Sunday, January 12, 2014

How The Radwanska (Almost) Stole the World: Chapter 3 - The Rad Wears Red

It has become apparent that maybe even Citizen Anna will not be able to pull the world back from the brink of a Radwanskian apocalypse.

The situation has become only more dire, as time has literally run out for the freedom-loving Cause forces, their numbers decimated and their rebel headquarters overrun by The Radwanska's Minions in the present timeline. Meanwhile, the malevolent entity has commandeered the past, mercilessly wielding time travel technology as a weapon of mass destruction. Having claimed the world's most famous workshop of the North as Its own, transforming it into a house of horrors strewn with bloody elf body parts and reeking with the stench of unimaginable pain and suffering, it appears as if it is too late to reverse the world's nauseating fate. With Minion #1, Current Sloane, by Its side, the power-craving and sadistic Rad has become more and more powerful by turning recent holiday cheer into disappointment and misery. Over and over again. Exponentially increasing Its strength with every gleeful "De-Gifting Day" machination.

But Anna still believes.

Along with her trusted ally Vika, as well as "accidental companion" QC, Anna has traveled back to what she was told, by a Minion secret agent embedded within the entity's inner circle, was the one moment in time where The Rad's defenses would be down, allowing the opportunity for It to finally be defeated. But, upon arrival, the mission immediately seemed to go bad.

Captured by Current Sloane, the sadistic doppelganger of missing-in-action Cause Commander Future Sloane, before they ever even encountered The Rad, Anna and Vika saw their last-chance mission thrown into lethal jeopardy. Separated from the time travel re-activation device that transported her to the past and represents her only pathway home, as well as her trusty katana sword and trademark black fedora -- both mirthfully confiscated by CS -- Anna is seemingly, just like everyone else, destined to have her fate determined by the whim of The Rad.

But there is still another hopeful heroine -- however unlikely -- who remains free of The Radwanska's clutches: the flighty, sometimes-she-seems-not-quite-there QC.

Having lagged behind Anna and Vika in their sweep of the complex, QC went unnoticed by Current Sloane and avoided captivity. After earlier having risked her life -- whether she comprehended it not -- when she burst into the beam of The Cause's final working time travel machine to make sure that Anna carried it back with her, QC also secured the re-activation device after an overjoyed CS had proven too gloatingly self-satisfied to notice it on the floor, then failed to fully investigate a suspicious sound in the corner of the room beyond simply firing a blind shot from her blaster into the darkness.

Has QC's unexpected trip back in time proven to be a superior stroke of luck? Will she free Anna to battle The Rad? Or is humanity now positively... definitively... unchangeably doomed?

Behind the chained door, atop a flight of stairs leading to what sounds like a dungeon/torture chamber, Anna tries to listen to the sounds of the outer room. Having heard Current Sloane's blaster shot, she immediately feared the worst. She'd attempted to search the corners of the room for QC before CS had hustled them down the end of the long corridor, but wasn't certain if she was there, or if QC would even know what course of action to take if she was. The gunfire worries her.

"QC! Can you hear me?," she yells, pounding on the door. All she hears on the other side, though, is the rattling of the thick chains with each strike of her fist.

"QC?," Vika remembers, suddenly excited. She sets down on the top step of the stairs the lifeless, faceless body of the elf that Current Sloane killed. He fits perfectly. "Sloa-... err, I mean CS didn't even mention her. She doesn't know she's with us!"

"Don't get too happy. I heard gunfire on the other side. Maybe it's just CS celebrating, but maybe not. And, well..."

Vika quickly understands. "Yeah, I know... we're talking about QC. For all we know, she's out making snow angels and doesn't even know what's going on."

Suddenly, they hear screams of agony coming from the level below them. Vika winces. Anna does not.

"This isn't good," Vika says under her breath. Anna hears anyway.

"You don't know the half of it. I lost the re-activation device when the elf attacked you." It's obvious she's upset, and more disappointed in herself than anything.

