|Chapter6 - The Bunker||Chapter8- Counter Coup 101|
"Is it permissible to ask how you are doing, or is that information that is not permitted to mortals?" Asked Liz.
"It is not permitted to mortals, but strictly speaking neither of you is mortal. And, like most secrets the costs of secrecy far outweigh the benefits. Besides which, as you have pointed out to me, I'm the father of lies, so you have no way of knowing whether I'm telling you the truth.
"As near as I can figure, Hell has been taken over by vulture capitalists."
Rex winced and coughed. "They're planning to sell off the assets? Run the stock price up based on their profits from the asset sales? Pay themselves huge bonuses for their acumen? Then get clear before the bubble pops? How are they going to do that? Which is to say, sell what assets and to whom?"
"Exactly. There really aren't many marketable assets. Nor is there any market for the assets. But that isn't going to stop them. Apparently they are going to print and sell something called Afterlife Reward Certificates (ARCs) that pay 2000 basis points over the prime rate. The ARCs will be backed by the full faith and credit of the devil himself. They'll use the revenue from the bond sales to pay the interest. They'll bury the huge deferred debt in a footnote on page 63 of their financial statement if they can't find an accountant that will find a way to disappear it off the books entirely. And they'll be long gone when the problems come home to roost."
"But," said Liz. "That's utterly transparent. They can't possibly persuade anyone with the slightest amount of common sense to buy those things."
"Quite true. And the 1.74% of the population with the slightest amount of common sense won't touch them. Everybody else however ..."
"So, you're going to put a stop to that?"
"Maybe. First, I'd need a plan to stop them. Then I'd need allies and allies always expect something in return or turn out to be more of a problem than my enemies or have some other drawback. And maybe there are some beneficial features to ARCs. Maybe they kill puppies (Rex growled) or blight roses (Liz glared).
"OK, I'm kidding about the puppies and roses. I love dogs -- especially puppies -- and have my own rose garden on top of the Pentagram building. (For the record, the devil, in reality, couldn't care less about puppies. He regards them much as he does oak trees or lamp-posts. Things that are there. He has nothing against roses, but his garden on top of the Pentagram hasn't been tended in millenia and when it was, it contained mostly plants rich in psychoactive compounds and/or lethal poisons).
"I expect that ARCs will destabilize the financial markets eventually and destabilization should be good for my business. Since these guys are mortals, they seem to be overlooking one small problem with their scheme. ... Sooner or later they are going to die and I am going to get to disposition their soul and its activities for the next trillion or so years. Seems to me like they should have written a business plan. Maybe they'd have noticed that potential problem if they had.
"Anyway, I need some time to work out my strategy. In the meantime, Rex -- we really need to know what she is up to. I understand your reticence to get involved in the affairs of quasi-deities. But if she fires off a Bandersnatch, the damn thing will be a danger to everyone and everything ... even you and Liz."
"I agree. I'm on it."
"Liz, you're under no obligation to help me, but if you are willing, I'd take it as a great favor if you hung with Rex and helped him out where you can.
"Is it, like, dangerous?"
"Normally, I'd say no, but you need to understand that the Red Queen -- who we don't usually name because she sometimes knows when you are talking about her -- is something of a special case. She's a manifestation of the the great female force in the universe. That's what holds families and planets together. It's gravity sort of. And a lot of other things. But, she's not a very pleasant manifestation. Lots of envy, vengeance, cruelty, duplicity, sadism. Think a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Leona Helmsley, and Sarah Palin. So the rest of us try to humor her and stay out of her way. If you think that you or Rex have come to her attention, quit what you are doing, get clear, and let me know immediately. I can protect you and it is very likely that you will need protection.
"So, she is evil incarnate?"
"No, not really. It's more complex than that. But you might not notice the difference. ..." He thought for a moment. "Treating her like evil incarnate might work pretty well for you."
Rex spoke up. "There doesn't seem to be any electronic surveillance network in the bunker. At least not that I can find. That means I can't tap into it."
"She doesn't have spies every three meters?" Satan arched his eyebrows. Three of them despite only having two eyes. "I find that really hard to believe."
"Oh no. She has surveillance. Cameras and microphones. And they review them back at the castle. I can see that after a fashion sometimes. But they are sneakernetting the media in and the recordings out. I think they are using bats."
"They are hitting their tapes and discs into the site with baseball bats?" asked Liz incredulously.
"Given the origins of the lady and her subjects, cricket bats would be more likely, but no, I think that Rex is talking about small mammals with wings."
"I'm going to have to go in physically." said Rex. "And I'm going to need a support person and getaway driver just in case things go wrong.
Satan looked at Liz. Rex looked at Liz. Liz looked to see if someone was standing behind her. No one was. "What, exactly would I be expected to do?"
