Trouble at the Valencommune:

Chapter 4

Chapter 4:
What Befell Todd

* Todd, 1996-09-08 *

      Meanwhile, far away from our heroes, Todd sat in a small cell staring at where he imagined a window might be if Mr. Saaa were considerate enough to put one in for him. It had been eight weeks since he had had his last cup of coffee and as a result he listed slightly to the left.

       As he was thinking for the 395th time about his sweetie and intrepid friends (feline and not), he heard a key in the latch of the door. He stood to face yet another of Mr. Saaa's thugs.

       "You'll tell us everything eventually," he said. "Why don't you just get it over with now and we can all go our seperate ways?"

       "Never!" said Todd. "You'll never get the secret out of me"

       "Let's see if this convinces you!" said the thug, reaching in the inside pocket of his suitcoat. The thug removed from the coat a small cassette player. As the thug walked by to plug it in the wall, Todd noticed the words "Herb Alpert" through the cassette player's window. He shook in terror as the thug said "My job's become a lot easier since Auto-Reverse was invented" and went cackling from the room locking Todd in with the peppy tones of Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass.

       Some time passed. How long, Todd didn't know. What he did know was that he hardly slept at all, and what sleep he did get was broken by dreams of "The Dating Game."

       He awoke from the last dream with the words "Take Bachelor #3!" on his lips. As he awoke he heard a sound in the latch again. It was the thug, back to see his handiwork.

       "Are you ready to talk?" he asked.

       "Never!" Todd replied.

       "I'm afraid I'll have to resort to stronger measures then." The thug said and left the room.

       The thug came back later with a steaming mug of coffee in his hands, the sight and smell of which assaulted Todd's senses. Viewacknuzian Peaberry, his favorite. Todd began to shake.

       The thug asked "Doesn't this look good? I just plunged it now -- see the foam on the top?" then took a sip. "Damn good coffee... and Hot! Are you sure you don't want some? Just tell me what we need to know and I'll pour the rest of the french press for you."

       Todd deliberated for hours. Okay, not hours but a bunch of long seconds before saying: "'s the deal..."

* Sherlyn, 1996-09-10 *

      "Ew," interrupted the thug. "You're drooling!"

       "Well, what do you expect?" said Todd exasperatedly. "I haven't had any coffee for nineteen years, and then you come in here and wave that thing in my face!"

       "Okay, okay," said the thug. "So just tell me what you know and I'll let you have the rest of the press."

       Todd debated with himself one last time. "They'd understand," he thought desperately. "Well, Kalaleq mightn't, but Sage and Piquet and Christine certainly would!"

       He took a deep breath.

       "Okay," he said again. "Here's the deal..."

* Laur, 1996-09-11 *

      Outside the door of Todd's cell, a small, slightly wonky-haired woman dressed all in blue crouched nervously and fiddled with the cover on the metal box she was holding. She glanced around her for the zillionth time; good, no one in sight. She fought back a wave of nausea, wondering why it was that thugs always had to operate in smoke-filled underground tunnels, and coughed a prayer that this plan would actually work.

       She finally wrenched the cover from the box, revealing another set of unmarked buttons. Placing her finger over the big red one but not pressing down just yet, she took in a deep breath and started to sing, at the top of her lungs, the most annoying song she knew.

       Inside the cell, the thug's head snapped around. Who would be singing the theme from "Gilligan's Island" down here? And why so badly? He glared at Todd, who, in his caffeine withdrawal, hadn't even noticed the singing and was in fact staring in rapt attention at the coffee mug, then turned and opened the door.

       In the doorway was a small, defenseless young woman, his favourite kind. "Who're you?" he demanded, trying to sound his most intimidating.

       The blue-clad woman looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "I," she said, in an almost triumphant voice, "am Syren Wykniewicz." And she pressed the button.

* Philip, 1996-09-13 *

      Todd's eyes glowed with a deep blue flame, as a dozen surgical implants released caffeine into his bloodstream. His chains fell away with a mere thought, and clattered noisily to the concrete floor as he locked the bound and gagged thug inside the cell and left him writhing to the strains of Herb and the band. He buried the empty mug in the snow, as an afterthought, and looked questioningly at Syren.

       "I'll explain later," she said. "We have to hurry; put these on."

       Todd pulled the gaudy neon green and purple jersey over his head, and stepped into the orange and red chequered trousers. "Is this really necessary?", he asked, a pained expression on his face.

       "I'm afraid so," replied Syren. "Now tie my hands behind my back, and march me out of the compound as if I were your prisoner."

