Chapter 2: Established: 1999
If all of these [plot] questions sound suspiciously familiar, it's because one of them (coupled with the all-important "What would happen if we added an orangutan to the mix?") has driven the plot of nearly every movie you've ever watched and every book you've ever read. - No Plot? No Problem!
Daylight streamed in through a crack in Random's curtains. It crept across the bed, until it fell over her face, waking her up with sudden brightness.
There was something she had to do, something unrelated to the dream she'd been having about rubber ducks. Her mind snapped to attention - more role hunting.
"Hey Neo, you up yet?" she yelled. There was no response, and when she hammered on his door (labelled 'You Must Be At Least This Awesome To Enter') there was no response.
He must be gone already, she decided, as she gulped down a glass or orange juice. Time to set off without him, then. Be the main character, whatever that meant.
But first, she needed fresh clothes. So she went back into her room, and reminded herself that one day, she might bother to clean it. Well, the clothes strewn about the place were clean, just disorganised.
Her rummaging led her to something plain, white, and inside out. When she pulled it right side, she found it surprisingly uncreased for something that had spent any length of time on her bedroom floor. It also wasn't plain as she'd thought. On the front, printed in dark blue letters, were the words:
Must be one of Neo's, she thought. She'd never seen him wearing it, but it certainly wasn't hers. None of the original twenty-one would be leaving their shirts all over her floor. Neo certainly wasn't one of them, but that mustn't have stopped him. Well, he wasn't going to miss what he'd left behind. She pulled it on, and went in search of breakfast.
When she stepped outside, she realised she'd woken up a lot earlier than she thought. Even the square was practically deserted, except for a few early risers lounging on the library steps or crossing its expanse in small groups.
"I could look for a bunny," she said to herself as she sat by a fountain - the same one that the Trebuchet Club had been practising by only the previous night. "Maybe it'd like me." But there weren't any small, fluffy shapes in the square today. Maybe it was time to go back to the auditions. "What d'you think?" Out of lack of anyone else to talk to, she was addressing her own ripple distorted reflection.
She didn't expect a reply, but she was sure someone had just called "Randooooooooooom!"
"Did you just-"
No, there were footsteps, fast ones, and getting louder all the time. She looked up, only to see-
"Random! Look what I got! Looook!"
"You idiot, I nearly fell in!" She splashed a spray of water in Neo's direction. "Okay, I'll cave. What've you got? You found something?"
"Nope! Two somethings!" He flicked the water from his face and pulled two slips out of his pocket. "One for you, one for me. It's not an MC job and we won't be getting names, but you can have the one where you don't die."
"You got one for me?" She could feel a dizzy surge of energy running through her body, and she steadied herself on the fountain's edge. "What is it?"
"It's a surprise!"
"Don't think I can't land my own role!"
"Ohhh, so you don't want them?" He held them in the air.
"Yes I do want them, jerk!" She tried to grab them, but he was taller, and all he had to do was hold them out of her reach and tell her again it was surprise and she'd find out soon enough. "But I want to know noooow!"
"Hmmm... no. Not telling." And with that, the tickets vanished into one of Neo's myriad pockets, and he tore off across the square at top speed. "You'll have to find oooout!"
He never did tell her, no matter how many times Random threatened to keep poking him in the shoulder.
The last few days of October wore on, ticking away, each one a step in the staircase to November. Time, as Tildeworth had observed, did not always work in the Nexus. It flexed and stretched and squeezed itself in accordance to its own whims and the hopes and desires of all those within its flow. It was a phenomenon familiar to anyone engrossed in a good book, or trapped in the endless abyss of a dull afternoon as the clock inches its way toward evening as slowly as it can manage, but within the Nexus, it was a perceptible force beyond that. Some might call it quantifiable, if it would ever behave long enough to be measured.
