Between: 5

Another Between! I wasn’t sure people were actually interested in these, but the Facebook Fan Page set me straight on that. It still isn’t clear to me where exactly this story is going, but it’s definitely going somewhere!

Philo, with little else to do, sat in the chair of his capsule with his head turned awkwardly to the door and watched the curious creatures approach. Since he’d shown up in this mysterious place they called Between, most of his time had been spent combating boredom. He’d even fooled himself into thinking that it would be his main problem. That was before a three-headed serpent named Rill had shown up. Since then things had been increasingly exciting, and they’d now reached the point where he was beginning to miss boredom.

He didn’t have all of the details of what precisely was happening now, but Rill had dragged him and his capsule to a place she called Shard. When they arrived a swarm of bizarre creatures–each a varying degree of alien or mystical–were apparently attacking. Rill had charged off to fight them and left Philo to fend for himself, which in this context meant ‘plummet to the surface of a planet without so much as a parachute.’ It had turned out surprisingly well, in that his heart was still beating, but things went downhill quickly. He was now strapped into his seat with no means of releasing himself, watching as three creatures from the swarm approached. His mind was weighing the comparative merits of sinking to the bottom of the lake or being snatched by these new beasties.

On the plus side, the ones coming for him were among the more visually striking of the dozen or so attackers. One was a dragon with deep blue scales, another was a heavily armored mermaid, and the last was a four-winged flying mammal that he’d come to think of as “the double-bat.” There was no doubt they were after him specifically, as he’d probably drifted a fair distance into the lake by now, so there wasn’t anyone else around. The bat and dragon held back, circling above the capsule while the armored mermaid approached him. She was layered with platemail and held a short sword in one hand and a stout shield on the other arm. Her face was hidden behind a facemask, but through the eye holes Philo could see a set of brilliant emerald eyes, every bit the match for her tail. The armor she wore was notable, too. In the brief glimpses of the people and buildings on this particular hunk of rock, he’d noticed a strong tendency toward slipshod repairs and piecemeal constructions. The mermaid’s armor as gleaming and perfect, well kept save for scratches here and there from where it had protected her from attack.

“You there!” she proclaimed in a positively heroic voice. “You are new, are you not?”

“Is it really so obvious?” he asked.

“Come with me, quickly. You look to be a man, and a man of science.”

“Well, yes and no. I’m not exactly well-versed in the sciences, but I’m all man.”

“Are you a student of the mystic arts?”

“Not so much.”

“Then your only hope for freedom is to come with me! The people of Shard, if they find you to have no use, will put you to work.”

“Well, I’ve got this sock puppet thing, so I think I’ll be fine. Besides, Rill seems nice, and she doesn’t seem too fond of you guys. The enemy of my friend is my enemy, right?”

“Who is this Rill you speak of?”

“You must know her. Three heads, long purple body, busy kicking the butts of the rest of your crew?”

“The water dragon is not your ally. She is a mighty warrior, but she blindly follows the orders of madmen. All of the people of shard are mad!”

“It sort of seems like an unavoidable consequence of the neighborhood, so I can’t really hold it against them.”

“Quickly!” bellowed a deep voice. Philo couldn’t be sure, but he suspected it was the dragon, as shortly after the warning it wheeled and headed off in a very definite direction with purpose.

“If you will not come willingly, then I must claim you. It is for your own good!” the mermaid stated, darting into the capsule, which was almost half filled with water.

“Hey, listen if you can get me loose from this chair, that’d go a long way to convincing me your intentions are pure,” Philo said.

“Get out, quick! That bird-rider is coming this way!” squealed the double-bat.

The mermaid swam a tight loop around the chair and stuck her head out the door, only to raise her shield and deflect a barrage of crossbow bolts. She turned back to Philo. “We will return for you one day. By then you’ll know that it is only at Heart Core that you’ll truly be free.”

With a thrust of her tail and a jingle of her armor, she launched herself out of the capsule, nearly slapping Philo with her tail fin in the process. The massive black form of an oversized vulture passed overhead, narrowly missing the double-bat with its claws. The dragon rushed in to clash with the bird, crashing into it with full force and dislodging its rider.

“Gah! Hahaha! Think that’ll do me in, ya Heart Core scum!?” the thing squealed as it fell, firing its weapon madly. It looked to be somewhere between two and four feet tall, covered almost from head to toe with a leather outfit that was festooned with buckles, pouches, and holsters.