       "You don't think we'll draw peoples' attention?" asked Todd.

       Syren smiled. "Don't worry -- you'll blend right in."

* * * * *

The guards saluted Todd smartly in their polka-dot jumpsuits, and opened the main gates wide. A slightly bewildered Todd marched his prisoner though the gates, and out onto the white slopes beyond.

       "What now?" he asked.

       "You'll see."

* Kevin, 1996-11-10 *

      Syren and Todd stared ahead at the interminable snowy plain, continuing out of sight before and behind them. This is just ridiculous, thought Syren, we're supposed to be on a daring adventure! This isn't adventurous, it's just boring. She frowned. And cold.

* * * * *

Some time later, our duo topped a rise. Revealed to them was still more expanse of snowy waste. "This is just ridiculous!" shouted Syren. "How the hell did I ever get to that godforsaken fortress!?"

* * * * *

Syren and Todd clumped to a halt. "If we don't get out of this interminable wasteland soon, I'll, I'll... hmph," pronounced Syren.

       "I don't see any way out but forward," said Todd. He eyed the way forward with skepticism. "No, I take that back."

       Syren spun round in frustration, facing each new and equally offensive vista with mounting exasperation. "There must be some way out of here... I wonder if there's something we're missing..."

* Sage, 1996-11-14 *

      There was something Syren and Todd were missing. A great big fluffy something. It was coming at them with a great deal of speed, in a big flurry of snow, and it was making a curious noise. It was almost upon them before Todd noticed it. "HARK!" he shouted nervously, as they both watched the flurry of snow coming closer. "Who goes there?"

       "Hark?" thought Syren. "Maybe I gave him a little too much caffeine." Aloud, she said, "Let me handle this."

       The flurry of snow stopped ten or so feet away from them, still making that curious noise. They couldn't quite make out what it was yet.

       Syren hesitantly walked towards it. "Hello?" she said.

       With a great shake, whatever-it-was threw all of the snow off of itself and stood there patting its hair into place. It was seven feet tall, with a large dress on and bright blue hair. On the dress was a huge emblem that looked strangely like a mailbox with a red flag on it, and an envelope sitting inside of the mailbox just itching to be read.

       Behind Syren, Todd dropped to his knees in the snow, awestruck.

       Syren walked on even more hesitantly, finally asking when she was only five feet away, "What... who are you?"

       It made its curious noise in a strange pattern that sounded almost like speech.

       "I'm afraid that I don't know that language," said Syren regretfully. If you'll give me a few hours, though, I'm sure I could figure it out. Let's see now --"

       "Syren," whispered Todd urgently, "Don't you know who that is? That's the Email Fairy!"

       "Of course," thought Syren. "That curious noise is the sort of bell that a computer makes when new email arrives!"

       Todd stood, brushing the snow from his knees, and walked up to the Email Fairy, who was still pinging and ponging away. He said over his shoulder, "She brings email to all the good people and gives empty mailboxes to all the bad people." Then he pinged and ponged a few times in the Email Fairy's direction.

       "So sorry, Syren," she said, in an incongruously British accent. "I didn't realize that you didn't know my language. I didn't mean to be rude. It's lovely to meet you both. I was just trundling off to find myself a cup of tea -- would you care to join me?"

* Jeff, 1996-11-28 *

      "A cup of tea?" asked Todd, "But we're in the middle of nowhere! There aren't any teabags for miles, and there certainly isn't any hot water!"

       The Email Fairy shook her head, smiling to herself. "I forgot. You mortals are used to that dried and boiled stuff. Well, today you get a treat. We're going to the great tea jungles of Algoniza!"

       Syren and Todd looked at each other in disbelief, then back to the fairy. Still, when you're looking right at a real live Email Fairy, there's not too much you won't believe in, so they swiftly got over their momentary doubt.

       "So how exactly are we getting there?" Todd asked, looking around, "I don't think we can burrow as fast as you can."

       "Burrow? Oh goodness, I don't burrow! I just email myself there! Don't worry, mortals can go too, as long as they're with me. Just a moment.." Reaching into a deep pocket, the fairy pulled out a black laptop computer, which she balanced easily on her rather large palm. Pinging away to herself, she started up an email program, and typed an address.

       Syren, looking at the screen from beside her, turned to Todd and whispered, "What kind of address is TeaJungle@Mythical.Alg?"

       Todd, still somewhat wired on the caffeine, simply looked past her, wondering briefly if the jungle had any restrooms.

       The fairy looked up again and smiled. "Well now, we're ready to go! Hold on tight!"

