“Somethin’ bugging you, pal?” Sam asked, polishing a glass with a clean towel.
Two snorted. “He’s an idiot.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“One. He’s my friend and all, but when you really come down to it, he’s just as much of a goody two-shoes as Teach.”
Sam chuckled. “Worried about him?”
“Teach can go stuff himself.”
“No, I mean about One. You’ve been partners for what? Four-hundred years?”
“Five-hundred and twenty-three years, ever since I brought him to the Elsewhere.” Two took a deep pull from his tankard. “We’ve done some good work together. Granted, he did more than I, but still …”
“What’s got you worried?” Sam asked, leaning against the bar. “I mean, if anyone can take care of himself, it’s One, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about!” Sam nodded at Two’s glass. “Hang on a sec. I’ll fill ‘er up.”
Two shook his head and began to ease himself off the bar seat. “No thanks, Sam. I think I’m gonna go watch a movie or somethin’ to get my mind off this mess.”
Shrugging, Sam said, “Suit yourself, you're worrying about nothing. One’ll come through. He always does.”
“I suppose so.” Two started to walk away when an odd thought floated to the surface of his mind. He stumbled back to the bar and asked, “Say, Sam, you know Alan, right?”
“Alan Tryth? Of course. He stops by every now and then.”
“D'yknow his middle name starts with a 'T'?”
Sam shook his head. “Can't say I did. What's it stand for?”
“Dunno. Hoped you did.”
Shaking his head, Two took the nearest door, which at that time lead to an escalator. That was good, as Two’s vision was a bit blurry at the moment from Sam’s potent ale. Two didn’t have to experience intoxication being a Dreamer and all, but sometimes the world looked better when it was just a bit fuzzy.
One was always sticking his neck out and being a hero, even when he was supposed to be sticking to the sidelines and leave it to the norms. Two couldn’t see how One did it. He supposed there was some absurd pleasure in helping others, but working just to feel that cathartic release … wasn’t it still a bit selfish? And what the heck was Alan's middle name?”
“Tyson?” suggested a voice.
Two shook his head. “Nah, Alan's not a Tyson kinda guy. Maybe Trevor, or …”
A few of Two's brain cells managed to bang together loud enough to divert his attention to the fact he was no longer alone. He turned his blurred vision to the boy behind him and asked, “Why the hell're you?”
“I'm an old friend of One … and of you. Call me Mixe.”
Two couldn't remember having a friend named Mixe, but he was far too tipsy to admit it. “Ah, good ol' Mixe! What're you up to these days?”
“Oh, not much. One still doing the good-guy thing, eh?”
Snorting, Two said, “Yeah, same as ever. Can't say I understand why. I mean, it's not like he's winning a prize or somethin'.”
“Oh, come now, Two. Deep inside, you know as well as I do that he’s just that kinda guy.”
“What kinda guy?”
“A good guy. The kind of guy who helps people, not ‘cause he has to but because he wants to make the mainstream a better place.”
Two snorted. “Waste of time. Mainstream’s just a buncha crap anyway.”
Mixe shrugged his thin shoulders. “Perhaps, but wouldn’t it be a worse place without him?’
“Yeah. I’d miss the sap if he got himself offed.” Two sniffed. “Poor One.”
Mixe hopped off the rail. “If you want to go help One, why don’t you go have a talk with Mister Alan T. Tryth?”
“Alan? Alan Tryth? What’s he got to do with all this?”
“He keeps a record of everything. Surely there’s something that’ll help in his archives, right?”
“Hey, yeah! Thassa great idea! An’ maybe I can figure out what the T stands for!”
“Excellent.” Mixe hopped over the escalator rail and began riding it back toward the Bar. Before he vanished from sight, he called out, “Tyrone?”
“Not a chance,” Two called back, grinning. “Thanks fer playin’ though!”
By the time Two reached the top of the escalator, he had managed to quell his inebriation. With Mixe a faded memory awash in a sea of names beginning with T, he felt that going to see Alan Tryth was his idea. Unfortunately, with his mind now clear, he was able to see the door to the Arcade lying ahead of him in all its neon glory.
He considered going back down the escalator, but that meant another five minutes back to the Bar and however long it would take to find a detour … and that’s if he didn’t end up in one of the bad gray rooms.