Vika can't hide her exasperation, but she bites her tongue. "Well, Citizen Anna. What do we do now?"

For once, Anna has no ready answer. Instead, she turns toward the door once again and begins to pound on it just a little bit harder. She yells just a little bit louder, too. "QC! Do you hear me!?"

Outside the door, in the workshop complex's common area, QC twirls in place in the middle of the floor, giggling as she looks at her reflection and the spinning background in the shiny casing of the re-activation device in her hand. "Hello, me... hello, meeee... hello, meeeeeee," she repeats, carrying out the last syllable a bit more each time. "The end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end." It makes her laugh.

Finally out of breath, QC stops. She hears the pounding on the door at the far end of the hallway. Faintly, Anna's voice can be heard through the thick wood. It gets her attention. "Don't worry, Anna. QC is here," she says to the air. For a brief moment, she's distracted by the movement of the chains on the door, but her fascination passes. Rather than move toward Anna's voice, she turns on her heels. Slipping the device into her pocket, QC races past the room scattered with bloody elf parts -- she follows Anna's instructions and covers her eyes until it's all out of sight -- and heads toward the front door through which a gleeful, singing Current Sloane has passed a few minutes before.

Just like CS, QC takes a hard right once she's outside. To herself, just under her breath, she continues. "The end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end."

Later, inside the underground chamber, Anna and Vika inspect their surroundings. They don't like what they see. Essentially, The Rad has created It's own private version of hell deep within the world's formerly merry, northernmost outpost. Forever-burning embers light the carved-from-rock chamber, while scores of sweaty, dirty elves push rubble-filled carts emerging from caverns that go even deeper into the earth. Several torture devices dot the large room's open space, each manned by an armed, helmeted Minion that looks identical to the many of their kind positioned a short distance apart from one another along the walls.

As the pair walk along, looking for any weak point in Minion security, but finding none, they are suddenly taken aback by a voice. A familiar one.

"Anna, is that you?" As the Citizen turns toward the sound, the female voice is noticeably more excited. "I can't believe it. It's been so long! You're alive! I knew it!"

Before Anna can react, a woman dressed in an elf outfit identical to the attire of every other prisoner, runs into her arms. Anna immediately recognizes her. It's her old friend Sloane. Future Sloane. The Commander.

"I knew you'd come to rescue us," Sloane says, relief breaking through the longtime pain that only moments ago had been fixed on her face. Tears stream down her face. "What are we going to do? What's the plan? Is the war over?"

Anna says nothing, then Sloane sees that Vika is trying to avoid eye contact with her, as well. Her heart drops.


Just then, a Minion walks up behind them and places a blaster directly against the back of Anna's head. "You! You're out of uniform!" The Minion then sees Vika. "You, too!"

Meanwhile, outside, QC rises from the ground. She looks back and admires the snow angel she's created, then rolls up her sleeve and checks her watch. She likes what she sees, then makes a point to walk along the outer wall of the complex, silently and carefully. Edging past a wall with a large open window, she hears a voice in the distance, around the far corner.

Slowly, QC peeks around the wall. She sees a large stable across a small, oft-traveled pathway. She smiles as, over the top of the fence, she sees the antlers of eight tiny reindeer. Just outside the stable entrance is a miniature sleigh parked at the beginning of a long runway. The sleigh is empty. Just then, Current Sloane comes into view. She's talking with someone, or something, that is just out of view. She's very chirpy.

"I think this is going to be the best De-Gifting Day ever!" She begins to lead the reindeer to the sleigh, strapping Dasher into his customary position in the lineup, then looks back over her shoulder and smiles. "I've got a surprise for you when we get back. I think you'll be very pleased."

QC leans back around the corner, then hears a small voice through the open window behind her. Cautiously, she peeks up over the window sill, not sure what horror she might find there.

