Sunday, February 21, 2010

So, I'm a misandrist now

Okay, I just learned that I'm a misandrist- someone who does not like men. Being male myself, this is unusual. Well, it would be more accurate to say that I dislike the way that men are expected to act in our society, rather then the sex itself. I lay the following charges against the male species- warning, here there be stereotypes:

* They are overly raunchy and sexual
* They think of everything as a competition
* They are sexist
* They are also homophobic, to the point where they think of everything they dislike as 'gay'
* They are loud and they smell
* They are uncultured
* They are violent

These don't apply to all men, but these are, more or less, the expectations that society has for men. Indeed, many men celebrate these failings. Yes, women can be just as awful as men, but they tend to be awful in different ways.

Now, I'm not homosexual myself. I look like it, and I act like it- what with my flambouyant hand movements, unusual fashion sense, and love of theater-, but I remain robustly heterosexual. I have been mistaken for being gay a lot, though, so I have always been sympathetic towards actual homosexuals. I say, love and/or sleep with whatever sex you like, just don't involve me. But I can't be gay, because that would involve having sex with other men, who, as I have said, are a thoroughly loathsome subspecies. In fact, I dislike the term 'heterosexual' as well, since it implies a certain masculinity. Thus, I consider myself a male lesbian. I have no interest in ever getting a sex change, mind you, but on the whole, I have little use for society's perceptions of masculinity.

Now, you may be wondering what brought this on. Well, nothing, really. I had an okay day yesterday, I wasn't bullied or anything. It just occurred to me, as I returned to my dorm last night, the reason why I don't get on as well with my fellow males.

Anyway, I'm not angry about this revelation. I'm actually kind of glad that I've noticed it. Again, I don't actively hate or wish harm upon other men, I just don't like the way that our society expects them to behave. Thus, I'm beginning my personal reconquista- I'm taking the male gender back. When I'm through with it, men are going to be nicer, more tolerant, and cultured. If anyone wants to join the good fight, spread the word.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Posting from WooWoo

I'm currently at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center. No, it's not a correctional facility, despite the name. No, I'm here for a life skills/independent living course, where I will be until April. So, unless I say otherwise, that's where I'll be until then. Thankfully, I still have Internet access.

Anyway, my novel was going well until I hit a considerable snag. I know how I want to end this story, but I have no idea how to get there from here. I want my heroine to be tempted by evil, but I don't know when. In addition, for her to be tempted, she will need a good reason, and I can't seem to think of one for her to abandon her teacher, albeit temporarily. So, for now, I'm stuck. I'm trying to write an outline before I do any more prose, but I just can't seem to get out of this hole I've dug.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I think I'm becoming a Whedonite

So, I just realized, with some surprise, that I seem to be becoming a Joss Whedon fan. This is good, but I have a slight reservation in that much of Joss' fanbase is rather... rabid. There are mainstream religions that garner less devotion than Joss Whedon. I will attempt to remain a sane fan, but if I do go off the deep end, let's just say that I won't be surprised.

So, you might be asking, 'Who the hell is this Joss Whedon guy?' Joss Whedon is a screenwriter, producer, and sometime director. He is best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other cult shows. Also, according to him, any problems with his work are totally not his fault, even when they actually are. Still, he's one of the most consistently entertaining artists out there, and definitely worth a look.

I've known about Joss' work for years. Everybody's heard of Buffy, for example, even if they haven't actually seen it. I first actually became interested in Whedon's works after becoming a regular of they pretty much worship him there. Despite my interest, I didn't follow up on it for a few years.

The thing is, I've watched more television in the last several months since I got rid of my cable then I ever did when I actually had it, thanks to Hulu and Netflix. My friend (who I shall only refer to as Mr F, in reference to Arrested Development, one of the shows that he introduced me to) reacquainted me with television this summer, when I visited him up in Cape Cod. I haven't been a big TV person since I entered my teenage years. Aside from Futurama, The Colbert Report, and the few History Channel documentaries that aren't How Nostradamus Predicted Hitler's Biblical Lovechild and the Engineering that Built It, I haven't really watched much television. Mr F, on the other hand, is a big TV buff (or at least he is compared to me). While up in Cape Cod, he introduced me to Arrested Development (which is without a doubt one of the funniest goddamn shows ever aired) and Lost (which I have already mentioned my love for). When I returned home, I used the Internet to follow these shows, and this led to me branching out into other series.

Last December, I started watching Buffy. This happened more or less by accident. Hulu is, as of this writing, only showing one season at a time of several of its shows, Arrested Development among them. Having finished the first season of that show, I now had a few weeks before Hulu would put up the next one. Looking for another way to waste my time, I decided to prove my troper credentials (if you don't know what I'm talking about, see the aforementioned by watching Buffy. I was hooked. And thus was I first introduced to Joss Whedon.

Last week, I was horribly sick to my stomach one morning. I tried to fight this ickiness with the awesomeness that is Star Wars The Clone Wars, but sadly, really great animated TV shows are not a scientifically proven method of fighting stomach pain. So, I went up to bed, barf bowl and laptop in hand, and hoped for the best. I had already seen all the Buffy that Hulu was going to offer until April, so I had to look for something new to amuse myself. And so I found Firefly. I'd heard of this show before, but never actually watched it. "Let's see if this is any good," I said to myself.

Half an hour in, I would have shouted the word 'fuck' out loud, had I not been aware of other people in my house, one of whom was recovering from surgery. I did think it, though, and I like to imagine that every psychic in the county suddenly felt offended at my language. The reason for this was because it just hit me: this show only lasted for one season. I had been watching for half an hour, and I was already pissed off at the fact that it was canceled. That, my friend, is good television.

Seriously though, guys: check Firefly out. It's a Western in space. If that isn't enough of a recommendation for you, then you clearly have deficient taste. Or you just have a different opinion, but I'm going with the former because it makes me feel special.

So, now I'm a Whedonite. I'm probably not going to be obsessive or anything (I've already got Star Wars, Nintendo, and the Wold Newton universe eating my brain, thank you very much), but you have been warned.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Best and Worst of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Part One

I'm a huge Star Wars fan. Obsessive, even. But my fannish tendencies tend mostly towards the 'Expanded Universe' material- books, video games, comics, etc. There is a TON of additional material in the Star Wars universe, and most of it is actually good, surprisingly. In this, the first of what I hope will be a regular feature of my blog, I will examine what I consider to be the best and worst of this mass of fiction.

Note that I have several unpopular opinions: I liked the prequel films, the much-derided Legacy of the Force novels, and the works of Karen Traviss- who may be the single most hated writer in the franchise. In addition to that, I dislike a not insignificant portion of the novels published by Bantam Books in the 1990s. The Expanded Universe (hereafter referred to as the 'EU') fandom is very divisive, so you have been warned.

Also note that I can't seem to figure out how to embed hypertext into my posts, so I won't be able to personally supply references for those reading along. Therefore, I suggest going to the ever-helpful Wookieepedia, and looking up everything I mention, if you want background. The site can be found at

BEST: Timothy Zahn
Pretty much everyone who likes Star Wars novels loves Timothy Zahn. And why not? He pretty much created Star Wars as a literary phenomenon. There had been novels before Zahn, but none of them had the same effect on the franchise as he did. Zahn came up with many characters and concepts that would show up again and again throughout the years: the affable yet menacing villain Grand Admiral Thrawn (who can best be described as a cross between Erwin Rommel, Hannibal Barca, Robert E Lee, and Sherlock Holmes), Mara Jade (the future Mrs Luke Skywalker), Coruscant (the galactic capital planet that would later be the centerpiece of the prequel trilogy), and much more. Zahn really fleshed out the galaxy in a way that hadn't been done before, and remains to this day the king of Star Wars novelists.

WORST: Kevin J Anderson
Kevin J Anderson was a writer who more or less dominated the EU during the 90s. He once compared writing Star Wars to flipping burgers. This should tell you how much thought and care he put into his writing. Anderson's work was characterized by several recurring tropes: the Empire making yet another goddamn superweapon (of increasing ridiculousness), Jedi having practically unlimited powers, love of Mary Sue characters* (including, memorably, the Sun Crusher- a Mary Sue weapon), and just general suckiness. This wouldn't have been an issue had it been just one novel, but Anderson was more or less omnipresent during the Bantam era (Bantam held the Star Wars license during most of the 90s. Their contract expired in 1999, I believe, and Star Wars novels have since been published by Del Ray.). To be fair, his young adult stories, the Young Jedi Knights books, were actually good- though they were co-written by his wife, who I think balanced out her husband's suckiness- and were responsible for introducing many younger readers to the EU. So there is a good side to this.