"Well" said Satan. "You'd be expected to cross three deserts, one tropical swamp and two mountain ranges, enter her castle by rappelling down a 2km high sheer cliff, sneak up on three or four guards -- no more than seven max -- and quietly strangle them. Then you need to scale a 10 meter wall, pick the lock to the facility, disable the alarms, string an explosive charge along the hanger wall and set up to steal a supersonic helicopter that they keep in the hanger there. Then you haul Rex up on a rope and carry him down a hall eluding 40 or 50 laser beams that you'll face visible with the face powder from your makeup kit. Then you return to the hanger and position a monster forklift to charge through a glass wall and rescue Rex if the need arises. If nothing goes wrong, extraction is the reverse of entry -- except you don't have to unstrangle the guards. I can do that remotely."
"And in the exceedingly unlikely event that anything goes wrong?"
The devil looked at Liz as if she were retarded. Speaking slowly and carefully as if to a very slow learner, he said. "If anything goes wrong while Rex is in the facility, drive the forklift through the wall at high speed. Then, before it falls into the crocodile pit, you leap to one of the hanging cables (don't confuse them with the rotten roots) and swing onto the platform. Disable the guards and use their automatic weapons to shoot your way to Rex. Then you carry him back to the pit, swing on the cables with one hand, blow the charge and escape in the helicopter ... if they don't shoot it down." Then he cracked up.
Liz was beginning to adapt to the devil's sense of humor, and had strongly suspected from the start that she was being set up. She laughed for a suitable period, then asked. "What do you really want me to do?"
"Not much. We'll inject you and Rex by tunnel. Notwithstanding your prior bad experiences with the tunnels, dogs have a natural feel for the blasted things. Rex will get you to the right place. Then you enable his surveillance devices. That's hard for him to do with paws. He'll sneak them in and position them. We'll show you how to enable them and run you through the routine until you can enable them in your sleep. And we'll show you how set a charge to blow the tunnel. You just monitor his emergency channel. If anything goes wrong Rex will tell you and will come into the tunnel at about Mach 4. You blow the charge as soon as he's safely in, and then the two of you get out of there."
"And when are Rex and I to undertake this adventure?"
Satan reached into his backpack and consulted a book roughly the size of an unabridged dictionary. "Well, let's see. The rules say we have to send you off to Oklahoma City for six weeks training. Then you'll have to defend your training to the certification board, then you'll need an internship. Two year apprenticeship. And the state qualification test.
"... But maybe we can cut a few corners.
"... How about tomorrow afternoon?"
"Sure" said Liz. She stood at attention with a slight lob-sided grin.
"What are you doing?" asked Satan.
"I'm channeling Angelina Jolie"
"You'd do better to channel Angelina Jolie's stunt double," responded Satan
Liz stiffened and looked shocked. "Angelina does not use a stunt double."
Satan arched an eyebrow. "Believe whatever you wish. It doesn't really matter. I swear on a stack of bibles that this job is risk free."
"A stack of bibles indeed. I'll wager that all you use bibles for is impromptu door stops"
"They're good for that too, but mostly we use them for insulation."
And sure enough, by 3:00 the following afternoon, Liz had memorized what was known about the layout of the Red Queen's armory, knew exactly how to activate Rex's sensors and had completed Bomb Prep 1A with good marks and no significant physical damage to either herself or the training facility that had been set up in the gymnasium. Liz, Satan and Rex gathered at the bunker entrance.
"OK, let's go over the plan one more time." Said Satan. They did. "Well then," said Satan. "There is one last thing. False ID" Satan reached into his ever present backpack and extracted a dog collar with numerous dangling tags as well as a metal chain with two standard issue military dog tags on it. He replaced Rex's collar with the new one, and handed to chain to Liz. Liz examined the dog tags, shrugged, and put them on. "Who, exactly is this FCAII in whose army I am a Major-General?"
"First Church of Apollo the Immortal and Incandescent. You don't think I want that vindictive bitch blaming ME if you get caught? But don't worry, if there is a problem, I, not the FCAII, will extricate you. Oh, and one other thing."
"Yes" said Liz somewhat absently because she was still trying to reconcile 'perfectly safe' with 'if you get caught'.
"Your outfit. Jeans and a sweater are fine for a hike or around the bunker here, but a commando raid calls for more appropriate attire."
"Well, yes. Think back on movies you've seen. The heroine is always wearing something scanty. Or skin-tight and revealing. Or maybe a bikini made out of metal."
"Or full combat gear" interjected Liz. "I think I'll go with the latter. Plus perhaps a Kevlar vest."
"You're sure you wouldn't prefer an evening gown with a few strategic rips?"
Satan pulled fatigues, a helmet, boots, socks, and a vest from his backpack. and handed them to Liz who retired to the Ladies Room to put them on.