But when she sees what's inside, her face lightens and her insides warm. It's a little old lady. Sitting in a rocking chair where she has a nice view of the starlit landscape, she's wrapped in a shawl, and her long silver hair practically glows as it catches the light of a small lamp setting on an end table behind her. The woman smiles warmly. Hers is the first harmless, welcoming face QC seen since she arrived, and she's immediately drawn to her.

"I thought you'd never get here, dear" she says, barely above a whisper. "But you do love to make your snow angels, don't you?" She chuckles. "Come, come," she urges QC, reaching out a bony, shaky hand to her. "Come inside out of the cold." Without a word, QC gets a foothold on the outside wall of the room and pulls herself through the open window.

Inside the rock chamber, Anna and Vika emerge from a side room into the larger hell. They're no longer wearing the clothes they arrived in, and are instead dressed like all the other captives -- plain, customary elf outfits. Vika angrily looks down at herself.

"I knew it. I just knew it."

Anna doesn't even look at her. "Like I said..."

"Yeah, I know. 'This is what we'll be wearing when The Radwanska dies.' Once I recognize a realistic avenue to that I'll probably take it more to heart." She pauses. "No offense, though."

"None taken."

Finally catching sight of them, Sloane rushes to their side. She's taken a bit aback by the sight of Anna in an elf costume. She's impressed. "Wow, you actually make that thing look good."

"Yeah, I know. A little disheartening, isn't it?," Vika sniffs.

Anna pays no attention to their words, but directs her attention to Sloane. "Have you been here all this time?"

"Yes... I mean, no. How long has it been?" She stops herself. "I don't even remember anymore. Reality seems... almost circular. Actually, I swear we've already had this conversation. Yesterday... or maybe it's tomorrow." Anna and Vika look at each other, not sure whether their addled friend is really capable of helping them. "My head hurts," Sloane says, holding her skull with both hands.

Anna sits her down, away from the loudest noises in the chamber, and the most stunning atrocities. "What do you know about 'De-Gifting Day.' Have you heard any rumors about what exactly The Rad has been doing?"

Sloane flashes a grin, but simply can't stop speaking at a hurried, frenetic pace. "I've heard the Minions talking. They think we don't hear them, but we do. We're always listening. Listening for anything. Even if it's just about them talking about the color of the sky today. I haven't seen the sky for so long. Is it still there?"

"Sloane... shhh. Calm down. I just want to talk." She looks into her friends eyes, gaining her full attention so that she's focusing on nothing else.

Vika watches uncomfortably, knowing that Anna is once again using the skill that makes her squirm. She averts her gaze for a moment, catching sight of a rather large, half-naked man with a long, straggly white beard being stretched to his physical limit on a rack in the far corner of the room -- "Is that...?," she asks herself, already knowing the answer. The man screams in pain, and a wincing Vika turns back to Sloane, who has already succumbed to Anna's calming will, casually allowing her mind to be opened as if it were dotted with a series of bookmarks.

"...I thought I heard a noise in one of the rooms. Even though we had the blueprints for the Abbey, we didn't really know what we were going to find. I thought maybe it was you, so I went to investigate. Then I turned a corner and I saw... me. Or at least it looked like me. She was dressed just like me. But she had this evil little grin... I don't look like that when I grin, do I? Please tell me I don't!"

"Focus, Sloane."

"That's all I remember about the Abbey. Once I saw... me, her... everything went black. Next thing I knew I was here. Oh, and my head hurt. It's never really stopped."

"What have you heard about what The Rad did here? Why did it choose this time period?"

"Well, based on what the Minions say, It actually showed up a bit before all hell broke loose. You know, to lay down the groundwork. It actually put on the red suit and made a point to make contact with all the women -- well, they were girls then -- that It hated the most. It gave them gifts that put big smiles on their faces. Maria got a new racket, and so did Vika. Even Aga & Ula got a whole case of Wilsons. They loved them!"

