pale purple and two large, curled ram’s horns grew from either side of her wide face. She loped slowly in a graceful sort of waddle on decidedly bovine legs. Her clothes seemed to made of many layers of different home-spun cloth bound together by belts hung with baubles. Before Lilah could react to this, the ram-woman swerved left toward the railing to avoid a swirl of twinkling lights developing in her path just in front of where the young scientist sat.
The lights brightened and grew in number, spinning around a central point that very quickly took the shape of a man. In a few seconds, the glowing shape exploded with a soft, tinkling sort of noise and a puff of tiny dying embers, revealing a tall, dapper gentleman in a pith helmet and navy-blue uniform. The ram-woman looked casually over her shoulder and smiled but continued on as if this was totally normal. He was ginger with an impressively curled mustache. “Oh, bother. Just as I was at last growing accustomed to Borneo,” the gentleman said as he dusted himself off. “Now, what requires my attention this time, I wonder?” He looked around him and quickly noticed the terrified young woman curled against the side of the airship.
In a commanding tone of voice but with an obvious smile under his orange mustache he addressed her. “Hallo, Could it be you’re the one I’ve been brought here for?”
“Uh…How did…?” she muttered, staring.
He stepped closer and looked both ways. “Not dressed as any Kazoolander I’ve ever seen, cowering in fear... My guess is you’ve just arrived. Though this ship appears to be quite far from any port.” He offered her a hand to stand up and smiled wider. “Don’t worry, Lass. I don’t bite!”
Lilah took it and he pulled her to her feet. “I went through a portal…”
“Ah. You’re a stow-away. And probably a rogue rift-hopper to boot. Only natural for everyone else aboard to avoid you, what.”
She raised a brow. “A rogue what?”
The gentleman leaned in to whisper. “Best not ask questions that give away that you are new to this place, Lass. You’re liable to be taken advantage of.”
Straightening up and looking him in the eye she said “how do I know you’re not trying to do the same thing?”
He paused a beat before laughing a low, honest laugh. “Good show, Lass. I can promise you I am nothing of the sort.” He took a pipe from his pocket and started stuffing it with tobacco and motioned for her to join him at the railing. “You know, you quite remind me of a dear friend of mine. Could be his sister. Spitting image, what.”
A chill went down the young woman’s spine as she gripped the rail. “Oh, no. Was that thing I went through a gateway to the past?”
“The past? Well, I don’t know. Time is sort of, dare I say, irregular in Kazooland. Even more so for myself in particular! Did you come from Earth? What year?”
“Nineteen. Yes, that sounds about right. Well, then you’re not Walter’s sister, not by a long shot!” the gentleman laughed.
Lilah stared at him. “Walter! You don’t mean Peter Walter?”
“The Colonel, yes indeed! Fought together in Africa, what. Did you know him? No, of course not. 1991, hm.”
“He was my second great grandfather.”
It was the gentleman’s turn to stare. “You don’t say? Well! It’s a pleasure to meet you!” He snapped his fingers. “That’s it. That’s exactly it. I was brought here to help you. Now, what could it be that you, a descendant of Walter could possibly need help with, hm?”
“I… uh…” Lilah stuttered. “I ran away from home and until just now I didn’t know that Kazooland was a real place. So far the people have avoided me and some of them are totally terrifying and we’re flying and I’m not sure how, I mean, look at this thing! And then you just sort of materialize in front of me and…”
He made shushing noises and put his hands on her shoulders. “Understood. I’m the very person to get you to the Cav and settled in to Plum Street snug as a bug, what!”
Lilah rubbed her face. “This is a lot to take in. What ‘brought’ you here? How you just sort of…” she wriggled her fingers at him and made a sound that fairly closely imitated the one she had heard when he made his arrival.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I am Brigadier General Archibald Pottsworth, Quantum Leaper, at your service.” He laughed lightly and changed the subject as if he had sufficiently explained the matter. “I wonder, of all of Walter’s portals you chose to use such an unconventional one. You’re really quite a dare-devil, what!”
“All of…?” Lilah asked. “There’s more than one?”
Pottsworth raised a brow. “Well surely! I have one, the Cavalcadium has plenty of them, and if the one in the manor has closed you could have just gone there.”
“The Cavalcadium?” she asked, dazed. He nodded. “Oh. Dad took us out of that when I was a little kid. Said it was full of crazy people.”