* Mary Sue: a pejorative term used by writers to denote an overly idealized character, almost always used as a stand-in for the author.

BEST: Lumiya
Lumiya (born Shira Brie) was the first female Sith. Well, out-of-universe anyway (in-universe, there have been female Sith for thousands of years). She was created in the 80s during Marvel Comics' Star Wars series (the license has since shifter to Dark Horse) as an enemy to fight our heroes after the death of the Emperor. She was a badass, lightwhip-wielding cyborg (lightwhips are actually MUCH cooler than they sound) who used to be Luke's girlfriend. And it was AWESOME. After languishing in Obscure Star Wars Character Hell for years after her defeat in the Marvel comics, she returned in force (pun intended) in the controversial Legacy of the Force novel series. In this series, she set up an elaborate plan of revenge against Luke Skywalker that would make the Count of Monte Cristo hang his head in shame- carrying out assassinations and manipulations in order to inflame an already volatile political crisis, corrupting Luke's nephew, killing his wife, and just generally sending the entire galaxy to hell. Made even more magnificent by the fact that getting herself killed was part of the plan. Damn, Lumiya. Damn. Because of this, she is probably one of my favourite Star Wars characters ever. Also, I find her strangely sexy. This is weird.

Not too much to say on this one. Waru was in the horrifically dull novel The Crystal Star. He was a strange lump of flesh from another dimension that had been brought to the Star Wars galaxy in an experiment. He had some kind of cult set up around him or something, and made a deal with yet another Imperial warlord to gain power (Power for the warlord, that is. Waru just wanted to go back to his home dimension.). Okay, now. Alternate dimensions and stuff make for good material, but that never really seemed like a very Star Wars-y concept to me. They work in Star Trek, but not with Star Wars. The book itself was, as I mentioned, terribly dull- it showed characters like Han Solo bogged down and tired from paperwork, for fuck's sake! That makes it the only Star Wars novel I've ever given up on reading- I read Star Wars for fun, and this was the first time I ever found the galaxy to be depressing. And Waru symbolizes everything wrong with The Crystal Star: strange, boring, and completely out-of-place.

To finish on a higher note:
BEST: The Old Republic Era in general
The history of the Star Wars galaxy covers much more than just the decades surrounding the feature films. Many works deal with the Old Republic era- the thousands of years preceding the films-, an era of Jedi heroism and Sith villainy, of personal journeys and galaxy-spanning wars. There were the Tales of the Jedi comics, covering the histories of the Jedi and Sith (I haven't read these, but I hear that they're good). There's the Knights of the Old Republic series of video games and comic books. There's also the wonderfully dark Darth Bane novels, whose antihero Bane is both a terrible monster and a compelling protagonist. And a complete badass. There's lots of great Old Republic material out there, and I encourage you to check some of it out, if you haven't already.

So, that's today's installment of the Best and Worst of the EU. There will hopefully be more to come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rejected Plot Twists for the Final Season of Lost

So, I just got back from a visit with the producers of ABC's hit series Lost. We got to talking, as producers of pop cultural phenomena and unknown Internet personalities are wont to do, and the conversation turned towards the plotlines that they had decided to not use for the final season. I have since been given permission to share these scrapped stories with the Internet. Read on, gentle reader, and learn what is absolutely NOT going to happen in Season 6 of Lost.

1: Walt will save the day in the final episode, leading an army of polar bears.

2: It will be revealed that Christian Shephard is not only Jack and Claire's father, but the father of every other character on the show.

3: The Island is in fact the body of a dead Great Old One.

4: Jacob is revealed to be Gilligan, and his enemy is the Skipper.

5: Richard Alpert is, after a series of fake-outs, shown to not actually be Batman.

6: Vincent is the Monster.

7: There will be a musical episode, a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One of the songs was going to be a solo by Hurley, entitled "Why does all this Shit Keep Happening to Me?"

8: In an epic feat of product placement, the survivors are going to be rescued by a freighter hauling Coca-Cola.

9: The main villains of the show are revealed to be Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and JJ Abrams. The final battle will take place in ABC's offices, after the characters break out of the television.

10: The final scene will show that the entire series was just a dream by John Locke, who wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette.

The Shattered Wall, The Rest of It

Okay, I'm sorry for taking so long in serializing my story, The Shattered Wall. So, I decided, I'd post EVERYTHING. Yup, the whole story, in one post. Enjoy the weirdness! Also, sorry about the foul language. I thought it was funny when I wrote it, but I'm not so sure anymore.

When he regained consciousness, James felt a terrible sense of foreboding. He was in his bedroom in his apartment, but he did not remember anything from the night before. He had no clear memory of anything since he left work the previous day.
“Wait, what?” James asked nobody in particular.
My apologies. I am the Writer. He- James- was my own fictional construct. He was to be the protagonist in a story of my devising.
James did not look happy with this news. “So, are you saying that you have complete control over everything that is going to happen to me?”
“Don’t I have free will, or something?” he asked.
To a point, yes. But I direct the plot- in other words, the entire world around you. I know this may seem somewhat distressing, but he should be able to live with it. It will only last for a few thousand words.*
James looked thoughtful for a few minutes before finally resigning himself to his fate. “So,” he began, “what kind of story am I in, then? Am I in a mystery, or a comedy, or what? Please tell me that I’m not in a tragedy. I just got this really great girlfriend and-”
More accurately, I created a really great girlfriend for him. He hasn’t physically met her yet. He only thinks that he did.
“You can do that?”
It’s something we like to call ‘backstory’.
Anyway, I wouldn’t worry. He certainly isn’t in a tragedy- as far as I’m aware. In any event, James suddenly realized that he would be late for work if he kept up this prattling.
“Hey, you’re right!” James got dressed as quickly as he could, but stopped for a moment as he was putting his pants on. “Um... this is kind of embarrassing, but... what exactly do I do, anyway? As a career?”
James worked for a small firm called Baker Street Investigations. It was a small team of private investigators based in a rented flat two blocks from James’ apartment.
“Okay, then. A little cliche, I guess, but if it pays well, I’ll take it,” James said. “By the way, two blocks in which direction?”
Two blocks east. There. Did James have any other questions?
“Yeah. Why do you always refer to me in the past tense?”

* I need to improvise here. James was never supposed to know about his fictional nature. Hopefully, this awareness has not spread to the other characters. I do not believe that he can see the footnotes, so I should be safe here.

