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Skip expected something different, but everything was the same. In Office B was the middle of the beginning of the beginning of his short life as an obscure frwoa friter somewhere between a nonsensical novella and the end of the known universe known as Okuaka. Next to it was the feeling that things were about to get even more confusing than usual for anyone not in the room. But that's not what was exactly the same. What was exactly the same was everything else. The office, Darlene, her Pear-brand computer, the bright neon self-important blue button on the far wall that practically said "PUSH ME", Darlene's incessant clicketycleck keyboard typing, the presence of someone new... all the same. Yet different. Sort of.
"Hello Skip, Kilo, come to badger me again about your vague confusion regarding Flutonian life since the last time you did so?"
"Yes, that's it exactly! Darlene... What on Earth is happening to Square One?"
"A strange question, Skip, since the answer has recently relocated to this very room."
Darlene frused, missed a blink, and typed something up that she seemed frustrated she had to bother with. Skip took a guess that she was concerned that his and Kilo's frusing necesitated a description of the action in a prose rendition of the frwoa in question, hence necesitated a definition of "fruse" for the scene to make any sense. Skip supposed she would probably also have to define "frwoa", "frite", "siff", blink", "blue", and just about any other word used to portray the scene in a text medium. Why she seemed to be compelled to do so now was unknown; yet what Skip wouldn't give to have a look at the index baffled him.
"What answer? Kilo? Me?"
"The button? The clock? The water molecules of Kilo's body of water? The microscopic killer giraffafly in the corner you never notice? Who the hell knows."
"But I thought you just said--"
"If I had all the answers, Skip, I wouldn't be working an obscure secretary desk job at the dawn of the known universe as far away from anything interesting imaginable, now would I? And I certainly wouldn't have to limit my daily entertainment to seeing your disappointed facial expressions every time you fail to call my bluffs."
"I suppose you wouldn't at that."
Darlene traded a couple keystrokes for a speedy sigh.
"...supposing you did have all the answers; supposing you were a great and mighty oracle with access to all the answers to life and the universe and--"
There was a loud thwack as Darlene hit the red button on the edge of her keyboard. Kilo noted was marked "Fair Use."
"--everything else, right there on your Dull desktop, and that in that infinite matrix of data and archives and information was the one file that could tell us what on Earth is happening or has happened or will happen or why anyone should care, what would... well, I mean, can you open that file from here or is it on a back up disc in the back room I should go fetch for you?
" 'Darlene suddenly halted her typing, and Skip could almost imagine the sound of an angry town as all power went out in a 40 mile radius, or the panic of passengers on a starship that had suddenly lost its heading and defaulted to a head-on collision with the nearest starbase. Or a class of philosophy students about to fail their mid-term given the server of the TOA they'd hacked into was suddenly spouting quantum engineering equations. She spoke as if a whimsical, tiny microcosm of a great and mighty oracle with access to all the answers to life and the universe and--THWACK!!---everything else, right there on her desktop computer.' "
"No I don't." clicketickytickCLICklkCLIK...
"Yes, you do."
"Nnnnnope." Cliklickclick... "And you probably shouldn't be narrating like that, the visitors might get confused."
"The whu-? Please, Darlene. What's happening?" Perhaps just to mock him, Darlene suddenly did exactly what Skip had suggested he do via his narration. Surreally, Skip had the sense that Darlene's break was of no major consequence to whatever she was doing. Perhaps a sped up parallel universe had called in his narrative prophecy and adequate precautions had been taken to prevent the blackout and save the starship and starbase of people from untimely violent death (at least those not sitting down in a mess hall discussing the moral siff themes embedded into their lives, which almost certainly would save anyone in space from any type of untimely death). Darlene frused, relaxed, then inhaled for a thoughtful speech entirely unlike her.
"Have you ever had a dream, Skip, that you were so sure was real? What if--" She shook her head as if a writer crossing out a line of prose realizing it was someone else's, reached up and thwacked the red key again, then began fresh.