Philo cringed and turned away as the thing struck the capsule hard enough to dent it. It seemed to take the brunt of the collision with it’s oversized head, which clunked into the doorway of the capsule so hard a bolt was knocked free. The impact rocked the capsule to the side, threatening to dip the door below the surface of the water. Philo breathed a sigh of relief when his trusty vessel stopped short of capsizing and began to right itself, but the sigh turned into a yelp of pain when the fallen rider slipped through the door and delivered an involuntary headbutt to the side of Philo’s head before splashing down into the water that had already leaked in.

“Ow…” Philo moaned, shaking his head. After a moment to recover, he realized that the fallen rider had slipped below the surface. “Hey! Hey, are you okay?”

He squinted at the water, scrutinizing it for any sign of movement. Several seconds of stillness passed, just enough for Philo to give up on the little creature, when it burst from below the surface in a sputtering, startling eruption.

“I’ll shoot ya full o’ holes! Where are ya!” he raved, waving a weapon about in each hand and firing.

A string of crossbow bolts punched neat little holes in the wall of the capsule, increasing the flow of water. The weapons, evidently every bit as hearty as their wielder, had survived the fall without any sign of damage. They were crossbows, or at least had a bow and string and fired bolts. That’s roughly where the resemblance ended, though, as each also had a massive coil-spring, an assortment of gears, a crank, and a pistol grip. The bolts fired from an extended wooden clip jammed into the top of the device, and each pull of the trigger seemed to spit three or four of the stubby wood and metal darts. Philo scrunched up in the seat as much as possible as they whizzed by his face.

“Hahaha-a-a-a! Did I get ya!? Where are ya!?” he began, before the defiance and bravado in his voice dropped away, replaced by confusion. “Hold on now… where am I?”

“You’re in–” Philo attempted to answer, but two and a half syllables was as far as he could get before the creature reflexively jammed the tip of one of his weapons into the man’s cheek.

“Who are ya and what do ya think yer doin’ sneakin’ up on me!?” the thing said, sticking his face in Philo’s and peering at him through a pair of aviator goggles.

At this distance Philo could see that what little skin was exposed was teal. The creature had a button nose, long pointed ears, and a large grinning mouth.. His clenched teeth were somewhat human, except for a set of canines that were proportionately longer and sharper than the rest. His face was round–not chubby, just round–and his head was a bit larger than seemed appropriate for such a small body.

“My name’s Philo, and I’m strapped to a chair, so I can’t sneak up on anybody!” Philo quickly explained.

The creature looked him up and down. “So ya are… well don’t think that gets you off the hook. I don’t rightly think I seen you about. New, are ya?” He spoke with an accent, but it didn’t seem to fit any one place. Sometimes it had a cockney vibe to it, other times it almost seemed like it was from New York or Jersey. Philo silently congratulated himself for remembering regional dialects. He was remembering more pointless facts all the time!


“Are ya one o’ them?”

“That depends. Who are ‘them,’ and will you shoot me if I am?”

“I might shoot ya regardless.”

“Well I’m with Rill.”

“Rill? Gettin’ all chummy with that gaggle o’ spoony purple worms right out o’ the gate? Bad choice,” he said. “But it means I gotta get ya up to Shard in once piece, so give us a boost. I got some folks to poke holes in.”

Rather than waiting for Philo to lend a hand, he grabbed one of the straps, planted a clawed set of toes on Philo’s cheek, and scrambled up on top of him until he was standing on the sideways arm of the chair. His legs had a strange, animal shape to them. He stood on his toes, of which he had three. Philo realized that he knew such an arrangement was called a digitigrade leg, and briefly wondered why he knew that and could spot a cockney accent but still didn’t remember his hometown. The creature had footwear that consisted of what would have been fingerless gloves if he’d been wearing them on his hands, and hanging down from between the edge of his leather bomber jacket and his leather pants was a long teal tail with a tuft of dark blue hair at the end.

“Here, crank that up, would ya?” he said, handing one of the crossbows down.

“If I must,” Philo said, accepting the contraption and working at the crank. “But I’m not usually in the habit of doing favors for people who use my face as a ladder.”

“And I’m not usually in the habit of taking lip from an idiot strapped to a sinking metal ball in the middle of a lake,” he pulled a clip of bolts from a pouch on his belt and slapped it into the device he still held. “Sometimes you gotta break habits.”

“What’s your name, by the way?” Philo asked, struggling to give the crank a few final turns.