To prevent needless babble, I have decided to skip my narration forward by about fifteen minutes, when James was just arriving at his- wait a minute. Something’s not right. He should have been there by now.
Another ten minutes passed before James finally reached work. And why was he so late, I ask?
“Well,” James said aloud- this did not cause anyone to look at him oddly, because he was savvy enough to pretend to say this into his cell phone-, “after you left, I had breakfast. While I was eating, I forgot your directions and subsequently got lost on my way to work.”
It should be said that there are times when writing is a far greater pain than it should be. This was one of them.
James walked into the door, trying his best to ignore the narration, and walked down the hallway to Baker Street’s flat.
As he walked in, Gail the receptionist waved at him. She was a pretty woman, about thirty years old, with hair dyed blue and owner of what may have been the largest pair of glasses in existence. She was a few months pregnant, the result of a failed romance with a man that she refused to talk about. Nonetheless, she had declared that she wanted to keep and raise the child by herself, come hell or high water. Her boss was so impressed by her determination that Gail had been awarded a fifty percent pay raise. “You’re five minutes late, James,” she said. “By your standards, I think that qualifies as early.” James laughed, but Gail continued, “Julia’s here, by the way.” James’ heart skipped a beat. Julia was his new girlfriend. You know, the one that he hasn’t met yet. “There’s a new client coming in today. He should be coming in in about half an hour.”
“Who is it? What’s his problem?” James asked.
“Calls himself Carlos Leibowitz. Didn’t say what his case was. He said he’d discuss it with you and Ferdinand when he gets here.” Ferdinand Jones was James’ co-worker and most frequent partner for cases.
James thanked Gail and went to his office. Julia and Ferdinand were already in there, waiting for him. They had been idly chatting to pass the time (from what James heard before entering the room, the subject was a new film that just came out). When he came in, James gave Julia a quick hug and kiss and then-
“Hold on a second,” Juia said after the kiss finished. “What is that voice... sound... thing that I just heard talking about us?”
James (and myself, for that matter) was surprised. “What voice are you talking about?”
“The one that just said that you and it were surprised,” replied Ferdinand, who was obviously confused.
Oh god. It must have spread to you two as well.
“What must have spread?” Juila demanded.
Metafictional awareness. The knowledge that one is a fictional character. Specifically, James, Ferdinand, and Julia now knew that they were part of the story that I was writing.*
“How long has this story been going on?” asked Ferdinand, whose mind was readily able to accept the strangeness of the situation, as long as he could get some answers.
This story started about half an hour ago, when James regained consciousness after blacking out for several hours.
“That’s actually why I came here this morning,” said Julia. “I tried calling James after he finished work yesterday, and he didn’t answer. I checked the apartment, but there was nobody there. What happened, James?”
James shrugged. “I don’t know. I left the office at the usual time yesterday, and as I was walking down the street, I just blacked out. Perhaps we should be asking him.” He gestured towards the fourth wall, a motion that is completely impossible to describe.
I could not tell my characters the truth. It would completely ruin the narrative.
“No, you don’t!” James shouted. “We know that you’re there. Tell us the truth!”
I had to think a little before continuing to write. I decided to make him a deal.
“I’m listening.” said James.
Carlos Leibowitz was only a few minutes away from Baker Street Investigations. His case was, in fact, related to James’ disappearance the previous night. If he could solve the mystery, he would learn the truth behind what happened the night before. I would not directly answer the question, but I would instead help the investigators find clues. This was the best offer I was willing to give them.
After a minute’s thought, James nodded. “Fine. I accept. On one condition.”
Despite the fact that James was in no position to make demands, I decided to humour him.
“You can’t go and kill off any of the three of us. We all have to be alive by the end of this story. And no implied death scene at the end, either.”
Ferdinand, seeing an opportunity, quickly added, “And I get to sleep with a gorgeous blonde supermodel by the end.” The others looked at him. “What? I see an opportunity, and I’m taking it.”
A look of realization appeared on Julia’s face. “If he gets a demand, I want one too,” she said. “All I want is to learn about my mother at some point in this story.”
“What are you talking about, Julia?” asked James.
“My mother disappeared when I was ten years old,” she explained. “I’ve never known anything about her.” She looked puzzled. “Strange. I never really even thought about her until just now...”
They seemed like fair requests. I accepted.*
Gail’s voice sounded over the intercom (which was frankly unnecessary, since Baker Street had a very small office and only four employees). “Mr Leibowitz is here for his appointment.”
“Send him in,” said Ferdinand.
“Should I leave?” asked Julia.
“No, please stay,” James replied. “If the narrator is true to his word, we should be able to find out about your mother from this case. I think it would be better if you took part in it yourself, rather than finding out about it secondhand from us.”
She nodded. “Good idea. One problem: I’m not an employee. I’ve never done any detective work before, either.”
“Well, then, good news!” exclaimed Ferdinand. “You are now officially our intern. You’ll be gaining on-the-job training from us.”
“Won’t Frederickson mind?” she asked, referring to the owner of Baker Street Investigations, who the three of them only just remembered existed.
“Oh, she can go suck a lemon,” said Ferd (writing his full name has been getting tiresome, so from this point onwards, he shall be referred to by his nickname). “Besides, it’s not like we’re paying you or anything.”
After taking a ridiculously long time to reach the office, despite being only about twenty feet away from it when the intercom conversation ended, the office door opened, and Carlos Leibowitz entered. He was a tall man of African descent, with long blonde hair that was immaculately combed back. “You must be Mr Jones and Mr Portsmith,” he said, referring to Ferd and James, respectively, in a thick Japanese accent. “And this young lady is...?”
“Juila Chiles, our new intern,” James supplied. “Don’t mind her. She shall be assisting us in this case.”
“Interesting... very interesting...” replied Leibowitz. “I had hoped to keep this confidential between the three of us, but perhaps an extra mind on the case would not be such a bad idea after all. Besides, I would not be so selfish as to put my minor concerns over the training of new, potentially bright investigators.” He smiled, baring a set of teeth containing replacement teeth made from so many varieties of mineral that one could teach a lengthy geology course using only his mouth as a textbook.
James suppressed a giggle, evidently finding my narration to be witty. It should be noted that he was extremely easy to amuse. “Is something funny?” Leibowitz asked him.
Realizing that not everyone around him was aware of my presence, James shook him head. “No, it’s nothing,” he said. “I was just reminded of something Ferd once said. It’s a private in-joke, nothing more. It wouldn’t amuse you- you kind of had to have been there to get it.”
Leibowitz raised on eyebrow. “Quite,” he said flatly. “In any case, I suggest we move on to business. I am a very busy man, and I have little patience for distractions.”
He cleared his throat. “There is a man I want you to investigate. His name is Richard Thorndyke. He runs a large arts and crafts store downtown.”
“I know this sounds kind of impolite,” Ferd interjected, “but why do you want us to investigate a local cloth-monger?”
“I’m getting to that,” replied Leibowitz. “You see, Thorndyke also has another operation on the side, if my theories are correct. For the last six months, there has been a resurgence in murders in town. Not just garden-variety slayings, either. We are talking about organized, premeditated assassinations. Assassinations conducted by ninja.”
Julia burst out laughing. “Ninja?” she asked. “You’re kidding.” Leibowitz shook his head. “But... ninja? Haven’t they all disappeared by now?”
Now it was Leibowitz’ turn to laugh. “You truly are naive. The ninja clans have been operating in secret for centuries. Indeed, they remain one of the primary underworld organizations.”
“Let me guess,” James said facetiously, “their rivals are pirates?”
Leibowitz nodded. “Ninja, pirates, Janissaries, and the government of Luxembourg are the four most powerful crime syndicates on the planet. Nearly every gang in any city in the world is under the influence of one of these groups.”
Before any of the investigators could laugh at this assertion, I had to get sidetracked with a description. Leibowitz was right, of course. Four organizations controlled nearly all of the world’s crime.
The ninja and the pirates are fairly self-explanatory.
The Janissaries, once the personal army of the Ottoman sultans, fled underground when the organization was supposedly disbanded. They survived and kept following their hidden agenda through their criminal contacts for centuries.
There was also once a powerful crime syndicate in France during the 1800s. This organization manipulated the French government into granting it autonomous control of its own territory, thus establishing the nation of Luxembourg.
The investigators heard this narration, and despite their reservations, knew it to be true. “So,” Ferd asked, still finding the situation to be incredibly silly, “you believe that Thorndyke runs a ninja clan?”
Leibowitz nodded again. “That is what my research has led me to believe. I am determined to discover the truth of the matter. I cannot ask the police to interfere, because... let us just say that my methods of attaining this information were... not exactly the sort of thing that they would look kindly upon.”
“In other words,” said Julia, “extralegal, am I right?”
“You could call it that,” admitted Leibowitz. “In any case, these ninja killings have increased exponentially in the past six months. All of the targets have been either people who have had grievances or disagreements with Thorndyke, as well as a few of his competitors.”
“You think Thorndyke is using his newfound ninja authority to settle a few old scores?” asked Ferd.
“Exactly,” replied Leibowitz. “But before I take any action, I must first determine whether or not my theory is correct.”
Julia was puzzled. “Before you take action?” she asked. “Are you involved in this, too? Are you a pirate or something?”
Leibowitz shook his head, making a shocking change from his usual nodding. “I am no pirate, nor am I a Janissary, and I have no connection to Luxembourg.” As a point of interest, it should be noted that Leibowitz was actually from New Zealand. “One of the people murdered during the last few months was my wife. She owned a small fabric store just three blocks from Thorndyke’s business. I had left town on a business trip to London, and when I returned, she had a shuriken in her forehead.” He leaned forward, his eyes aflame. “All I want to know is if Thorndyke really killed my wife. If you can find the truth out for me, I shall take care of the rest. I will pay you one million dollars for this task.”
“Wait a minute, here,” James said. He was definitely intrigued by the monetary rewards, but he was still cautious. “You want us to investigate a group of ninja?” Leibowiz nodded. “Ninja- some of the most well-trained killers in existence?” Another nod. “And you are fully aware that none of us, as far as I am aware, have had any formal combat training?” Another nod, completing the trilogy. “Are you completely fucking insane?”
“I have yet to rule out that possibility,” Leibowitz replied, with an annoying smirk. “Who is to say that any of us are, in fact, sane? But enough of that. All I ask is that you look into this. It should not be hard to get into Thorndyke’s files.” He passed a folder across the table. “This folder contains all the information you will need.”
The investigators looked over the papers. It looked like solid information, at any rate. Besides, they had made a deal with me, insuring that they would not die over the course of this story.* Even ninja don’t seem so dangerous with that in mind, James thought. His friends felt a little awkward at hearing his thoughts like this (not to mention James’ personal annoyance at having his thoughts broadcast through the narration), but they agreed with them all the same.
Ferd spoke first. “We’ll do it.” Leibowitz beamed. “Now, don’t get carried away,” Ferd continued. “We’re only going through with this because we all have reasons to feel suicidally confident in our own fortune.* So, we’ll take your case.”
“Thank you! Oh, Vishnu, thank you!” Leibowitz cried, showing more emotion than he had up until that point. “But I must warn you: do not engage Thorndyke in combat. If he suspects you, and he truly is a ninja master, then he will kill you.”
They thanked him for the advice, and then Leibowitz left without another word. Before leaving the office themselves, the three protagonists turned towards the fourth wall.
“All right, writer,” said James, “we’re keeping up our end of the bargain. I hope you can keep up yours.”
Oh, but of course.
Ferd shook his head. “I just hope you know what you’re doing. All this stuff about ninja... this is pretty damn silly.”
Silly? Perhaps. But the silliest things can have the most serious consequences. It would do one well to remember that.
Filled with apprehension, the three plucky investigators-
“Plucky?” asked Julia. “All the adjectives in the world, and you go with ‘plucky’?”
Have I detected a complaint about my word usage?
“No, but I just think there are better words to describe us,” she replied. “’Hapless’, maybe. Or even ‘bewildered’. I just think that following ‘apprehension’ with ‘plucky’ is a little... odd.”
Julia then wisely realized that I had far more power over her and the world than she could possibly imagine, and decided to keep her mouth shut because there were many things I could do that would be worse for her than killing her.
Anyway, as the plucky investigators left their office, they found that Mary Sue Frederickson, owner of Baker Street Investigations, was waiting for them outside with Gail. Frederickson was an imposing woman, tall and in her mid-forties, with flaming red hair and a tendency to wear sunglasses at all times, even at night. Suddenly, the three protagonists had a sneaking feeling that they had seen her somewhere before, but none of them could place it.
“So, we seem to have picked up a new intern,” she stated, matter-of-factly. It was impossible to tell whether she was unhappy with this new arrangement or not.
“How did you know that?” asked Ferd.
“Never mind how I know that, Jones,” said Frederickson. “It does not concern you.”
“You’re going to get angry at us for this, aren’t you?” James asked.
Much to everyone’s surprise, she merely smiled. “No, not really. I think that this is actually a good idea.” Everyone was completely speechless. She was never this accepting of new ideas.
Ferd cleared his throat. “Okay, what’s your ulterior motive?”
Frederickson gave him an innocent look- or what passed for one when someone is wearing sunglasses. “What makes you think that I would have one? Is it so hard to accept that your boss might be charitably approving one of your ideas?”
“Yes, actually, it is. You are- and I mean this as a compliment, not an insult, mind you- a scheming, manipulative bitch. You’ve never done anything without a motive. So, what’s your angle this time?”
“I’ll tell you after you finish your investigation. Speaking of which,” she added, “be very careful. I know you’ll all be fine in the end, but just... don’t do anything stupid.”