Then he remembered that he had sent Wong to ‘help’ One. Seeing as Two, Wong’s ‘bestest’ friend in the world, had asked Wong a favor, the excitable fellow was no doubt fast at work on ‘helping’ One and therefore not at home.
A loud victorious shout from within the Arcade quelled Two’s hopes in an instant. With a sigh, he pushed the doors open and walked into the Arcade.
Wong was in his face in an instant. “Two! Come see!”
Wong grabbed Two’s hand with a surprisingly iron grip for such a thin fellow. Before Two could even think to respond, Wong was tugging him through the Arcade.
The young Dreamer had excellent hand-to-eye coordination, not surprising seeing as he was a gamer. He could squeeze through the smallest gaps between the machines and turned corners that most people wouldn’t have even noticed. Unfortunately, he forgot to take the somewhat larger Two into account. Oh, Two made it through the same gaps and turns, but where Wong made it through without so much as touching the walls or arcade cabinets, Two felt as though his entire body had been squeezed, crushed, and compacted.
When they finally stopped, Two tore his hand away from Wong and leaned heavily against a nearby arcade cabinet as he caught his breath.
Wong pointed to the screen, saying, “See? See that? Isn’t that awesome?”
Two peered blearily at the screen of the arcade machine. “That’s it? You dragged me over here because you got a high score?”
Wong goggled at him. “What do you mean ‘that’s it’? This is King of Fighters. This game’s harder than hard is on a hard day in January when the ground’s iced over and all hard and stuff.”
“All right, all right,” Two said. “It’s very impressive. Did you go screw up One’s assignment yet?”
Wong gave him a quizzical look. “I thought you wanted me to help him?”
“Oh, right. So did you finish helping him already?”
Interpreting his response correctly as ‘No, not at all’, Two groaned. “Damn it, Wong! I thought you wanted to prove yourself!”
“But I do! I really do! I went down there to help, but Luck told me she had everything in hand.”
Two gave him an odd look. “Luck’s down there?”
“Yeah. She said something about making sure Mikaen got sent home I think.”
Anything further from Wong was lost as Two grabbed him by his shirt collar and shouted, “WHAT?”
“R … hu … guh …”
“Mikaen can’t go home!” Two shouted, oblivious to the fact that he was effectively cutting off Wong’s ability to speak. “If Mikaen goes home, One’s going to follow him, and if One follows him, Teach is going to kill me!”
Dropping Wong to the floor, Two ran a hand through his hair, his mind working overtime.
“Tryth…” he said to himself, “Alan will know what to do.”
As he rushed toward the nearest cluster of doors, Wong pulled himself from the ground and hurried after, calling out, “Wait for me, Ni-san!”
Two’s mind raced as he found a door he was pretty sure lead to the Office. Teach had said that One would be in danger if he went back to Earth. If keeping Mikaen from returning to Earth was the key, why was Luck now trying to send him home? Did she know something that Teach didn’t?
He scaled the spiral staircase with record time … well, record time for Two, anyway. As he stood in front of the door at the very top of the stairs, a small pang of fear shot through his heart: he might be too late.
He slammed open the simple oak door and shouted, “Alan!”
I looked up from my desk, startled by Two’s loud arrival. It had been ages since anyone had come to visit me on my floor, and to my knowledge, Two had never even been to the Office previously.
He rushed toward my desk, saying, “Al, I need help! Teach says One’s in trouble and-”
Two, so intent upon reaching me, had neglected to look where he was going and tripped over a massive stack of paper filled with information regarding Max’s work on the world of Illysia.
“I just finished sorting those!” I said irritably, waving my hand at the mess. The papers formed a neat stack behind Two. They were unsorted, but at least they weren't all over the place.
There are stacks of papers all over the Office: hand-written notes, diaries, journals, a few history books I borrowed from Teach, printed out text files, non-printed out text files (the sight of glowing computer icons amid the stacks has always been disconcerting. I’ll have to ask Max how to make a folder some day), and more. All are important, and are exactly where I need them to be. Every desk, every table, and almost every chair (I have to sit somewhere) is covered with my work.
Setting my pen down, I hurried toward Two and helped him to his feet. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry about your stuff, but it’s important. It’s about …”
“Hi! I’m Wong!”