His guest was back to giggling, firing more or less randomly through the door above him. When his clip was empty, he snagged the weapon from Philo, loaded it, and emptied the fresh clip in seconds.

“Hahaha-a-a-a-a! Clipped a few of ’em. Looks like they just about lost their taste for the invasion. For now.” He holstered the weapons, jumped to the doorway, and sat in the dent created by his head a few minutes prior. The slasher smile faded from his face as he leaned forward and focused on the sky. “One… two… Sod it all, they got three o’ our guys. You better be worth yer salt, boy-o. Know any magic?”

“No I don’t know any magic,” Philo snapped, “And I’m getting sick of that question. He glanced down to see the surface of the water just inches from his head and rising. “Listen, can we maybe get me out of here, Mister…”

“They call me Mr. Stubbs. And hold yer horses. If yer a science type, I’m going to make sure we get all o’ these doodads o’ yers. A science type ain’t nothing without his doodads,” Stubbs said. He placed his fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. “Hooks! Hooks you great idiot buzzard, leave that dragon to go lick its wounds and get down here. We need to fetch up this bundle o’ tech before it sinks.”

Philo glanced nervously back and forth between the water and the door as the huge bird began to circle closer. It wouldn’t be long before the water level was high enough to submerge his head.

“So yer a human, right? Been a while since we got one o’ those,” Stubbs said, digging out a small tin box and plucking a cigar butt from inside. From another pocket he revealed a silver zippo and lit the cigar.

“What are you, exactly?” Philo asked.

“I’m a hobgoblin. And ya’d best be glad of it, too. If I was a regular goblin I’d of bit off yer nose as soon as look at ya. The missus is a quarter regular gob on her mother’s side. Makes her extra feisty.” He said. He took a puff, then pointed to the vulture with his thumb. “Ol’ Hooks there is a dire vulture, before ya ask. Dumb as toast, but loyal. Now if I was you, I’d hold my nose. Yer about to take a dip.”

Mr. Stubbs hopped to his feet and jumped to the descending claws of the vulture an instant before they connected. Hooks’ massive black claws punched through the hull of the capsule like a can-opener slicing through tin, and the force plunged the capsule entirely underwater. Philo managed to gulp a breath of air just before his head went under. He fought his eyes open, looking up at the surface as the capsule lurched out of the water and began to drain.

It had taken a few minutes for the water to rise to a few feet, and now it was a few feet over his head. He supposed it was possible that he could hold his breath for five minutes. For all he knew he held the world record for breath holding… But judging from the burn in his lungs, such was not the case. It struck him, as his chest began to heave, that surviving a transdimensional jump and encounters with everything from hobgoblins to dragons only to drown seemed like a horribly anticlimactic way to go.

Just as his lungs were beginning to make a strong argument for breathing water, the surface rippled and Mr. Stubbs’ feet came down onto the arm of the chair. A massive bowie knife plunged down into the water and sliced through the straps. Stubbs grabbed a handful of jumpsuit and pulled Philo to the surface, where he coughed and took a few grateful breaths.

“Thanks,” Philo gasped.

“Feh. Baby. A little water never hurt ya,” Stubbs said.

He put a foot on Philo’s shoulder and climbed to the surface of the capsule, then planted a foot on either side of the door and reached down to snag Philo’s suit again. It was a bit of a stretch, but once he had a grip, he hauled the much larger man up through the doorway with little effort. He sat Philo on the edge of the door, then plopped down opposite him.

“Jeez you’re strong,” Philo said, slicking back his hair and wiping water from his eyes.

“Gotta pull yer weight around here and then some, if ya want privileges but don’t know magic.” He puffed his cigar, then looked Philo up and down. “Good luck with that, by the way.”

“I’ll figure something out.”

“Seeing as how I just fished ya out of oblivion, I wouldn’t hold my breath for that. Heh. See what I did there, ‘hold my breath?'”

“Yeah, subtle. So what was that all about, with the menagerie coming to attack?”

“Oh, those were just Heart Core scum. Rival fetchers. Heart Core has somewheres in the neighborhood o’ thirty some odd fetchers. Lots more than we got. O’ course, Heat Core’s got a lot more o’ everything than we got. On a good day Shard’s got five fetchers. Today we got two, since the other three are out fetching runaways. Woulda been just me if Rill didn’t come back when she did.”

“Why were they invading?”

“Coming to get back what we took from ’em fair and square.”