"I do quite a bit this desk, Skip, and have been doing it for a long time. I align vifa templates, correlate spreadsheets, and moderate traffic between high numbers of databases and pages and people. In all that time, do you know what I've learned?"
Skip stared rhetorically.
" 'Then Darlene told Skip and Kilo most important thing anyone had or would ever tell anyone in the entirety of Flutonia and perhaps in the history of the entire known universe known as Okuaka, who were so floored that they did their best to push themselves into immediate denial regarding any relevance the information might have to their immediate dilemmas.' "
"Good try, Skip, but no. And for your annoying intrusion, I'm not even going to tell you. But I will answer your question."
Skip stared rhetorically.
"Your answer, my clueless novelist and delinquent watery teenager, is the visiting freer." Darlene resumed her typing as this clearly answered all the questions of the increasingly frusing Skip and Kilo.
" 'Freer'..." Skip rolled the word off his thoroughly defined tongue. "Strange word, I know I've heard it before..."
Kilo concentrated as if missing a vocabulary term in English from falling asleep then hoping he might have absorbed it subconsciously. "When was that, Skip?"
"Just a moment ago when Darlene used it, and then I heard myself say it just after it when I repeated it. Aside from that, I only have a feeling it might be in the title of our frwoa or something, but it's just a vague feeling. And of course some time before that, and perhaps even before I lost my memory this morning; and of course the term just by its phonetics seems perfectly self-explanatory, but just to be sure, Darlene, what in the hell are you talking about? What on Earth is a 'freer'?"
"Freer! Fractal reader! Frwoa seer! Frangles freader!... The person hovering about who just leaped into our story when you walked in the door and is probably confused as hell right now. Have you even lost your basic sense of vocabulary, Skip? This just gets better and better." Darlene smiled a mischievous grin while she brainstormed cruel mind games for them that they couldn't begin to guess at." Clicketyclickcklik...
"So..." Skip risked a further interrogation. Darlene sighed. "How is a 'freer'--whatever that is--the answer to what's happening to Square One? I mean, first thing I know I get off a train and meet this lost kid here--"
"You're as lost as I am, Skip."
"(No, I meant lost in the abundant imagination of youth thrust upon you when you became a clueless teen.)"
"(Right. Sorry.)" He bit his nails and shut up as he decided it was best not to question adults who knew what they were talking about. His glance kept returning to the clock in the room as if antsy for lunch or free block.
"--and converse out of boredom hoping to think up something more interesting to do around here, then suddenly we find ourselves--"
"Stop right there, Skip." Backspace backspace backspace. "You probably shouldn't reveal too many details about what's been going on. It would hinder the modularity of the freer's experience. It's part of what I do, you know, organizing a ton of freer traffic of people who aren't quite sure where they came from or where they're going. That's why the office looks just as you remembered it. If it looked anything like the whole Earth-like environment you've been noticing outside--" Darlene stopped and stared morbidly as if hitting her first wrong key since she learned to type as a toddler. " 'Earth'... I shouldn't have said that." She sped up her typing as if letting Hitler loose in a school playground and trying to forget about it by sinking deeper into her work.
"Ah! So you're not flawless after all. Now would you mind explaining how our idea of Earth is shifting Flutonia all around us, why it's not doing it here, why knowing what's happening in the story they're reading ruins the story for the freer, and what on Fluton Prime we're going to do about all of the above."
Kilo slightly perked back to attention. He'd probably heard the term 'Fluton Prime' and decided the idea was worth thinking about, if not whatever relevance it had in the conversation he was still ignoring.
"Alright, Skip, look. We've been having some significant issues with the modular nonlinear servers installed last week. They seem to be upsetting the structure of our usual frwoa space. Usually about now you come in and say something generic, and I say something back, and no one who'd overhear our interaction would have any clue exactly what any of it meant, leaving them clueless enough to keep reading whatever any friter decides to write next. But as I've just been fmailed, non-generic scenarios have been popping up all over the place.