But even time in the Nexus obeys rules, and October was approaching, sometimes in bursts and sometimes in crawls, but always coming closer. There was no mistaking the buzz of excitement as November became more than just a distant date on the calender. Characters hugged and congratulated one another over roles gained, or gathered to discuss crashing a novel with such force that the story would have to grab hold of them and bend to their whims. Some characters pored over extensive notes, while others readied to take their chances in the wilds with nothing but the proverbial bottle of water and a change of underpants. But there could be none more taken by the spirit than the Personifications. The Pep Talker, a brother of sorts to Tildeworth herself and a rival as well, set up shop in the square, shouting words of encouragement over his megaphone to the assorted crowds. The kindly old Keeper of the Dares handed out her charges to anyone brave enough to take them on. Even the mysterious and unknowable Validator, amongst the oldest of the Nexus' inhabitants and master of the wordcount bots, could be seen drifting amongst the towers in a dark haze.
November was three days away. Two days. And then, after some deliberation, one.
The gates opened, and characters poured in to a square filled with stalls and delights. The primary moon was bright in the sky, the second one hiding from sight. Random could barely see above the crowd, so the familiar shape of the square was obscured and blanketed, transformed into something new and exciting. Midnight was upon the Nexus, and soon the novels would begin.
Random and Neo didn't have to be there until the morning, thanks to their secondary character status, but that only meant more time to enjoy the show. Neo strode above most of the human crowd, his coat flowing behind him even in the absence of any wind. Random had stuck to wearing her found shirt. "It's lucky," she said, when he asked her about it and where it had come from. "I had it when you found that role. Which you still won't tell me about!" He didn't remember it either, but he had so many t-shirts that he'd probably forgotten about its existence. (His own current shirt read "My Parents Went To Save The World And All They Brought Me Back Was This Lousy T-Shirt" with utter disregard for the fact that he hadn't been written with any, world saving or otherwise.)
They wandered through the blur of lights and people, stopping off at a stall to grab a pair of permapersimmon shakes, Random's favourite. Her nails, painted in a neon shade of blue, shimmered in the dark, her one concession to the night. ("You probably won't need that tomorrow," Neo had said, but it was midnight - some things you just had to honour.)
"Ugh, my pockets are getting full," she said. "Give me a second, would you?" They were walking by a one of the fountains again, so it wasn't hard to find a spot to sit down as she rummaged through them. "Why do people hand these out anyway?" It is a law of nature that any large gathering attracts people with cards and flyers, ready to pounce on those too polite to get out of the way, and her pockets were full. "Plot Doctoring? 2 for 1 night at Club Ack!? I go there all the time anyway! What's this? S. C. Pilcrowe's Inter-Novel Investigation and Detective Agency?" But she wasn't one for littering, so she settled for folding them a little more neatly so they fit better into her jeans, and went back to the cool sweetness of her permapersimmon shake. "I hate junk. Do you think main characters get junk mail?"
"Main characters get whatever they say they get!"
"Yeah. Thought so."
"Welcome, everyone, to the NaNoWriMo 2014 Midnight Kickoff Party!"
A cheer drowned out the voices of anyone left talking. Fireworks sprang into the air and burst in flares of white and pale blue, streaking downward to the ground in trails of light. A broad stage, erected the previous night, filled the whole western end of the square. Spotlights switched on, illuminating two figures entering from either end. Tildeworth and the unknowable form of Mr Ian Woon met in the middle, shook hands, and stood by the shared microphone to deafening applause. Crowd members cheered and waved banners in the air, some standing crammed up by the stage, other seated or standing on fountain edges and terraces further away, some flying, some hovering with complete indifference to gravity. Random and Neo had found that their spot by the fountain gave them a perfect view, so Neo sat relaxed, while she stood beside him to better see over the heads of the crowd.
"Welcome everyone, again," said Tildeworth, her voice amplified all around the square. "I hope there's enough space for you all out there. I do apologise if not, but some of you will remember that year we tried hosting the party in the Gardens. We did not accurately predict the influence of so many minds on the local fields, and well... it was a disaster."
(Random hadn't been around that year, but she'd heard rumours.)
"But in the past few years our tech team have been making great advances in not inducing massive Day One bottlenecks. So let's give a big thanks to all of them!" Another wave of applause rolled across the square. "And now, as midnight approaches, let me hand over to my good friend, Mr Ian Woon!"