When Liz returned, Satan whipped out a checklist and made Liz and Rex verify each and every item. He wanted them to synchronize watches, but Liz said that she hadn't owned a watch since she was 11 because her cell phone would show her the time whenever she needed it. She also asked rather pointedly why they needed to know the time since nothing in the mission seemed to depend on it. Satan retorted that synchronizing watches was tradition. Rex broke in to point out that he neither owned nor needed a watch because -- like all dogs -- had an internal clock for determining feeding and walk times that was accurate to plus or minus seven seconds. Satan grumbled and desisted.
"OK" said Satan, you two ready? Rex shook himself down and said "Yes"
Liz shook herself down as well.
"Pretty Good for a human" said Rex. "But it's all in the head -- not the brain, the head. It's how you move the head. Try this." Rex twisted his head in a peculiar fashion.
Liz tried to emulate Rex.
"She's got it. I really think she's got it." Said Rex
Liz said "You know that really does seem to help, Thanks". To Satan, she said "Ready".
Satan looked bemused, shrugged, and keyed the bunker entrance open. Liz and Rex set out toward the rabbit hole shaft with Liz carrying their gear in a wicker picnic basket. About 30 meters down the shaft was a side tunnel that Liz was quite sure had not been there three weeks ago. Rex turned into it. They were on their way.
It was deja vu all over again. Red carpet, paneling, Respighi quickly giving way to drywall to bare rock. Carpeting to concrete to dirt. And the familiar sickly greenish light and silence. "Do all the tunnel builders use the same interior decorator?" asked Liz
"In fact, they do." Said Rex. "A prissy French poodle named Muffy. I'm biding my time. Sooner or later I'll catch old Muffs off her leash and deal with her properly. Muffy must die. But, as long as she stays in her sanitized bubble, there isn't much I can do other than make idle threats."
They moved through the tunnel with Rex, nose to the ground, slightly in the lead. Rex didn't even pause at tunnel junctions apparently selecting the proper one by following some scent trail. Liz asked "I don't suppose there is any fast food in these tunnels? I could do with a burger and fries that do not taste like white pine."
"Sorry. It'd be a good idea and maybe I'll look into it when this gig with you and him ends. But, no. There used to be a chain of Howard Johnson's, but their food tasted like cottonwood to the extent that it had any taste at all. They folded decades ago."
Another two dozen tunnels and Liz asked, "Rex, if anything happens to you, how can I find my way out through this maze?"
"I don't think you can. The big red guy should be able to extricate you, but if he can't, take any tunnel that has a red EXIT sign. That'll get you to the surface. Then you just follow a drunken gourd and eventually you'll end up at the rabbit hole. You won't really need food or water, so it's just a matter of walking a few thousand kilometers. Shouldn't even take you a year."
"A drunken gourd?"
"Yeah, ambulatory yams that lurch around a lot. Just look for one, and you'll see it. Almost all vertebrates except a few who are really locked into their version of reality -- Springer Spaniels, biblethumpers, dittoheads, Libertarians, and Marxists can see them. Been around here forever. A lot like GPSes. Usually work, sometimes take you by odd routes. Get snotty when you don't follow their directions. Don't handle traffic circles well.
When you see one, tell it to lead you to the rabbit hole and it will. I'd use one to get to the red queen's bunker if the path weren't so obvious." Rex trotted into a side tunnel without even pausing. Liz followed.
Five minutes later Rex stopped at the base of a ladder, raised his leg, and urinated on the wall. "We're here and with this urine I attest that this is MY territory." He announced.
"I know we're here. Where's here?"
"We're under her bunker. About 3 meters below the main entrance to the hanger. You'll want to set charges in the tunnel on both sides of the hatch. If I come back moving fast, give me a count of three to get clear of the charges, then blow them, grab your stuff and hightail it after me. I'll pace myself to you, but it'd be a great idea not to dawdle.
Liz set charges in the tunnel (avoiding the wet spot where Rex had peed). Then she enabled the cameras and recorders and slung them around Rex's neck. She sat cross legged on the floor with her back against the wall. She looked at Rex. Rex looked at her. "Rex" she said, "How are you going to climb a ladder?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not good for more than 15 meters of vertical without someplace to rest, but 3 meters is piece of cake. Coming down is really more of a problem, but a 3 meter fall is well within my design specs so I'll just free-fall it. You'all ready?"
"OK, then, let's check communications, and then get this over with."
They did a radio check ... ehrrr ... well, OK ... something analogous to a radio check. Then Rex shook himself down, took off down the tunnel, somehow changed direction and scampered up the ladder.
Rex's barely intelligible voice crackled over the ... ehrrr ... radio. "Lovebunny, this is LoveMachine. Do you read me?"
"LoveMachine this is Lovebunny. I read you five by. Is that OK?"
"Lovebunny - LoveMachine. I read you. I'm in a tunnel. I have four packages to deliver. I'm proceeding West."