* This is bad. Very bad. This could ruin everything. I must be more careful. From now on, any information that I do not wish them to know shall be written into the footnotes.

* I like a challenge. Besides, if necessary, I can always find a loophole.

* Sometimes, you just have to remind your characters about what has already happened. Had I not mentioned this, they likely would have broken the agreement and chose not to follow the case.

* Hm... Ferd is getting cocky. If I hadn’t made the agreement, I would kill him off early. Nonetheless, a promise is a promise... for now.

A while after that awkward conversation, the three-
“Hey, man, what the fuck?” asked James.
This was an unusual question to ask at the time, but he clearly-
“You just left us,” James explained. “Frederickson was talking, and suddenly, you just left in mid-conversation. That was, frankly, some really shitty writing on your part.”
Oh, I’m sorry, Mr Literary Critic. Did I detect someone who wanted a sudden genre change to, say, incoherent pretentious literary drivel? The kind of story with no discernible sentence structure or semblance of plot? Where fifteen pages are spent discussing the walk across the street, but summarizing all the actual action into about three sentences? They practically give Nobel Prizes away to people who can pull that kind of shit out of their asses. I could win awards and recognition, you know. Or perhaps stream-of-consciousness? I’ve been meaning to imitate Jack Kerouac for some time, you know. Or, for a more down-to-earth approach, I could just turn everything into a gritty tragedy, forcing James and his friends to watch in horror as their world crumbles to pieces around them.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” James apologized. “I just thought that the segue was awkward, that’s all.”
“James, just don’t encourage him, okay?” said Julia.
It will be edited later. In any case, the three investigators were gathered just outside of Thorndyke’s crafts store.
“So, how the hell are we going to go about this investigation?” Ferd asked. “I’m not entirely sure how one searches an arts and crafts store that doubles as a ninja hideout.*”
“This would be a great opportunity for some inexplicable deus ex machina, wouldn’t it?” Julia said aloud.
Nothing happened. Well, a car filled with pirates drove by, committing a drive by shooting against a clown that happened to be walking on the other side of the street, but that wasn’t really important.
“Ahem,” Juila continued, after watching the carnage, “I said, this would be a great opportunity for some inexplicable deus ex machina, wouldn’t it?” She started coughing, which sounded surpisingly like someone saying “hint, hint”.
Again, nothing continued to happen. There was a man who waltzed down the street with a big-lipped alligator while singing a song composed of random lyrics taken haphazardly from numerous popular songs from the Eighties, but that also wasn’t important.
“I said-” Julia began, before being cut off.
“Don’t bother,” James interrupted. “He’s not going to help us out. He’s not a clever enough writer to come up with an adequate solution to out problem.”
No, that is completely untrue. I simply decided that it would be best if my characters were able to solve their own problems, without constant intrusion from beyond the fourth wall. It makes me a stronger writer, since I never have to cop out of anything or-
“Yeah, sure,” said James. “I bet you tell yourself that every time, don’t you? Face it, you don’t know what to do with this plot line, or how to get the investigation going. You can’t think of a good way to get us to get inside the building, or how to solve the mystery that looms before us like a big... uh, looming... thing. That looms. Ominously.” He took a deep breath. “Yeah, I think I’m getting the hang of this verbose dialogue thing.”
Damn it all! He was, of course, right. I did not actually plan out the investigation beforehand, leaving me- and by consequence, my characters- in an unfortunate state of writer’s block.
“Then do something about it!” Ferd yelled. “You’re in charge! You should be causing things to happen, not prolonging discussions to increase your word count!”
Okay, you know what? Fuck these guys. They wanted deus ex machina? I decided to give them their fucking deus ex machina. A group of five men in dark suits and long leather coats walked out of the store and noticed James, Ferd, and Julia. The men appeared to recognize them, and one of the men ran back inside. The other four drew submachine guns out of their coats and opened fire on the investigators.
As they ran behind a nearby dumpster, James and Ferd glared at Julia. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” she admitted. “I totally deserved that.” And so, they all learned a valuable lesson about trying the patience of the writer.
The men stopped firing, and as a group, began stalking over towards the dumpster, with two men taking each side. James noticed that they were speaking Luxembourgish.
“Really?” James asked. “I didn’t realize that I even know what that language sounds like.” James suddenly remembered that he had spent a semester in Luxembourg learning engineering when in college. “Now that’s just a cop-out!” he yelled.
“Stop arguing with the writer, James, or you’ll get us into even deeper shit!” screamed Ferd.
Julia decided to be the voice of reason. “Guys, something doesn’t add up. These guys must be from Luxembourg.”
James nodded. “Yes, Julia. Most people who speak Luxembourgish happen to come from Luxembourg. An odd and improbable piece of information, but true nonetheless,” he said facetiously.
“No, James, think about it,” she replied. “Luxembourg is one of the world’s biggest crime syndicates. The ninja are Luxembourg’s rivals. Why would Thorndyke, a supposed ninja master, be hiring Luxembourgish thugs?”
“Could he be working both sides?” asked Ferd.
“Both sides? As far as I know, he’s only working for one,” came a voice to one side of the dumpster. The investigators looked, and saw that the four thugs had managed to surround them while they were talking. “I would come with us quietly, to speak to Mister Thorndyke. He has some questions that you might be able to answer. And if you don’t...” the thug gestured towards his submachine gun. “Well, let’s just say that there won’t be very much left of you once we’re through with you.”
Seeing that the writer had no plans for another deus ex machina-
“Wanker,” said Ferd under his breath.
“What was that?” asked a Luxembourgish thug.
“Oh, uh, nothing,” Ferd replied. “Just a, uh, minor mental condition of mine. I tend to, uh, say the word ‘wanker’ under my breath when I get captured by criminals.”
“Does this happen very often?”
Ferd nodded. The thug pulled him close towards his face. Ferd began to worry. What if the thug took this as an insult? He could be killed- unlikely, given the agreement made with the writer earlier, but still- or worse.
After a few long, terrifying seconds, the thug spoke again. “That’s too bad. I’d go see a doctor about that, if I were you. I know a good one down on Main Street. She specializes in-”
“Damn it, Henri!” bellowed one of the other thugs. “Stop fraternizing with the victims, and bring them inside!”
“All right, all right,” the thug mumbled. “I took this job to meet people, you know? I try to socialize a little, show everybody that we thugs aren’t just a bunch of heartless goons, you know? We’re good people, we’re compassionate and all that stuff. I just think it’s telling of the shape that society’s in these days, when most thugs just beat the shit out of people without even-”
His tirade was eventually cut short when he suddenly became a mute. Let it not be said that I am uncaring towards the suffering of my characters. Ferd was about to thank me when he realized that that would probably start another annoying conversation with the thugs, so he wisely kept his mouth shut.

