Part 112: The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 14The Eye of the Nameless One: Part 14
Annah greeted me warmly at my return. She clutched me and pressed her warm skin to mine, which had been blanketed with the cold of the Maze for so long.
I really should've been more suspicious.
Crouched and bent over the floor of my apartments I clutched my jewels, gasping for breath. Letting out a deep, nauseous cough allowed a little bile to spill past my lips. It was all I could do not to retch up my guts, then. Lucky thing then that Annah stormed off instead of working me over further.
The agony was slow to ebb away.
"Awww, looks like someone missed you," Morte said, bobbing, "Really though chief you gave us all a real scare. We thought it was over."
"It was known to me that your destiny would not end there," Dak'kon added. The relief in his voice was plain, "Yet it was through Fall-From-Grace's conviction that we held together so well in your absence."
"He's right, chief. I tell ya we would've split up four ways if it wasn't for her."
"A consensus requires the agreement of all parties, Morte. Do not sell your own contributions short," Grace said modestly.
I stood up. Dak'kon was kind enough to help hold me up as I made my way around in a circle to work off the rest of the pain, "So how long was it?"
"A full tenday," Grace said, her voice soft, "All we had was time. Many hours had been spent looking through the Guvner's records of those that had escaped the Mazes. The tales were few. We even sought to hire those purported to have gone on expeditions to save those that had been victim to the Lady's wrath."
"Pikin' sods were lying through their teeth. Trust me, chief. When you've slung around as many tall tales as I have you know who's planning to give you the laugh and who isn't."
"Seemed so much longer than ten days..." I groaned. With each step it was becoming easier to speak, "Seemed like weeks. Months. No way to tell the time, memories layered over memories..."
"Query: by what mechanism did one escape the inverted spatial dimension known in singular as the Mazes?"
"I'll explain it later. For now, I could really use something to eat."
Seared scallops in a savory-sweet Arborean wine sauce, clam and saffron stew over a bed of pasta, cubed steak seasoned with shiftspice, and a mug of sweet Ysgardian mead.
I was doing my best to savor it slowly. Wouldn't do well to celebrate my escape by horking it all down and having it come back up in an alley.
"Sir, might I interest you in a lovely oil-poached duck? Sliced thin, garnished with Arborean truffles and a sauce of-"
"One serving. And another bowl of that venison stew."
"Fall-From-Grace," Nordom chirped, "is it true that 'every woman thinks floating skulls are hot stuff?'"
"Why, whoever told you that, dear Nordom?" the barest quirk of her lips hinted at her amusement.
"No one! No one told him that!"
Nordom had been trying to mimic our mannerisms, and the barkeep was kind enough to give him an empty mug to play with. He spent a few moments knocking the lip of the mug against his face, but eventually gave it up and contented himself by playing with his crossbows. They made a variety of clicking noises, first one, then the other, as if conversing.
"What are you doing with your crossbows?"
"Attention, Nordom: required!" Nordom turn-swiveled to me, stuttered in mid-path, then re-oriented himself with a klank. "Response to Query: Action being performed on crossbows? Submit Request for Clarification: Null crossbows present."
"You have a pair of crossbows right there, Nordom," I pointed with a chicken bone. It was in the process of being gnawed clean.
"Clarifaction: Statement 'rife with fallacies.' Nordom does not employ crossbows." He stuttered for a moment, then suddenly the crossbows were pointing at me - but I didn't see them move. "N-N-N-Null crossbows."
"Don't point those crossbows at me."
I blinked for just a moment - and the crossbows were suddenly pointing at Nordom. He seemed oblivious to their movements, his gaze remaining focused on me. "Contradiction not initiate contraction. Null crossbows."
"Oh, really? What do you call those two -klicking- things in your hands, Nordom?"
"Response: Two -KLICKING- objects held in opposable digits." Nordom raised his riveted fingers and waved the two crossbows, which suddenly started klikking and twanging, as if in irritation. "Response: Objects = Gear spirits."
"Gear spirits? What do you mean?"
"Query: Define: Gear spirits. Response: Gear spirits."
"Yeah, but what are gear spirits?"
"Chief, as much fun as this is, prying a bar stool out of a baatezu's rear might prove more worthwhile than rattling our bone-boxes with this stupid polygon."
"Do you know what gear spirits are, Morte?" I cleaned off my fingers with a damp cloth.
"Chief, I have no idea what this cube is rattling on about."
"I thought you were the expert on the Planes."