Another pause and another burst of raucous laughter from Pottsworth. “That it is, my dear, that it is. Though, your father sounds the one off his rocker for giving up on the Cav. But you’re in luck, I happen to be a member and if I’m not mistaken, this ship is one of theirs, bound for the Cav office in Dandytown.” He pointed to an emblem on the side of the ship-a blue gear. “I can take you there. They’ll all be delighted to see you! Oh! Forgive me again, I’ve not asked your name!”
Lilah blinked a few times, overwhelmed by Pottsworth’s enthusiasm. Her shoulders relaxed and she managed a small smile. “Thank you, Brigadier General. I’d love to come with you. I’m Lilah. Lilah Moreau-Walter.”
Where are we?
We’re movin' again.
What’s happenin' now?
Click click click.
I’m scared it’s gonna happen again.
I couldn’t stop it...
It wasn’t your fault.
Oh, back then?
I don’t wanna do it again.
If you can’t stop it, there’s nothing to be done about it.
I don’t want to do it, either.
Rabbit, how did you do it?
Do what, Spine?
No, I won’t do it again.
You might have to.
Rabbit, what’s he talking about?
Jon, just ignore him.
Rabbit don’t be foolish, if we need to protect ourselves from these people…
Oh no, that...?
I won’t kill again!
You couldn’t help it, but it saved you from being destroyed by them before.
Please, Rabbit, maybe we can temper it somehow.
What would happen if we didn’t protect ourselves?
I dunno, Jon.
Don’t think of just yourself and your feelings, think about Jon.
Think about all of us!
You… just imagine pushin' someone away.
That’s what did it.
So maybe we won’t push as hard.
If you don’t push hard, nothin' happens at all, I tried.
Ok, thank you, Rabbit.
Push push push.
We’re movin' again...
Hang in there.
Hang in there!
What’s happening now?
I don’t feel good...
We can’t let them separate us!
I don’t wanna!
Mortimer knew something had gone wrong when the lights went out and didn’t immediately come back on. For four or five minutes he stumbled in the dark of his suite of rooms and out into the hall, down the stairs, feeling his way in the pitch black of his family’s castle. When the lights flicked back on the brightness startled him, but only for a moment as he picked up the pace and hurried to the labs.
A rowdy crowd of black-and-green garbed Becile workers clogged the hallway. Mortimer barked at them to make way and they parted for him. One or two of them wore nothing but their undergarments, one clasped a hand over her mouth but her teeth somehow seemed to leak out from between her fingers. Three children pulled oversized uniforms tight to their bodies. He had to press against a wall as a worker ran past, followed closely by something black and amorphous hot on his heels. On the far end of the hall, several workers stood, trapped by a good twenty feet of writhing snakes. One of the higher-level engineering department supervisors, an intimidatingly tall and muscular woman blocked access to the lab in which Cedric Becile and his closest confidants had entered nearly three hours before. Mortimer’s stomach turned. He hadn’t felt well all day and his breathing had been particularly bad lately. An earlier coughing fit in the lab had prompted his father to shout “take that noise elsewhere, blast it!” and he’d been relieved of having to watch the experiment on the Moreau-Walter power cores. Now, as he approached the lab door, he thought he might well vomit from the apprehension.
“Sheng-zi, what’s happened?” he addressed the large, female Becile worker.
The woman’s pout lessened slightly, the only indication that she could give that she was glad to see him. “Prince Mortimer, the news is not good,” she said quietly. “It would appear that people’s nightmares are presenting themselves as reality. I am glad to report I have not had a nightmare recently so appear to have been spared this condition. A crew has entered the lab in hazmat suits to assess the situation and…” She was cut off as the lab door opened and three people bustled through. Two workers in black-and-green head-to-toe coveralls helped a thin man to walk. The left side of his face appeared sunburned and his black hair singed. His left arm was missing below the elbow.
“Eustace!” Mortimer cried. “What the devil happened? Is this a nightmare as well?”
His half-brother cast his half-lidded eyes on him as he was escorted past en route to the hospital wing. “The King is dead,” he said and sneered at him. “Long live the King.”
Mortimer clenched his teeth and slipped into the lab around Sheng-zi. There was no trace of Eustace’s left arm, or anything recognizably human, save a few piles of ash in various locations around an exam table with three black spheres on it surrounded by testing and monitoring equipment--all of which was also blackened and offline. Suddenly, his urge to vomit disappeared. Mortimer had a brief asthmatic attack as he fumbled in his pockets for his inhaler and Eustace’s words sunk in. “Sheng-zi,” he called. “Shut off power to this laboratory and lock the door. No one is to enter ever again.”
Sheng-zi gave a short, but respectful nod. “Yes, King Mortimer.”