“Get back… Wait, you took people from this Heart Core place?”

“Well sure we did. Worthwhile folks don’t show up every day, so we got to snag a few from Heart Core. They got more than their share anyways.”

“That’s kidnapping.”

“Boss calls it recruiting.” Mr. Stubbs puffed thoughtfully on his cigar for a few moments, then turned and began to scurry up Hooks’ leg. “Anyway, that’s none o’ yer concern…”

As he continued talking, Philo glanced down to notice for the first time that the lurching flaps of the giant buzzard’s wings had taken them far, far from the surface of the larger landmass. They were already a third of the way to the orbiting Shard. In the distance, though becoming less distant with each passing moment, Rill was making her way toward them. When it was clear to the serpent that Philo had noticed her, she curled her tails around in front of her faces and held them up, making the universal (and apparently alternate-universal) sign for “shush” in triplicate.

“…All’s I gotta do is drop ya off at shard and the boss’ll give me a bonus. We work on commission, see,” Stubbs said, finally reaching Hooks’ back and settling down. “Once I get my credit, I’ll go get a bunch o’ those stray bolts back. They don’t grow on trees ya– Whoa!” The capsule suddenly shifted, nearly slipping from Hooks’ claws. “What’re ya doing down there, ya… Sod it all…”

Stubbs watched as the lavender form of his fellow fetcher streaked toward the orbiting black Shard, Philo clutched by one of the tails.

“Haha, too slow,” Left!Rill mocked.

Philo watched Mr. Stubbs and Hooks rapidly fall behind. Hooks made an earnest effort to catch up, but with the massive capsule to slow him–or her maybe, it was difficult to tell with birds–there was no chance. Rill was incredibly fast when she wanted to be.

“So you met Stubbs. He’s mean, isn’t he?” Right!Rill called back.

“What?” Philo called back, too far from her heads to hear her properly.

“Oh, hang on,” Rill said.

Rill released him with her tail, leaving him to coast for a moment while she looped up and over him. Right!Rill snagged him by the back of the suit with her mouth and dragged him onward.

“Stubbs isn’t very nice,” Rill said. “And he smokes those smelly cigars.”

“He shouldn’t be a fetcher anyway. He wouldn’t be able to do anything without Hooks. Hooks is the fetcher. Stubbs is the passenger. Calling him a fetcher is like calling you a fetcher just because we’re carrying you.”

“Mmmm!” Right!Rill squealed, handing him off to Rill. “That’d be great! You could be a fetcher with us! When you talk to the boss, ask about that.”

“We don’t need Philo,” Left!Rill quickly added. “We’re the best fetcher Shard has!”

“Yeah, but it would be fun! Plus, he’s a two-legger. Other two-leggers might not try to kill us if he’s with us.”

“We don’t need him,” Left!Rill repeated, tucking her head back slightly to coil her neck over itself. It seemed oddly like she was crossing her arms, and certainly suited her attitude.

As he observed her, he realized that Left!Rill was covered with new scrapes and bruises. The scrapes and cuts were lighter purple, while the bruises were darker. Right!Rill had a few, and glancing back down her body revealed more.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” He asked.

“Oh, we’re fine. That wasn’t a bad one. A bad one was when she…” Right!Rill began, indicating Left!Rill with her head. Before she could finish, Left!Rill snapped at her.

“He doesn’t need to know that,” she said.

Fine,” Right!Rill said. “Anyway, we’ll heal up fine. Especially if we get something to eat, which we’ll definitely get once we turn you in.”

“Mr. Stubbs said those invaders from–Heart Core, was it?–were only here to take back people you took from them,” Philo said.

“Yeah, and they got three of them back. That’s bad…”

“But isn’t it wrong to kidnap–”

“Recruit,” Left!Rill corrected.

“… To recruit people against their will?”

“I don’t know, probably. Lucky for us we don’t have to worry about that part,” Right!Rill said.

“The boss says we’re not sneaky enough to recruit people. We don’t get to go on those runs,” Left!Rill said with some resentment.

“Maybe you could put in a good word for us!” Right!Rill suggested. “You’ll be meeting the boss in a minute anyway.”

“Uh, yeah, what’s that all about? What’s about to happen?” Philo asked.