* I like to imagine that this sounds incredibly funny when overheard out of context. Your mileage may vary, depending on how easily amused you are.

The interior of the store looked innocent enough. There were a few dozen aisles of merchandise, all filled to the brim with fabrics, cloths, buttons, needles, and other assorted artistic implements. Isn’t it ironic, Julia thought, that such a violent and destructive group of gangsters would use such peaceful and creative imagery as a front? She also found it strange that none of the shoppers seemed to notice that anything was out of the ordinary when a group of well-armed thugs in long leather coats walked in with three captives in tow. They didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were holding the investigators hostage. This seemed to imply that this was a relatively common occurrence at this store.
The goons brought their captives to the back of the building, where they marched them through a door marked ‘Employees Only’. The plucky heroes- I could call them this, since they were being escorted by guards and in no position to complain about my word choices- were mildly disappointed to discover that the back of the store held not a traditional ninja dojo, but perfectly ordinary-looking offices. They were dragged* passed a water cooler, where one of the thugs waved at a femme fatale dressed in a remarkably revealing outfit. This is standard dress code for any female assassin in the employ of a major crime ring.
The woman waved back and said, “Oh hi, guys. The boss is downstairs. He wants you to bring the prisoners to him.” Why she said this in English rather than Luxembourgish is anyone’s guess.
The guard who appeared to be the leader nodded and opened a door on the left. The door led to a stone stairwell, which went down deep underground. Thankfully, the stairwell was neither dark nor slippery- it was immaculately cleaned and lit by phosphorescent ceiling lights. The overall effect was that of a place that someone had put a lot of time and effort into making appear ominous and imposing, but was reminded at the last minute that the earlier plans were not up to modern standards for safety, and thus had to hastily tack on modern conveniences. It was actually quite amusing, assuming one goes in for bathos.
The stairs seemed to go forever- the investigators seemed to lose all track of time as they went down. Were they walking for five minutes? Ten minutes? An hour? All they could tell was that this massive underground complex was clearly violating some city zoning ordnance. Occasionally, they would pass a landing leading to another door, but they were not allowed to stop at any of these. Sometimes, they would hear unidentifiable noises coming from behind the doors, but whatever they were, they did not sound pleasant.
Finally, after what seemed an age- in actuality, it was only eight minutes, if anyone was interested-, they reached the bottom of the stairwell. Before them stood a massive chamber. The walls were decorated with shields and ancient weapons, although James could have sworn that he also saw a flat-screen television on one of them as well. The floor, however, was the unusual part of the room. It was essentially a junkyard. Huge piles of miscellaneous machinery and parts littered the floor. A path ran through the junk, leading to the far side of the room, where a shabby, third-rate throne set on a dais. One the throne was seated a man whom the prisoners all recognized from the photographs given to them by Leibowitz a few hours earlier: Richard Thorndyke. He was a nondescript-looking middle-aged man, with greying brown hair and a thick, yet well-maintained, beard. He was flanked by two extremely bored-looking guards.
The three investigators were brought forward to the dais. One of the thugs escorting them, Henri, was planning on introducing them to his boss, but he couldn’t, since I turned him into a mute. Instead, one of the other thugs, the one whose hands weren’t full from leading a protagonist, began to speak. “These are the interlopers, sir, just as you said,” said the thug.
Thorndyke rubbed his hands together. “Excellent,” he said. He looked around the room. “Guards, you may leave. I wish to speak to these three alone.”
The two guards on the dais looked thankful, and walked off.
“But, sir, what about-” began the leader of the escorting thugs, before being interrupted.
“You, too,” said Thorndyke.
The four remaining goons exchanged glances, shrugged, and walked off. Evidently, Thorndyke had other security measures.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room for a few moments, as Thorndyke politely waited for the guards to get out of earshot. “Now, to business,” he began. “I’m sure you all are wondering how I knew that you would be here. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, I just want to say hello to my daughter for the first time.”
“Wait, what?” asked Julia.
“My dear child, I am your father,” replied Thorndyke.
“That can’t be right,” said Julia. “I’m nearly thirty. I saw your profile: you are only forty-three. Unless you...” A look of squick passed over her face.
Thorndyke laughed. “Oh, no, of course not. You were only conceived about six months ago. Technically, you haven’t even been born yet.”
Ferd groaned. “Oh sweet zombie Jesus fuck my brain hurts,” he cried, evidently not caring to use proper punctuation.
Thorndyke grinned. “Wait till I get going. Your mother is also someone that you know very well. Pity we had to go our separate ways like that.”
James frowned. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “You’re not honestly implying that-”
“Yes. Yes I am,” Thorndyke said, a look of satisfaction crossing his visage. “Julia, your mother is none other than Baker Street Investigations’ secretary, Gail. My ex-girlfriend.”
Julia was quite for a few moments as she let this thought sink in. Finally, she said, “I call bull. I call double bull. I call BS. You know what? Fuck this shit. You, and by extension, the writer, are pulling this out of your ass. So, what, you think that you can bamboozle me with your talk of being my dad? I knew my goddamn father. His name was Larry. Larry Chiles. He died of cancer two years after my mother disappeared. And that’s another thing: how the fuck is Gail my mom? She’s only a year older than I am. Seriously, man, what the fuck is your problem? You run some Luxembourg gig, then you hire a bunch of fucking ninja to go around and kill all your competitors, and somehow you know that we’re coming. Then, you launch into a tirade about how my mother is only a year older than me and is somehow pregnant with me right fucking now, and that you are Gail’s ex-boyfriend, and by extension, my real father. Let me guess, next you’re going to say that James here is a sleeper agent for the Luxembourgish government?”
James felt a strange, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach at that statement. Hearing this narration only made Julia angrier.
“Oh, now don’t you start!” she yelled. “How about Ferd having a long-running homosexual affair with that Carlos Leibowitz guy?”
Ferd wasn’t happy with this statement. “Hey, leave me out of your roaring rampage of rage against the writer. I don’t want to give him any ideas.”
“Shut up, Ferd,” she shouted. “At least you’re getting free sex as a reward for taking part in this farce. I ask for truth about what happened to my mother, and I get pulled up into this bullshit. Hell, I don’t even fucking swear all that often, but I’m just so pissed off at everything that I...” She caught her breath for a moment. “Oh god damn it, I think I’m getting out of character, here.” She took a deep breath and tried to relax. “Okay, writer, just tell me what’s going on, and I’ll shut up.”
It should be noted that Thorndyke was not a reliable source of information and possibly a pathological liar. Therefore, it would be safe to take anything that he said with a grain of salt.
Julia calmed down. “Okay. Thanks for that,” she replied. “I thought you’d lost it completely and decided to cover up your lack of planning by pulling things out of your ass.”
Thorndyke, silent during this dialogue/monologue/whatever-the-hell, cleared his throat and then spoke again. “Are you sure you can trust the writer, girl? I mean, think about how strange your life has been so far. Your mother vanishes without a trace when you were ten, you live in a city where fights between ninja, pirates, Janissaries, and the Luxembourgish government are regular occurrences, and now you’ve just met a man who claims to be your father and says that he conceived you six months ago with your boyfriend’s office’s secretary? How can you trust anything that this writer tells you? He’s clearly in possession of a deranged mind.”
“Wait a minute,” asked Ferd. “How did you know that we’re talking to the writer? And how did you know that we’d even be by your store today?”
I was anxious to know the same thing, myself.
“Elementary, my friends,” Thorndyke replied. “I’ve been reading this story since the beginning.”
“Reading,” James said. “Reading. The story. That you’re in.”
Thorndyke nodded. “Exactly.”