"Wh - I know more than you, you staggering, guttural amnesiac! 'Sides, here's three more bits of knowledge to rattle around in that empty brain-box of yours: one, there are NO experts on the Planes, two, I'm the closest thing to one you're going to find, and three, treat me with some respect. Why? See the second reason."
"Nordom, what are modrons?"
There was a klik-klik-klik as Nordom executed a rapid series of blinks, then he chrrruped. "Query: Modron, what is? Define: Modron? I am modron."
"Yes, but what is a modron?"
"Query: Modron, Defined: Modron, I am a modron, Answered." The shutters over Nordom's eyes kliked shut a few times, and his 'eyes' dilated to points. "New Query -"Modron, But what IS? Define: But what is Modron? Modron is Nordom. Backward Nordom = Modron."
"Aighhhh! For the sake of the Powers and my sanity, cut it out! He's going to snap a crank if you keep asking him that over and over!" Morte yowled.
I shrugged, giving my mug a shake to signal the bartender for a refill, "Well, I wanted to know the answer, and I was getting it from him."
"Look, chief, NORMAL modrons barely understand anything beyond their basic tasks, and this stupid polygon here is fresh off the Planes to boot. Don't confuse the cube, all right? At least, not while he's armed. You want to know about modrons, ask me, not him."
"All right, Morte... what can you tell me about modrons?"
"It's like this, chief: Modrons are these stupid geometric shapes that clank around on their home plane, Mechanus -- they're really tidy, orderly, and they'd like the REST of the multiverse to be, too. That's why they're such pests."
"You don't sound like that thrills you much."
Morte glanced at Nordom, who was holding up his left crossbow to the side of his head, as if listening to it.
"Because, chief, chaos has its place. And if everything was the way a modron sees things, it wouldn't be much of a life... at least a life I'd want to live. They just want to make everything structured. Yechhhh."
"Such balance between law and chaos is the way of the People. It is through the discipline of knowing the teachings of Zerthimon that we unite being and nonbeing, shape cities and weapons from primal chaos-matter through order," Dak'kon added sagely.
I nodded, "And what's Mechanus?"
"It's the plane where all these clockwork drones come from. Ask him about it, see what he says. It's where they sit around and tidy up everything all the time... catalogue this, put this in order, put that in order, make that law, and so on and so forth."
"Tell me about Mechanus, Nordom."
Nordom froze, then slowly the gears in his elbows began turning in a slow, hypnotic synchronization. "Define/Query: Mechanus. Plane of Order. Sense. Cause generates Effect. Predictable. Law. Logic. Regimented. Obedience. Gears turn. Mechanus = Nordom Origin. Mechanus = Null Home/Nordom."
Morte gagged, "See? Boring in every sense of the word, chief. Imagine a plane filled with modrons and big turning gears, and you have the great big BORING plane of Mechanus. Too many laws, too annoying. A place you wouldn't even want to think about, let alone visit."
Fall-From-Grace nodded. "Morte is correct - modrons share a common 'energy.' In some ways, this energy links all of them. When one of them dies, the energy is absorbed back into the common pool, and a new modron is created from that energy. When a modron goes... rogue... then he severs the link from his kind and takes a small part of the energy with him."
Morte glared at Fall-From-Grace. "Do you mind? I had the answer covered, thank you. I'm the font of information here, NOT you, all right?"
Fall-From-Grace nodded slightly. "My apologies, Morte. I did not mean to offend."
"Morte, I need all the information I can get, so don't get territorial on me," I grunted. I wasn't aware that he could get snippy at anything with a pair of breasts, "If Fall-From-Grace has something to add, then I want to hear it, all right?"
"Oh, I get it! Maybe if I was a succubus, you'd listen to ME more often, that it? Maybe if I showed a little skin once in a while, then I'd get some respect, huh? That's pretty shallow, chief, pretty shallow! Why, I ought to -"
"Morte..." Fall-From-Grace broke in gently. "I must confess, without your original foundation of information, I would have been hard-pressed to explain the situation... frequently, your use of metaphors and phrases makes it much easier for others to understand your explanations. It makes you a far better teacher than I."
"Oh, yeah?! I...?! Well...! Yeah, you just... yeah, you hear that, chief? What the succubus said? She's right. I'm easier to understand, more 'wise to the chant,' know what I'm saying? So you need me around, see?" Morte's mood had spun half-circle, and by the sound of it it seemed he didn't understand how that happened himself.