"Roger LoveMachine. Who the hell made up these handles?"
"Probably not the best time or place to discuss that. Deniability and all that."
A new voice broke in. Feminine. Icy. "Who the hell did make up those preposterous handles?"
"Lovebunny, was that you?"
"I don't think so. Was it you LoveMachine?"
"It was me. Let's call me LoveGodess for the time being. I also am in a tunnel. Same tunnel as Lovebunny in fact. Between her and the path out of here."
It took Liz about 15 seconds to parse that. She turned her head and looked at the outbound tunnel. About 10 meters down the tunnel stood an figure. Tall, slender, rather hazy,white-robed. The face and hair were indistinct, but the sense of presence was immense.
"You're her, aren't you?"
"Yes, No, and Maybe. I am one of her manifestations."
"And you aren't really here? But that doesn't much matter?"
"I am not actually here exactly. But for your purposes, that doesn't matter."
"And Re ... ehrr Lovemachine ... and I are in deep trouble?"
"No, not really. You and I need to talk a bit, and it might be a good idea for Rex/Lovemachine to drop his sensors and come back here. I'll have my people install the sensors. I don't think there would be any problem if Rex finished his mission as long as he doesn't make any mistakes, but why take chances? Besides my folks will do a better installation job."
"Lovebunny, this is Lovemachine. I heard that. Can you think of any reason that I shouldn't comply?
"Rex, If you are absolutely certain you can bail safely, do so. Otherwise, I think you should drop the sensors and come back here with due deliberate speed. But I'm not in charge of this mission, am I?
"You are now, Li ... Lovebunny. This is Lovemachine jettisoning the sensors and returning to base."
"OK folks, Let's make this quick. This is NOT a good place for a meeting. You two need to get yourselves the hell back to Hell. Rex ... Lovemachine, this isn't really about you, but you're welcome to listen. First of all, we, the manifestations (except 'her'), have absolutely no intentions of allowing a Jaberwock or Bandersnatch deployment in Wonderland or anyplace else. As far as we can tell, what 'she' is working on is something closer to a neutron bomb. We're not wild about that either, but we think she can be talked out of using it -- assuming she can actually make it -- which is by no means a certainty. Anyway, we're on this and are probably better equipped to deal with it than you are.
Lovebunny, We have developed a concern about who you are and what you are doing in the afterlife. We're quite sure that you don't belong here. And we don't currently have any knowledge about why you are here. We also don't currently think you are an element in anything we care about. But we do think you need protection just in case. Your other friend can handle that. One of my sister manifestations is having a drink with him and explaining the situation. We don't want you on any more solo missions (Sorry Rex. Make that 'risky missions') until we have things sorted out. Any questions?"
Liz sat more or less open mouthed. She thought a while, then shrugged. "Probably should have questions. But no, nothing I can articulate that make any sense."
"Right then. Until we meet again." The apparition faded and vanished. A few tens of seconds later, Rex crashed down the ladder. Liz gathered up the explosives, disarmed them, grabbed the picnic basket and the two fled hellwards.
And thus ended Liz's adventures in Wonderland. As they loped through apparently endless tunnels with Rex choosing the turns, Liz formulated her response the next suggestion that she and Rex execute a clandestine mission. She had gotten as far as "Screw you Beelsy. This time I play mission control and YOU set the damn charges, furthermore ..." when they debouched from the side tunnel in front of the bunker door. They shook themselves down, Liz opened the door, and they re-entered what they had come to think of as their bunker.
//Dear Reader, this will be the last we hear of Wonderland, although we will meet the Red Queen again. And Melinda as well.
For those who wonder about Quartermain and his crew. What the Red Queen was working on was neither a Jabberwock, a Bandersnatch, nor a neutron bomb. It was a temporal loop generator. Once deployed -- with the full approval of the manifestations who considered it mundane and harmless compared to their fears -- it put the Quartermain party into not only a physical loopback, but a temporal loopback as well. Permanent deja vu all over again if you will, living the same hot, sweaty, mosquito plauged two weeks over and over -- much like many office jobs. Eventually, after many trips through the loop with nary a tiny jewel nor a single flake of gold, the crew rose up against Quartermain and delivered him to the Red Queen in exchange for free passage to Kansas. All but three of them quickly found their way to civilization and returned to their normal lives. The remaining three settled in an abandoned town in Western Kansas, founded an Internet religion based on prophesies extracted from buffalo droppings. The buffalo having long since departed, they made their own droppings in an ancient Maytag washing machine purchased for four dollars at a barn sale. They prospered and eventually one of them -- an ex-cameraman -- ran for president of the United States eventually losing to a drug crazed used car salesman from Tennessee.//
|Chapter6 - The Bunker||Chapter8- Counter Coup 101|