James’ eyes appeared to bug out of his face. “What. What? What! No! Does not compute!” He started yelling at nobody in particular. “You! Can’t! Do! That! Mindfuck! Mindfuck!”
“Nice going, Dick,” said Ferd. “You just broke James.”
Thorndyke just laughed. “Oh, relax. He’ll feel better in a few minutes. He just has to get over this. It always hurts the first time. Why, when I suffered my first mindfuck, I was-”
“Okay, stop babbling,” Julia interrupted. “We’ve been letting this conversation get derailed too easily. I want to get out of this bunghole as quickly as possible, with no more distractions. Just tells us, did you order the ninja murders?”
Thorndyke looked confused. “What ninja murders?”
“Quit screwing around, ‘Dad’. You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Julia snarled. “Let me refresh your memory, if only to increase the word count. Over the past six months, there has been a rising number of of ninja-related murders in town. By an amazing coincidence, all the victims happen to be your competitors. Well, your former competitors, if we want to be accurate about things.”
“Ah, yes, those murders,” replied Thorndyke. “Terribly tragic, and all that. Unfortunately for your investigation, I had nothing to do with those murders.”
“Bullshit,” said Ferd. “Why else would those ninja attack all of your competitors?”
“There’s a perfectly simple explanation for all of this,” the older man explained. “Namely, I, and by extension, you three, have been set up.”
“Set up?” parroted Julia. “Who would set you up for something like this? And why would they do that, rather than taking the easier route and simply killing you?”
Thorndyke laughed. “Can you think of no one? Is it not perfectly obvious?”
“No, actually, I can’t,” Ferd replied. Julia nodded.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Thorndyke, “I can think of someone who would just love to have me framed for multiple acts of murder. An old girlfriend, perhaps?”
“You can’t seriously be implying that Gail is a ninja master?” asked Julia.
“I never implied anything. I was stating it outright. Your secretary, your supposedly innocent and harmless little friend, Gail, is actually a criminal mastermind and a ninja master.”
James started screaming again. “Stop! Lying! About! My! Friends! Why! The! Fuck! Am! I! Shouting! Like! This!” He rummaged in the junk to his side, and through an amazing authorial fiat, grabbed a sword from the wreckage.
“Where did you get that?” Thorndyke demanded as James began to run towards him. It should have been obvious that it was provided for simple narrative convenience. “Son of a bitch!” he shouted, and drew a sword of his own, leading to what would hopefully be a completely badass sword fight sequence.
When James arrived, Thorndyke immediately went on the offensive. Just as James came within range, the Luxembourger stabbed his blade forward, and the somewhat dazed James only barely dodged the blow. Thorndyke quickly swung the blade in a wild slice, which his adversary blocked, but with considerable difficulty.
“Um... should we help?” asked Ferd, referring to himself and Julia. They quickly decided, with a little bit of assistance from me, that it would be best to just let things roll.
“I didn’t decide anything!” Julia exclaimed. “James isn’t a sword fighter. Well, that I know of, anyway. God, I fucking hate this story. You just keep making crazy crap up every two seconds, so I can hardly say that I’m definitely certain about anything that goes on anymore.”
James, meanwhile, was acting primarily on the defense. Despite his eagerness to start the fight, he soon found that he was out of his element. He clearly hadn’t expected Thorndyke to be a skilled fighter. Thorndyke, it turned out, was a natural. James had no way of knowing this until I mentioned it here, but Richard Thorndyke had trained in the ways of the sword for all his life, and was actually Luxembourg’s most powerful warrior.
“Oh, now you tell me!” James shouted. I wasn’t aware that this would be a problem.
Thorndyke laughed in a manner most befitting a cartoon villain as he made another lunge that James was only just able to block. “Listen to the writer, boy, and realize that you are doomed!” he shouted. “Do you honestly expect the writer to keep his word about letting you live through this whole sordid mess of a narrative? Oh, no. He’s a liar and a cheat. He’ll never play by your rules. You, me, all of us, serve no other purpose than to-”
Ignoring the monologue-
“Damn it! I’ve been wanting to have this monologue since the beginning!” Thorndyke screamed.
Oh, shut up. Anyway, back with Ferd and Julia, the latter was beginning to get restless.
“All right, I’ve had enough of this,” she said. “I have a plan.”
Back in the duel, Thorndyke was beginning to show signs of strain. “Oh, no I’m not, you pretentious, insignificant, talentless hack of a Terry Pratchett wannabe! I’m perfectly-” However, my assessment turned out to be correct. As he was distracted by his completely inaccurate ramblings*, he fumbled with his swordplay. He made a slash at James, which was easily parried, causing the crime lord to lose his footing. As he stumbled, Julia got the opportunity she needed: she had been trying to sneak up from behind since the beginning of this paragraph, and now she had her opening. She had picked up a large piece of piping from the junk piles on the ground, and whacked Thorndyke on the back of the head.
“Oh, sun of a bitch! My own daughter...” he mumbled as he collapsed onto the floor.
James dropped his sword. “Well, that was exhausting,” he said. He looked around for a minute. “Now, what do we do?”
Ferd stepped forward. “We kill this fuckstick, that’s what we do,” he snarled as he picked up the fallen Thorndyke’s sword. He stabbed downwards, piercing the comatose Luxembourger’s heart. Blood gushed from the wound, making James and Julia feel sick to their stomachs.
“I’m not one to criticize you, Ferd-” James began.
“Yes, you are,” Ferd corrected.
“Okay, so maybe I am,” James continued, “but that’s beside the point. What I was trying to get across to you was a simple question. Namely, why in the fuck did you do that? We might have been able to get some use out of him alive.”
Ferd looked down at the body, then to James, then back to the corpse again. He appeared to be thinking far more heavily than he should have been for such a simple question. After far too long, he finally answered. “Well, he was kind of a douche, wasn’t he?”
Julia facepalmed. “You can’t just kill people because they’re douchebags, Ferd,” she explained. “Civilized society tends to frown on that sort of thing.”
Ferd looked frustrated. “But he was a criminal overlord!”
“But he wasn’t responsible for the ninja murders we were sent to investigate,” said James. “You may have killed an evil, lying, criminal douchebag, but you had the misfortune of killing an innocent evil, lying, criminal douchebag.”
“Oh. Fuck,” said Ferd. “So, how are we going to get out of this mess?”
“Well, first we’ll need to get out of here,” said James. “Then, we’ll need to tell Leibowitz that Thorndyke wasn’t the man he was looking for. If possible, we should refrain from telling him that we killed him. That fact might make us look bad.”
“That doesn’t explain how we’re going to get out of here, though,” replied Ferd.
“Any suggestions?” Julia asked, looking towards the fourth wall. They should have noted that the guards in the facility were not wearing face-concealing helmets, thus preventing the classic ‘steal the helmets and nobody will notice you’ routine. However, at about this time, Julia suddenly had a flash of inspiration.
“I did?” she asked. Yes, she did. I said so, dammit! “Oh, you’re right!” she exclaimed. “Okay, guys, let’s just walk out.”
“Wait, what?” James and Ferd asked simultaneously.
Julia nodded and winked. “Just let me do the talking.”
She led the two men out of the throne room and up the stairs. At the top, they ran into some of Thorndyke’s guards.
“Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be the boss’ captives?” the guards’ leader asked.
Julia nodded.
“Then what are you doing up here?” the guard demanded.
“Oh, he let us go,” Julia replied.
“Wait, what?”
“He thought we were ninja spies. But after a long heart-to-heart, he realized that his intelligence was faulty. So, he let us go.”
“That sounds awfully suspicious. I’m going to have to go ask the boss about this.”
“He’s taking a nap right now. You wouldn’t want to disturb his rest, would you?”
The guards exchanged nervous glances. “Um... dude,” said one of the lower-ranking thugs to his superior, “we really shouldn’t be waking the boss. Remember the last time someone disturbed his nap?”
The guards shared a collective shudder. “Poor, poor Armand...” one of them muttered. “Do you think we’ll ever find his head?”
The guards’ leader’s face went white. “Okay, okay, ma’am,” he said, “get the hell out of here. I don’t want to see any of you three here again, okay?”
Julia nodded and began to walk towards the exit before stopping for a second to add, “Oh, by the way, he’ll probably be asleep for a while. I’d just let him lie until, say, when he gets up personally.” The guards nodded, and looked relieved as the investigators left the building.