The Shard was getting close now, and from this distance it wasn’t a very inviting place. The stone of the ground was dark gray, almost black, and the buildings and streets were all composed of the same stuff. Every structure on the surface had a distinctly military feel. They were stout and squat, with narrow windows and perches for gunmen and bowmen on the roofs. Everything seemed just a bit twisted and unnatural, and horribly dark. The worst was the castle that occupied the entire blunt end of the narrow, orbiting landmass. It was the only structure that had any respectable height to it, with several towers branching off from one another into narrow, precarious spires. Philo couldn’t shake the feeling that there should be flying monkeys circling it. Realizing the sort of madness he’d seen thus far, he scrutinized it a bit just to make sure there weren’t.

“It’s not so bad. We take you to Spearhead…” Right!Rill said.

“That’s the castle there,” Left!Rill clarified.

“… Then the number two guy will ask you some stuff. Then he’ll talk to the boss about you, then you’ll talk to the boss. The boss’ll pick a place for you to go, and they you go there, until you prove you can do better somewhere else,” Right!Rill said.

“You’ll probably be allowed to keep your big metal ball and the stuff that’s still in it, since it’s mostly science stuff and it’s no good,” Left!Rill said.

“Hold on, gotta land,” Right!Rill said.

The spiralling road of Shard was just below them now. She zipped along, descending slowly until her belly, or at least the portion of body that was currently pointing toward the ground, skidded to a stop against the stone. Philo dangled above the ground for a moment before Rill dropped him to his feet. Once on the ground her snakishness was much more evident. She moved by slithering from side to side, her heads held up to roughly eye-level for Philo and remaining relatively still while the body beneath them swung side to side. Philo walked along beside her while she chatted as though there was nothing strange about a three-headed serpent going from flying to slithering on an orbiting hunk of rock.

“Will I be able to ask any questions?” Philo asked, observing the sights and sounds of Shard.

The blackness was oppressive, and contrasted with the pure white of the sky. Here and there the cobbles of the road were separated enough to reveal a sandy gray soil, but even the feeble weeds that forced their way through were black and twisted. The residents of this place, which came in the same remarkable assortment he’d briefly encountered on the other landmass, were all dressed identically–or at least as identically as their various forms could allow. When a populace includes harpies, wolfmen, giant spiders, amorphous blobs, and tentacled curiosities, a dress code was a difficult thing to enforce. The uniform was a dark gray shirt, a dark gray pair of trousers, and a black skullcap or beany. Most of the heftier creatures wore black armor overtop the rest of the ensemble. The vibrantly-colored Rill and Philo in his white and blue jumpsuit couldn’t have looked more out of place.

“Yes. Part of the job of the number two guy is to answer any questions you have and get you started on how things work here,” Rill said.

“Honestly, we didn’t pay much attention back when we showed up,” Right!Rill said.

“It doesn’t matter much if you know how things work,” Left!Rill said.

Philo nodded, then slowly noticed one more thing about the people of Shard. As Rill and Philo approached, they tended to stop whatever they were doing and watch. For those creatures with expressions Philo could read, they seemed to be casting viciously scornful glances as the hydra, and giving her a wide berth as she approached.

“You don’t seem so popular here,” Philo said.

“We’re not popular anywhere,” Left!Rill said.

“We brought back a lot of these people. Almost all of them, really. Some of them a bunch of times,” Rill said.

They continued walking, spiralling around the shard, until they the end of the road. It was the top edge of Shard, leading to the flat perpendicular surface where the castle could be found. The structure stretched out ahead of him as though it was laying down, but between him and the walls ‘below’ him was fifty foot stretch of sheer drop. Rill simply slithered down the ninety degree corner and continued. Philo stopped and looked down at the half of her that had made the transition, which from his point of view was dangling down a vertical wall. He scratched his head.

“So… how do I…” he asked.

“What? You just go. I don’t know how it works with legs,” Left!Rill said.

Philo turned to the side and watched as an armored ogre with dark blue skin stepped up to the edge. Without so much as slowing he set the heel of his foot on the edge of the ground, with his toes sticking off the edge, and kicked is other leg out, tipping forward until his extended foot touched the “wall”, at which point he continued walking along the wall as though it was the ground.

“That looks tricky,” he said.

“Just jump or something. Hurry up, Mr. Stubbs is almost here,” Left!Rill groaned.

Rather than try the advanced version that he’d seen the ogre do, Philo decided to start simple. He sat on the ground and scooched forward until his feet were dangling off the edge. There was the sensation that they weren’t so much hanging as laying against the wall. Slowly he slipped further forward and downward like he was lowering himself down into a pool. The more of him he lowered over the edge, the more “down” seemed to shift. Once he’d scooted his butt off the edge, something in his head clicked from “sliding down the wall” to “sitting on the ground.” At that point he sat up, then stood up and was now properly aligned with the castle.