"Right, so I have another question: you're both saying Nordom is part of this Source, but he's cut off from it. And when a modron dies, they're re-absorbed. Will Nordom be?"
Morte and Grace nodded.
"And if he dies, another Nordom is created."
"Eh... no," Morte grunted. Fall-From-Grace looked at Nordom sympathetically.
The skin of my forehead was tight with scars, but I felt my eyebrows furrow. "What happens?"
"Well, they'll take his energy, chief, and they'll spit out another modron, but it won't be Nordom, because he's not really a modron anymore; he's got too much of the Planes in him. They'll make a non-Nordom replacement."
"So... in turning rogue, he's become... mortal?" I looked at Nordom, who was once again amusing himself with a patron's mug. He had turned it on its side to examine it, and blinked in confusion at the pale golden ale that poured out.
Morte paused for a moment. "Well... yeah, you could put it like that. I mean, if he hadn't had his little rogue rebellion, then he'd be fine... if he died, another modron would pop up just like him. But since he became 'backwards' - well, that part's going to be lost when he dies."
I didn't like how that sounded, and turned to Nordom, "I'm curious, Nordom... how did you end up in Rubikon?"
Nordom chrrruped. "Query requires submitting of Chronology: Shall Nordom submit chronology?"
Thinking that he would've started in on his story immediately I had helped myself to a generous mouthful of noodles. It took a moment to confirm. "Yes, I would like to know."
"Orders received at initiation of Rubikon project: Departure from Plane/Mechanus. Stage First: Arrival at Destination: Plane/Limbo. Stage Second: Parameters dictated by Superior/Creative Director: Shaped matter of Plane (Limbo) to test hypothesis. Rubikon dungeon constructed. Superior/ - Director of 'Create' - lost in field test. Chronology disrupted upon achievement of Stage Second, Third Stage (disruption) occurs, not part of project directives."
It took a moment to parse his odd Modron grammar. I chose to fill that moment with more noodles. "What happened during this third stage?"
"Third Stage, unprecedented: Nordom-specific stage. Hypothesis: Lack of Director, plus Exposure to Plane (chaos) resulted in perspective of /Nordom/ to deviate from norm."
"'Deviate from norm?' How?"
"Introspective cycle commencing." Nordom kliked his eyes closed and began to hum. A few moments later, his eyes kliked open. "Introspective Evaluation: Perceptions have become (1) smaller and (B) louder. Wings have been replaced with arms: reason unknown. Suspicion/hypothesis: not liked wings? Speculation. Nordom was once -ONE- but is now smaller, louder -ONE!- Change has resulted in information-processing difficulties."
"What was this field test?"
"Superior/ - Director of 'Create' - field test: Scouting perimeters of Rubikon (Difficult) Dungeon construct to determine: Variances. Many deviations detected: errors considerable." Nordom gave a low whine and shut his eyes with a klik. "Director of 'Create' not return from field test."
"I heard that the Rubikon Wizard disintegrated the Creative Director."
"Suspicion, Unsubstantiated = Now Confirmed: Superior encountered an error." Nordom's eyes kliked again, as if to clear them. "Query: The error was large and unexpected?"
"I'll say. I don't think he had much difficulty in wiping out the Director." Man that wizard was a tough one. For a moment the flavor of the wine died in my mouth at the memory of Ignus being abandoned there, crushed to death by the gears.
"Processing new information..." Nordom stared at me for a moment in silence, then there was a low grinding of gears from inside his frame. After a moment, he chrrruped. "Fate of Creative Director confirmed. Director = Nulled."
"Well, actually, Nordom, I'm the new Creative Director of Rubikon."
Nordom stared at me for a moment in silence, then a slow whrrrr came from inside his frame and he KLIKED. I wasn't certain, but it sounded like something clicked into place.
"Uh... you all right, Nordom?"
"Status Updated: Creative Director now re-affirmed in hierarchy." To my surprise, some of the warbling had gone out of Nordom's voice; it was more level, more controlled than it was before. The effect was a little unnerving.
"Hmmmm. Nordom... out of curiosity, what sort of duties is the Creative Director responsible for? And how much do you have to obey him?"
A slow tkkk-tkkk-tkkk began building in Nordom - like a clock about to explode. "Response: Responsibilities of Director: (A) Integrity-Maintenance of Rubikon Project, (2) Order-Issuance to Rubikon battalion/work group. Period of obeyance in accordance with Nordom obedience: Until Rubikon project halted, Creative Director = Nordom's superior."
"So... you'll do whatever I tell you?"