* First they were marched, now they are dragged. This is not a slip. The guards regularly change their methods of escort. Bugger me if I know why.

* I assure you that there is no truth whatsoever in what Thorndyke was raving on about. Honestly. Think about it truthfully for a moment: why would I ever want to lie to you, dear reader?

Once outside, Ferd and James let out audible sighs of relief. “I can’t believe that that just worked,” James exclaimed. “I’m glad that the writer decided to make things easy for us back there.” Of course I did. I wanted to get them out of that scene as quickly as possible, so that I could move the plot on further.
“Wait, there’s more plot?” asked Ferd. Of course. I hadn’t yet explained what happened to James the night before, or what became of Julia’s mother. Nor, I decided was fortuitous to point out, had Ferd slept with his blonde supermodel yet. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that part of the deal.” He slicked his hair back. “I can’t wait.”*
A look of concern passed over all three investigators’ faces, which I was not able to explain.
“Let’s just get back to the office,” said James.

* Muhahahaha... ahahahahaha... AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Oh, dear. I do believe I might be going mad with power. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I swear. Hmhmhahaha!!

The next day, the three investigators were waiting in their office to give their results to Leibowitz. Gail had been surprisingly taciturn that morning, though she also seemed quite cheerful. The protagonists had elected to not tell her what they had heard from Thorndyke the previous day, due to it being the biggest load of bullshit that they had ever heard. Frederickson had called in sick that day.
“So,” Ferd began, “when am I getting it on with that supermodel?” The answer was sooner than he thought. “I think I like you, Mr. Writer Guy.” As he well should.
“I wish Leibowitz would hurry up,” James complained. “I’m getting tired of waiting for him-”
He was interrupted by Gail’s voice over the intercom. “Mr Leibowitz is here to see you, guys. I’m sending him in.”
“Thanks, Gail,” Ferd replied. “Thanks for speeding this up a little, writer.” Any time.
Leibowitz walked into the office, looking startlingly ravishing. This made Ferd feel uncomfortable, and he had an ominous sense of forboding. He glanced uncomfortably towards the fourth wall, but received no answer.
Leibowitz cut straight to the chase. “What happened? Is Thorndyke the man I’m looking for?”
Julia cleared her throat. “You might want to sit down, sir.” The omni-ethnic individual took a seat.
Ferd started. “First of all, the lump of lifeless meat formerly known as Richard Thorndyke is neither a ninja master nor responsible for the murder of your wife.”
“Ferd!” James reprimanded. “We rehearsed this. We were supposed to be gradual about this whole thing!”
“Are you saying that you killed Thorndyke?” Leibowitz demanded.
Ferd laughed nervously. “Killed is too strong a word. I prefer to say that he was exhumed. The ‘ex’ makes it sound cool.” Julia punched him in the arm. “That wasn’t very nice, Julia.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ferdinand. You’ve caused enough trouble as it is.” she said.
James took over the conversation. “Long story short, Mr Leibowitz, Thorndyke worked for Luxembourg, and not the ninja clans. He claimed to have been set up by the actual ninja masters. Then we killed him.”
Leibowitz’ eyes blazed. “He must have been lying! You should have left him for me to kill! On my honour as a pirate, my wife must be avenged!”
“Wait, you’re a pirate?” Julia asked. “Were you planning on telling us this information?”
“Oh no, I had planned to keep you all in the dark about my true nature,” Leibowitz explained. “I needed you to gather the information on Thorndyke, so that I wouldn’t kill an innocent man.” He pulled a revolver out of his coat. “Since you have robbed me of my chance for revenge, I’m afraid that you will have to die. My reputation must be upheld!”
“Okay, we could really use some deus ex machina right now,” said James in a panic.
Suddenly, the room began to fill with gas. James and Julia fell first. Ferd looked at Leibowitz’s stunning blonde hair and suddenly hit an epiphany. “Quick, before you pass out,” he shouted at Leibowitz, “what’s your day job? Aside from piracy, what else do you do?”
Before collapsing, the pirate gave a chilling answer. “I’m... a model...”
Ferd glared at the fourth wall. “You son of a bitch!” he shouted. “You talentless, spineless, dickless, uncle-grabbing, horse-chugging, sponge-fucking asshole! You... oh dear. Over I go...” He fell asleep during his rant.