Particularly in regards to you, you seem to be thinking up this whole 'Earth' place and it's been re-forming the frwoa space around you via your desperate struggle for any sort of setting to start your story. Actually thinking up a topic for once has screwed over the ambivalence we're usually used to here; a principle that seems to happening in many other ways with others, too. And now we seem to have to mention 'Earth' to figure out what the hell to do about it. In short, for the moment, and for once, I actually have a personal motive to bother dealing with you or helping you out.
Skip beamed as if this were a compliment from a messenger of god, then frowned as he realized it was likely the inverse. Kilo glanced around the room and was probably wondering why the hell he was still in the scene as he didn't seem to be acting much of a sidekick protagonist at the moment. Though maybe being silent deepened his character attribute of being a clueless, dense teenager, and contributed to the dismal foreshadowing that he would never progress as a dynamic character as long as he was under eighteen. As if reading Skip's thoughts, he confirmed them all with an A-for-the-delinquent-day class question.
"What's a freer again?"
Skip--who had been paying attention--embarrassingly rolled his eyes as he wasn't quite clear on the issue either.
"Look, idiots. Life is like a story, and a story has to begin somewhere. You were both frustrated with the lack of corporeality of Flutonia, so your imaginations led you here. Skip is supposed to write a great and mighty self-important story by the end of the day, and he was so frustrated with his writer's block lost in the infinity of vast nothingness, that he finally," Darlene clicked the Fair Use button ahead of time, 'decided once and for all where the hell he wanted to be.' And Kilo seems to be from Earth, so from his frangle, there's really no other place he's ever been--"
"Except for the total nonexistence of Earth just before we thought it back up..."
"Yes, of course. Anyway, out of all the places and topics in the entirety of Okuaka, for the moment this Earth frwoa seems to be happening, and apparently you two idiots are its main protagonists, so you better go figure the whole place out, because if you keep talking about the damn thing around here when I've told you why it's disrupting my work and all of Flutonia, I'll simply type you out of existence."
"Can she do that?"
"Skip, can she do that?"
Click click clikety clickkdk--
"So what's a freer again?"
"Get out! Out, out, out! Come back when your fully confrused again and aren't asking me sensible questions to which I don't currently know the answers. Even if I did, I doubt I'd tell you, as it's much more fun to watch you suffer than take time off work to help you out. And I certainly feel justified in causing you some trouble, because as Skip would say, story necessitate conflict!"
"Either get out and stay out for the day, or screw me over and push the damned button for once in your miserable lives. It'll leave me with a week's worth of infringement papers if it turns out to be an infinite probability drive, but at least I'd be rid of you too. Assuming it doesn't turn me into a lump of cow dung or a bowl of falling petunias!" THWACK!!
Skip headed for the door with a monotonous, unsatisfied deja vu. Kilo, however--who'd taken a sudden sense of life-long uselessness away from the conversation--decided to push the bright ominous glowing button in the corner. Clearly he deemed teen life pointless enough to skip seeking assurance that the button didn't nuke Square One or implode Okuaka.
Kilo pushed it.
The office lights flickered a tad.
Darlene sighed with the depressed wisdom of the plagiarized bowl of petunias now twice alluded to.
Skip worried. Less for the safety of anyone in the room, and more for Darlene's wrath in the case her nonlinear frwoa issue was about to be exponentially tripled.
Darlene looked at the clock as if something was not on time.
Kilo frused at the clock as if the final bell for the day hadn't rung.
Skip got confused as to the bases on the clock.
Then, something happened.
Then, something happened in particular: Skip felt an indescribable feeling of nausea-esque something-or-other as he fainted into a completely unexpected and ambivalent vertigo nexus of space-time. His last thought of the scene was that he hadn't a clue what was to come next, especially since he did, incidentally, have chronic bouts of short and long term amnesty.
(The freer was no less lost.)
Skip did however have one single nonlocalized vifa instinct of what to expect to next:
He expected something different.
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