"Thankyou, Tildeworth," said Mr Ian Woon. "I'll be brief, since I'm scheduled for six death scenes scheduled in the next hour."
"Busy, hmm?" said Tildeworth.
"Oh, it's upon course for me," said Mr Ian Woon. "Now I'm sure a lot of you have novels to be at during midnight, yes? Can I see a show of hands?"
"Dear Mr Ian Woon, do not forget our guests who do not have hands!" said Tildeworth. "I do apologise for my friend's lapse there. Please may we see a show of whatever appendages you have? Thankyou."
"My apologies," said Mr Ian Woon, as a display of hands, wings, claws, and various other limbs rose amidst the crowd. "I know you're all going to be as busy as myself tonight, so I'd like to remind everyone to be orderly and patient, and that exits to the library will be kept open. And of course best of luck, and I hope you won't be killed off."
"But if you are, you're in very good company," added Tildeworth.
"Of course," said Mr Ian Woon.
"I might add that we're all, as you might say, pantsing this speech?" said Tildeworth.
"That's the word!" said Mr Ian Woon. "But let's all take a moment to think of what that means. Some of you will be spending time in carefully plotted novels. Some of you won't have a clue where you're going. Now I've spent time in both, and they all have their strengths and drawbacks. It can be very comforting to know exactly where you're going and what you're doing. But for those of you who don't, remember that even if you don't know what will happen to you tomorrow, what will happen to you in the next second even, that's no cause to worry! However you embark on it, this journey will take you to all sorts of exciting places. So the best I can say to you is good luck, and remember whatever happens to you, it's something that never would have happened if you didn't set out. That could be good or bad, but in the end... it happened."
"Great speech!" said Tildeworth. "Perhaps we should have you as the resident Pep Talker instead of, shall we say, certain other people. But enough on my brother! It seems to be almost midnight."
"It is!" said Mr Ian Woon.
"Are you all going to join us in the countdown?" said Tildeworth.
"Yes!" chorused the crowd, Random's voice lost in it depths.
"Everyone make way for those of us who have to be gone at midnight!" said Tildeworth, "and that includes my friend here. I can feel the clock ticking. Can you?"
"Not particularly," said Mr Ian Woon.
"Hmm, really?" said Tildeworth. "Must be me. Here it comes, though. Count down with me. Ten!"
"Ten!" repeated the crowd.
A gong sounded out through the square, so deep and loud the fountain rippled in its wake and Random felt sound waves enter her body through her feet. A fresh burst of fireworks launched themselves into the air, in an even more extravagant and complex display than before. Already there were others around her weaving their way out of the crowd and up the distance library steps. November had arrived.
"You're not staying?" said Mr Ian Woon, as he and Tildeworth descended into the relative calm that was the backstage stairs.
Tildeworth looked back at the stairs. From the stage above emanated the muffled sounds of music as the first of the night's bands took to the stage. "Sue has never been one for these sort of events. I worry about her. You know why."
"Yes, I do," said Mr Ian Woon. "Listen, if there's anything I can do..." He stopped in his tracks, extending a hand in her direction. "I know it may not be worth much, but you two are my friends..."
"I know," said Tildeworth. "You're very kind. I'm glad you're our friend, but don't you have novels to be in? Murder scenes to star in, you know?"
"Yes, but only as long as you're okay!" he admitted.
"Do you ever worry about things?" Tildeworth looked all around the temporary, dimly lit cavern, so close to the outside world and all its noise and light, yet so far and sealed away.
"I worry about lots of things," said Mr Ian Woon. "I worry about whether people will like me or if they think I'm overused. I worry about stories not ending well. There are lots of things to worry about, but if I did, I wouldn't go anywhere. You are doing something nice, aren't you?"
"Of course, dinner... I promised Sue dinner tonight. I'm cooking!"
Outside they parted, and she watched Mr Ian Woon walk up the broad library stairs, trying his best not to be mobbed by hopefuls. When he was gone, she set off for her own home, and dinner, and a quiet night in.