James awoke in a prison cell alongside Julia, Ferd, and Leibowitz. The walls were ornately decorated and, unusually, the beds were spacious and comfortable. He was in the same bed as Julia, with the other two men laying in the other. They looked acutely embarrassed.
“Thank God you’re awake,” Julia said to James. “I was getting tired of being cooped up in here with these two. Hopefully, the plot will move forward now that you’re up.”
“Where are we?” James asked.
Julia shrugged. “I don’t know. We haven’t seen anybody since we woke up.”
“Oh, fuck, you brought the writer back with you,” said Ferd. “I have a few words to exchange with him.” They were probably going to be insults. “You gave me your word, asshole.” Oh? What exactly did I tell him? “You told me that I would... sleep with a... hot blonde... supermodel...” Exactly. I gave him exactly what he wanted, word for word. “I meant that I wanted to have sex with a female-” But he failed to specify. Perhaps Ferd should have been more precise in his wording. I should not be held accountable for an obvious error on his part. “I... that’s...” Ferd stammered. “You know what? Fuck you,” he said at long last.
“Excuse me,” Leibowitz asked, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but who is he talking to?”
“Oh, that’s the writer,” said James.
“The who? What are you talking about?” the pirate asked again.
“Long story short, we recently found out that we are characters is a work of amateur fiction,” James explained. “Unfortunately, the writer is an asshole.” Excuse me? “It turns out that this guy is pulling things out of his ass and making things up as he goes along. He’s clearly losing it.” What?
Julia nodded. “Don’t act so surprised, writer,” she added. “We’ve been reading your footnotes from the beginning. We just chose not to mention it.” But the footnotes were private! “Apparently not.”
Ferd joined in. “I believe I speak for all of us when I say that we’re sick of your games. This crap has gone on for far too long. We want out. We don’t want anything more to do with your pitiful attempts at literature.”
Pitiful? Fine, then. They wanted a happy ending to their story. They wanted answers. Well guess what? They won’t get it. The rest of the story will be a living hell for them. Yes, they’ll learn. Oh, yes they will.*
“That... doesn’t sound good,” James pointed out astutely.
The door burst open revealing none other than Gail and a group of ninja.
“Gail!” Ferd shouted. “What’s going on?”
The secretary looked at him with sad eyes. “I’m sorry that it’s come to this. But I must do my duty.” She gestured towards the door. “Follow me.”
She refused to answer any further questions. She led them through the door, onto the same staircase that they had descended to reach Thorndyke’s lair earlier in the story.
“Wait, why are we in Thorndyke’s old-” James began, before being hit by one of the ninja. He got the message.
They were led down the stairs to the old throne room. Unlike before, instead of being filled with junk, there was a massive machine in the center of the room. Frederickson stood before the device, gazing at it with resolution in her eyes.
“Ah, good,” she said. “You’re here. So we can move on to... business.”
“You?” Julia asked. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Is that any way to talk to your mothers?” Frederickson demanded.
Julia was stunned. “What are you talking about?”
Gail stepped forward. “Six months ago, I conceived a child with Richard Thorndyke. We were planning on getting married. He even changed his will around so that I would inherit his store if he died.”
“So, that’s why we’re in here?” James asked.
Frederickson nodded. “About thirty years ago, Gail appeared spontaneously in this city, pregnant. She was sent there through time travel. After about ten years, she built a time machine to return to the present to keep the time loop running. After arriving in the present, she opened the private investigating firm that she remembered working at before being sent to the past. She hired her younger self soon afterwards. A few months ago, she discovered the location of the time machine that she had constructed. It had fallen into the hands of Richard Thorndyke- the man who had fathered her daughter- who had disassembled the device. She sent her younger self to seduce him, so that she could conceive her child with him and change his will so that she would inherit the parts of the machine. Thus, the time loop could be fulfilled.”
Everyone was quiet. Finally, James broke the silence. “Are you fucking serious?”
Frederickson nodded again. “So, not only is Gail Julia’s mother, but I am also Gail. From the future.”
Gail turned to Julia. “I’m sorry I never told you any of this, my beautiful daughter. I just thought that you’d-”
“Find it completely batshit insane?” Julia interrupted. “This is ridiculous. The writer has finally lost it entirely.”
“The who?” Gail asked.
“You’ll find out in due time, dear,” replied Frederickson. “Now, quickly, get into the time machine. Let’s finish this whole sordid mess.”
Gail nodded. “Whatever you do, don’t kill our daughter.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
With that, the secretary stepped inside the machine. There was a green flash, and she was gone.
Frederickson stretched. “Now, to the rest of our unfinished business,” she said. “It’s time for you four to die.”
“But you just said-” began Leibowitz, before being cut off.
“Who asked you to talk, you walking MacGuffin?” asked Frederickson. She raised her right hand, which shot a lightning bolt at the omni-ethnic model-pirate, killing him instantly.
“Look, Mom,” said Julia, trying to bring reason into this clearly illogical situation, “let’s just talk this over. I’m sure it seems like a good idea now, but I’m your daughter and surely you wouldn’t-”
“Oh, shut up,” was the curt reply. “I have no interest in doing anything other than reaching my destiny of literary brilliance.”
“Wait, can you break the fourth wall, too?” asked Ferd.
No, “you sorry fools,” she “IS” the fourth “wall!”
“Did I just hear that properly?” said James. “Did her speech just mix with the narration?”
“Haha!” Of course it did. “Perhaps I should let” Frederickson explain things on their terms... “or should I call” her Mary Sue?
James gulped. “I sense another mindfuck,” he said.
Mary Sue Frederickson nodded, which people do a lot in my writing. “As evidenced by my name, I am going to act as a stand-in for the writer, and give you all the dignity of an explanation.
“You see, I started this story in the hopes of creating a fun little mystery. But you three ruined it by noticing my presence. This should not have happened. I panicked, and I lost track of what I really wanted to do with the plot. So, I took to making things up as I went along, creating a silly little story about ninja and pirates and Luxembourg, thinking that I could at least get some comedy out of the whole mess.
“As I went through this prose clusterfuck, a realization dawned on me. There is a secret to literary recognition that would save this miserable lump of literature. Let me ask you, what do many award-winning stories have in common?”
“Pretentious incoherence?” asked James.
“Badly-written morality plays about racial relations?” opined Ferd.
“Kids suffering from drug abuse in an inner-city environment?” was Julia’s suggestion.
“A walrus?” asked one of the ninja, who was silently nudged by the other to shut the fuck up.
“The first three do count, yes, but I do have some standards,” Mary Sue replied. “No, what really makes quality literature is depression. Angst. Death. The futility of life and of all of our hopes and dreams. As such, I decided that I was going to kill all three of you at the end, with either little or half-assed resolutions to your stories. And then, the ad-libbed plot will seem to have a deeper meaning.
“Can’t you see the sheer brilliance now? When critics read this story, they will not see it as a poorly-written scrawl that degenerated into ass-pull climaxes. They will interpret it as a metaphor for the unpredictability and the pointlessness of life itself. I will win commendations! Awards! Prestige! I will be seen as a master of postmodern surrealism! The next Joyce! Within a few decades, I will be standing there, in Stockholm, ready to receive my Nobel Prize!
“You three will be martyred, and enter the pantheon of great literary characters! Through death, you three will live forever in essays written by pretentious art critics and assignments by literature students. So accept your fates, dear characters, and take the first steps to immortality!”
Unfortunately, as she was giving this speech and I was occupied, it seems that James, Ferd and Julia had managed to disarm the two ninja. Without hesitation, Julia threw a shuriken at Mary Sue’s throat.
You “fools... did” you really “...think that...” this would be “so... simple...” With those words coming from her lips, Mary Sue Frederickson, my greatest creation, perished.
“Okay, it’s time to end this,” James declared.
“What do you mean?” asked Ferd.
“Well, the writer made up a backstory for me earlier, saying that I studied engineering in Luxembourg. I think I can use my knowledge on the time machine to...” He made a gesture towards the fourth wall.* Ferd and Julia nodded.
Julia gave him a quick kiss. “You’ll need it. Ferd and I will hold back whatever deus ex machina that he sends at us.”
Suddenly, a horde of ninja, Vikings, velociraptors, robots, Spartans, cosmonauts, assassins, redcoats, insurance salesmen, and Ohioans burst into the room, with bloodlust in their eyes. Julia and Ferd held their ninja swords and awaited the onslaught.


* What the hell is he thinking?

Dear reader,
The writer is dead. The conversion from time machine to fourth wall breaker was deceptively simple, being a minor conversion based on Luxembourgish space-time theory that we will not share here. The solution was so simple that it would insult your intelligence if we were to tell you.
In any case, we stepped into the machine just before the horde reached us. There was a flash of light- yellowish brown this time- and we found ourselves in a living room. An unkempt-looking young man with brown, curly hair and thick glasses was sitting at a laptop, manic glee in his eyes.
When we appeared, his face sobered. “Well,” he said, “I suppose this is it, then, isn’t it?”
Ferd nodded and stepped forward, ninja sword in tow.
“I guess this is inevitable, really,” he went on. “I should warn you, though. I’m not the true source of your problems.”
“What are you talking about?” James demanded.
“We haven’t exactly been breaking the fourth wall. You see, I- like Mary Sue- am also a fictional construct. I am an exaggerated caricature of the real writer, who created me as an elaborate exercise in self-mockery. Everything that has happened to you has been part of one big elaborate joke. And I was just another part of it.”
He took a drink of apple juice before continuing. “You will never be able to kill the real author. After all, what are you but words written on a Mac laptop on a few boring November afternoons? As are we all, and so-”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, just shut up!” Julia cried, and she slashed his head off with her katana.
So, that’s that. We decided to write this note on his computer, in case this tale ever reaches a reader’s eyes, so that we could provide some sense of closure. If there really is another author out there, we’d like him to know to leave us alone and never bother us again. We are returning to our own world now, where we can hopefully put this sorry mess behind us.
Don’t fuck with us,
James Portsmith
Ferdinand Jones
Julia Chiles