I glanced interestedly at the young Dreamer. Actually, that’s not really a true statement, as Wong was quite old at the time.
Extending my hand, I said, “Wong Fo-lee, isn’t it? I just finished the draft of your back-story.”
Wong cocked his head to the side as he shook my hand. “Back-story?”
“That’s what Dreamers call what we did before we were Dreamers. I must confess, I found your history quite the interesting read, if a bit hard to uncover.”
“His history?” asked Two, looking perplexed, “You mean we didn’t just pick him up out of some asylum?”
I chuckled, shaking my head. “This is Wong Fo-lee, the man who saved time.”
“I took a bus,” Wong added, grinning wide.
I chuckled again. “Very true. However, I’m pretty sure that’s not why you came to see me. What’s this about One?”
“He’s in trouble … I mean, I think he is. Teach said he was in trouble. Apparently, if One and Mikaen go back to Earth, One’s gonna …”
“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” I said, holding up my hands, “Back up for a moment! This Mikaen wouldn’t happen to be Sir Mikaen of the Knights of the Star, would he?”
Two smacked Wong in the arm. “I told you he’d know something!”
“I’m helping!” Wong said cheerily.
Shaking my head, I muttered, “Here we go.”
“What?” Two asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
“It’s not important. Please, follow me.” I started walking, motioning for my two visitors to follow.
As I said before, there is organization to the mess that is my floor. How could there not be? Every pile, every stack, every crowded bookcase represented considerable dedication on my part. Unlike my brother Dreamers Teach and One, however, the books on my floor cover a very specific subject: the Elsewhere Incorporate. On my floor, you can find out anything about any Dreamer if you know where to look. In One's case, this was in and around an old gerbil cage, the previous resident having vacated some decades ago.
“Okay,” I said, sifting through the pages, “I know it’s here somewhere.”
I could feel both of their eyes on me as I dug through the mess and eventually procured a large unmarked tome.
Two eyed the massive book suspiciously. “What is that?”
“Active manuscript,” I told him, “It’s the continuing story of One … not only what’s happening, but what’s going to happen. It updates in real time so any changes are shown instantly. It only goes a few weeks either way, of course, and lacks the personality of my work, but it's a good reference.”
“Well, what I’m looking for is why Luck is involved.”
I laughed. “I hardly need a book for that. She’s his girlfriend. Of course she’s involved.”
“But Teach said sending Mikaen home would eventually get One killed!”
I gave him a look of mild curiosity. “Since when have you listened to Teach?”
Two’s mouth hung open.
I peered through the book for a few moments, reading up on what was to come. “According to this, Mikaen isn’t going home anyway.”
“Let me see that!” Two grabbed part of the book and peered at the pages.
I snatched the book back. “Don’t rough up my work! I can’t speak for Teach, but I tell the truth. Besides, you don’t need to read it to know One's going to live.”
I flipped to the end of the book, where a half-finished page was writing itself. “If he was truly going to be killed, which I remind you is a near-impossibility for a Dreamer, the text would not continue writing.”
Two let out a sigh of relief. “That makes me feel much better. Thanks Alan.”
Wong peered over the edge of the page. “Can I see?”
“Certainly not,” I told him, closing the book and putting it back in the stack, “We are all entitled to our privacy.”
“That didn’t stop you from reading it a moment ago,” Wong chimed in.
“Only a small bit,” I said calmly, “and only because One’s safety was concerned. Now, unless there was something else you needed, I really need to get back to my work.”
“Thanks, Alan.” Two grabbed Wong by the back of his shirt, saying, “Say goodbye, Wong.”
“Goodbye, Wong!” Wong called out as Two dragged him from the Office.
Chuckling at the inanity of the newest member of the Elsewhere, I headed back to my desk … well, the desk I had been working at before Two and Wong had arrived.
I stared at what I had been working on: a brief account of the events stemming from Fate’s quick stop at the world of Glathos. It's an interesting little story, but ultimately irrelevant to this tale. With a wave of my hand, I sent the entire stack flying through the air to rest on the top of an inactive computer monitor.
Creating a fresh stack of paper with one hand and calling One’s active manuscript to me from the pile, I muttered “I’d better go ahead and get started.”