“Yay! You did it!” Right!Rill said, slapping her tail against the ground in a sort of single-limbed round of applause.

“Oh yeah, bravo, boy-o,” came a familiar voice. Philo looked down to see Mr. Stubbs standing on the city side of the corner. Far behind him, Hooks was rolling the capsule by hopping along behind it and nudging it along. Stubbs stepped forward, making the transition flawlessly.

“Well give me a break, I’m new,” Philo said.

“Oh no you don’t, Stubbs. He’s ours!” Left!Rill said, snagging him with her tail and hauling him quickly into the castle.

The entry hall was a vaulted  passage featuring the first bits of architecture to boast any color at all, in the form of banners and trophies of all kinds. Some were flags, and though he didn’t recognize all of them Philo was fairly certain he saw a Union Jack and a tattered US Flag with two or three dozen stars on it. There were also figureheads from ships, propellers from planes, and what may have been thrusters or heat shields from spacecraft. Each was hung from he ceiling or pinned to the walls, but he saw them only briefly as Rill whisked him by them. She slipped through the outer doors and slammed them shut with a few heaved coils then braced herself against the doors as the hammering of tiny fists began to ring out. This room was smaller, a vestibule of sorts leading off to other sections of the castle. Each doorway was fortified with barred doors. Standing there to receive them was a bookish gentleman in the typical uniform, holding a leatherbound book and an anachronistic plastic ballpoint pen. He was human-esque with the exception of pointed ears and a supernaturally haughty air about him. Philo slotted the man neatly into the “Tolkien Elf” classification in his brain, which made it all the more appropriate that he seemed to be flanked on either side by armored creatures a foot taller than him, each of whom fit the “Tolkien Orc” mold nicely.

“Tallier Mors, Fetcher Rill turning over one fresh two-legger,” Rill said, in official tones. “Science type.”

The elf, presumably Mors, nodded and turned to one of the orc guards. “Take him to the Logististician.” He fished in his pocket and pulled out a small ceramic token. “One trip to the quartermaster for you.”

Rill’s faces lit up and she reached out with her tail to accept the payment, then began to pull away from the door to leave.

“Oh, wait!” Philo said. He pulled out a soggy sock puppet and tossed it to her.

Right!Rill gasped happily and snatched it from the air with her tail, “I almost forgot! Thanks so much. And remember, make sure you put in a good word!”

Mors cast a judgemental glance at the two of them. “Are you quite through?”

“Yep! So long Philo!” Right!Rill said.

“Good luck!” Rill said.

“Don’t forget we were nice to you,” Left!Rill said.

“Chorkuk, take him please.”

One of the orcs took him forcefully by the arm and turned him around, leading him toward one of the barred doors and fumbling with the lock. Behind him he heard the door open, followed by a sharp exchange between Rill and Stubbs, but Philo was having difficulty focusing on that. Things were not heading in a good direction for him. The first room behind the barred door wasn’t much to look at, but behind a second door–this one heavy and wooden–he found a worrying assortment of equipment.

The orc thrust him forward and slammed the door behind him, leaving Philo alone in the room. The walls were the same black stone, but the furniture and equipment all around had the “cobbled together from what we could find” feel that most of this world had. It was lit by a combination of flickering candles and LED lamps. There were five chairs; two rickety plastic folding chairs, one carved antique with horsehair upholstery, one wheelchair, and one five-wheeled office chair. The walls were covered with hand-painted diagrams, showing off various body shapes in silhouette with dotted lines separating off different body parts. Scales and other measurement apparatus were lined up along one wall. Behind them were chalkboards listing occupations and species. Beside them were numbers and arrows, the sort one might see beside ticker symbols on the stock market.

As he took it all in, he realized that his headset was still recording. He pulled it off and pointed to his face.

“Well Darva, I’m soggy, barefoot, homeless, and standing in a room which has worrying similarities to a butcher shop… but I still don’t regret not taking your stupid suicide pill! Possible death beats certain death any day of the week. We’ll call that Philo’s Law. Chew in that wisdom for a little while. Philo Out.”

And that’s it for this week. Next week we’ll get a little bit of an explanation of what this place is and how things work! Gosh!