       Both Syren and Todd grabbed onto the Email Fairy, as she clicked once on the 'Send' button. A flash of blue light, and...

* Christine, 1996-11-30 *

      "Ngnyaaaaggssstafflll!!!" Todd heard himself screaming. There was a peculiar electronic buzzing in his ears, which had nothing to do with caffeine. He glanced at Syren and realized she was looking rather Gaussian...

       They seemed to be traveling at hyper-speed through a narrow sort of tunnel, and whizzing past and all around them were bits and bytes of sparkly electronic stuff. "What the? Oh dear!" he thought nervously as they slowed down (passing through Australia no doubt), bounced and ricocheted (the hub in New York is rather bent), and sped past numerous terminals manned by hopeful humans waiting for email.

       Finally, with a great PINGING and PONGING, they found themselves on the mossy floor of a great jungle surrounded by huge ferns.

       "What an extraordinary experience", said Syren, her bits and bytes still coming together.

       "Well!" huffed Todd. "Hey, wait a minute here now... Ms. Fairy, do you think it would be possible to email us back to our friends and felines? Not that I'm not enjoying this adventure, but I miss them all dreadfully."

* Damon, 1996-12-01 *

      "Well now," said the fairy. "Do you know the email address for their current location?"

       "Um," said Todd. "No, not really. I mean, at home it's us @ valencommune . net, but considering how Mr. Saaa kidnapped me I doubt the rest of them are sitting around at home. Darn, I didn't really think it could be that easy."

       "Wait a minute," said Syren. "Who's this Mr. Saaa person? If he kidnapped you, maybe he kidnapped the rest of them?"

       "Brilliant idea!" said the fairy. "I'll see if i can't find a Mr. Saaa in my nickname database. It's a rather large database, so this might take a few minutes." Her eyes rolled back into her head.

       "Who is Mr. Saaa?" asked Syren after a moment.

       "But wasn't that Mr. Saaa's fortress you rescued me from?" asked Todd, puzzled.

       "Oh no, not at all," said Syren. "That was the Klinkqueensyeukan Income Tax Return Form Processing Department. I'd assumed you were another poor, hapless victim of the system!"

       "Thank goodness we don't have such places at the valencommune," sighed Todd. "Anyway, Saaa is an evil villain we've had problems with in the past." He paused. "I seem to remember he's distantly related to Kalaleq somehow. He..."

       "Did you say Kalaleq?!" interrupted Syren, her voice rising several octaves in the process.

       "...didn't know... mm? Oh, yes," said Todd, "he's one of us." He peered at Syren. "Are you all right? You look like you might faint. What do you know about Kal?"

       Syren stammered and stuttered for a moment, then made a visible effort to calm down. "The paper!" she said. "My stepmother always said that she found me in a basket by the river, and with me there was a scrap of paper, with the words Two halves drifting, Syren, Kalaleq scrawled on it. She decided to call me Syren because she liked the sound of it; I always felt that was right, somehow, that I was Syren, and there was someone else... someone I should find. But I never did find that someone. I've been looking for most of my life."

       Todd's eyes were wide. "Kal always used to talk about the same thing! He didn't know who his real parents were either, and there was a scrap of paper just like that, only with the names reversed!"

       "My god!" said Syren, "we have to... oh. Uh, you don't mind if I tag along, do you? I mean, and help you rescue your friends? I've had lots of practice at the tax return centre," she added hopefully.

       "Mind?" said Todd. "Of course I don't mind! Knowing Mr. Saaa, I'll need all the help I can get!"

       Just then the Email Fairy coughed politely. "Bing!" she said, then cleared her throat. "Er, that is, I've found a Mr. Saaa. His address seems to be Shall we go?"

       "Yes!" said Syren, jumping up.

       "Just one second," said Todd. "I think that's a Viewacknuzian Peaberry bush over there. I know how much Sage loves Viewacknuzian Peaberry, and I don't think she could forgive me if she found out I'd been to a place where it grew on bushes and I hadn't picked her any." He paused, aparently struck by the absurdity of what he was saying, then shrugged and plucked a few tea bags from the plant. "OK, I'm ready," he said.

       "Hang on tight!" said the fairy, and they were off.

       The now-familiar rending and displacing of bits and bytes lasted somewhat longer this time, until Todd and Syren felt they were approaching the end of a tunnel, light flaring up to meet them...

       With a wrenching sensation, they seemed to turn in an entirely new direction. The light receeded behind them.

       "Automatic mail forwarding!" came the fairy's voice, sounding somewhat distorted. "I've no idea where we're going now!"

       "What," thought Syren, "have I managed to get myself into now?"

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