"Do a little dance for me, Nordom."
Nordom immediately performed a little jig. His gears clanked and his joints squeaked, but it was about as merry a jig as a modron could perform. When he was finished, Nordom settled, then his eyes kliked open. "Order processed."
"Well that sure made my day, chief."
I chuckled, then looked to Nordom. He still seemed a little dotty and had trouble focusing. Maybe I could fix him. "Nordom, I want you to focus on clearing out any excess baggage from your memory and use it to improve your logic and introspection routines."
"Affirmatory." There was a moment of silence, then the shutters slowly descended over Nordom's eyes. There was a tkk-tkk-tkk from inside his frame, followed by a low grinding noise. The grinding noise turned into a metal screeching, as panels opened up in Nordom's sides, and... excess "baggage" started flying out. I caught each piece as they were expelled.
One of the gears in particular looked intriguing.
"Hmmm. What sorts of tasks did the Creative Director ask you to do?"
Nordom's shutters whrrred down over his eyes, as if he was thinking. "Task Routine: Evaluation/Forward-Scout/Tidier: Assigned perimeter of Rubikon project to evaluate, catalogue, tidy, then report. Report includes: In-in-in-tegrity Evaluations/Extermination of Project Errors/Wayward Item Recovery of Un-Tidiness."
"Repeated word choice confirmed (Echo?): Inter-grity evaluation. Evaluation intended to detect flaws in Rubikon project, catalogue them, then /repair/ such flaws. Nature of Multiverse and nature of Plane: Limbo compromises Rubikon Project."
"How does the, uh, Multiverse... and Limbo... compromise the Project, exactly?"
"Properties of Multiverse: - Cracks - Seals - Cracks Again - Flaws Created. Creates "portals"/conduits in space. Frequency: Pattern Indeterminate. Solution: Unknown." There was a sssss as a small trace of steam rose from one of Nordom's vents. "Nordom cannot repair/seal cracks. Current Status: Nordom is limited to: perception of cracks."
"Hold on a minute. You can see 'cracks' in Planes? Portals? How?"
"Ability to detect portals: 80-90% Percent. Maximum Distance of Perception Varies According to Flaw/Mean Distance = Y+78..." A bewildering series of kliks came from Nordom, as if a parade of snapping beetles were marching around inside his body. "Nordom must approach within ten feet of portal. Margin of Error: +/- 5th of Foot. Will sound off if near portal."
I hoped he wasn't about to pop a gasket or something. "And the extermination of errors?"
Nordom's normal warble dropped to a wavering murmur. "Errors: Many. All constructs in Rubikon Project are in error and exist in dis-obeyance with Creative Director and all personnel of Rubikon project. Order issued: Errors that persist in dis-obeyance are to be rescinded. Obstacle: Nordom not up to specifications of task without suffering Null State."
"So you couldn't stop these rogue constructs by yourself... at least without being torn gear from gear?"
"Affirmatory. Null State counter-productive to completion of task."
"Well, maybe if they'd given you better weapons..."
The crossbows in Nordom's hands began klikity-klikking and ta-wanging like a pair of strange insects. He listened to them for a moment, then glanced at me. "My crossbows wish to file a query followed by thirty-three pleas for help: 'Ammunition limited by suggestions of creator.' Do you wish to provide new specifications for them?"
"Sure..." I pondered a moment, "Well, how about something like... I don't know - a pyramid-shaped head, except the head splits into three when it hits something?"
There was a sudden ping from Nordom's crossbows and a sheaf of crossbow bolts began spitting out from their tops, arcing into the air. Two panels opened up on Nordom's sides, and the crossbow bolts sailed into them with a rattle, one after the other. After streaming out ten or so, the crossbows were silent. I had a strange feeling that they were exhausted.
"Maybe they should rest for a while... what about Wayward Item Recovery?"
"Affirmatory. Items appear in maze that were not present in original design of Rubikon Project. They must be gathered, catalogued, evaluated and stored to prevent interference. Modrons are sent out to retrieve them and secure them."
"Hmmm. Did you find anything during your last trip?"
"Can you give me what you found?" Hopefully these goodies would be more valuable than the random crap Rubikon spat out as rewards.
"Affirmatory." There was a moment of silence, then the shutters slowly descended over Nordom's eyes again. A tkk-tkk-tkk rumbled from inside his frame, followed by a whrrr-klik. A hatch opened up in Nordom's left side, and he reached over with his free hand and passed off several objects to me, including a stream of copper coins.
This was the best day ever.