While Vika is trying to recall a potential meeting with The Rad buried deep within her memory, Anna is more intrigued by another aspect of what Sloane overheard. "Aga & Ula? Why would It seek them out? Why would it want to hurt them? If it wasn't for them, The Rad might never have emerged in the first place."

"Yeah, I wondered about that, too. But the Minions I heard talking about it were pretty certain. They even talked about how Aga & Ula put their feet in the tennis cans and walked around in them like they had two peg legs."

"And 'De-Gifting Day?'"

"I've heard of it, but the Minions always talk about it like it hasn't happened yet."

Anna stands up and joins Vika. "Isn't It just making things harder for Itself? Why not just destroy this place and be done with it and the entire holiday thing? The kids would just be disappointed all the time -- wouldn't that be easier?," Vika wonders.

"It's actually pretty smart. It's worse to have something, and then have it taken away, than to have never had it at all. How can you miss something if you don't know what it is that you're missing? Once their happiness is taken away, they might never be fully secure that it won't happen again. It's like a never-ending fuel for The Rad's evil fire... the seed is planted, and it just keeps coming back here to plant it all over again, then allowing all those bad feelings to blossom into more power for Itself. If we can't end this now, it'll never end."

"What was that she said about Aga & Ula?"

"There seems to have been a break. Do you think I might have had something to do with it? When I killed The Siblings?"

"Yuri and Yelena deserved to die... the little cretins."

"Oh, I know."

"Are you thinking that maybe when they died it changed something in The Rad?"

"Possibly. Or maybe once It mastered the stabilization of time travel It didn't think It needed Aga & Ula anymore. It could survive without them... so It didn't need them around."

"And here I thought my opinion of that thing couldn't get any lower than it already was."

"Have you seen or heard anything from them since this whole thing started?"

"Not for a while. I guess I always sort of figured they were in the inner circle, and It protected them from the worst of things."

"Yeah, but if they no longer have that protection... what happened to them?"

Sloane interjects. "Well, maybe... " She makes a cutting sign across her throat. "Sorry, but it IS a possibility. After all, they have to know a LOT of secrets about The Rad. If they're not with It, they're against It. They could be very dangerous to The Rad's health." She smiles. "But that's just my opinion."

Anna grins. Finally, she recognizes her friend. "Welcome back, Sloane."

She laughs. "Hey, all I needed was my good friend to disappear for a few years, then for me to disappear for a few years, then for you to show up when we're BOTH being held prisoner... and then for you to do that freaky hypnotism thing on me, of course." She gives Anna hug.

Vika tugs on Sloane's sleeve. "It IS freaky, isn't it? I keep telling her that!"

"Oh, and there's one other possibility. When the techs were perfecting the time machine, they DID have a worry about a particular side effect, but we thought it was worth the risk."

"What was it?"

"Well, if someone -- or maybe someTHING, too? -- overused the technology there was the slight chance that it could have an affect on cognitive abilities, and maybe even cause personality changes. If The Rad has been back here over and over again, maybe at some point It suffered brain damage. That might explain the abandoning of Aga & Ula."

Anna ponders the thought, while Vika gives Sloane a little shove. "We could have brain damage? It didn't cross your mind to tell anyone about this before now?" She walks around in a circle with her hands wrapped around her skull.

A chagrined Sloane apologetically shrugs. Anna ignores them both.

Back in the room, a polite-looking QC sits alone at the table next to the chair where the old woman had been sitting. After a few moments, the woman slowly makes her way back to the room. She sets a coffee mug on the table in front of QC. "Here's some hot cocoa for you," she says, then cleverly spins the mug in it's place so that it stops spinning with it's handle pointing directly at QC's right hand. It delights her.

The old woman smiles. "I guess I've still got it." As QC sips the cocoa, the woman sits down. "Drink up now, you've got a long night ahead of you." QC does as she's told. "So, my dear. Do you understand now?" QC nods her head. "Good. I'm glad we had a chance to talk."

QC looks around the room as she drinks. She notices a wrapped present propped up against the wall in the corner. The tag reads, "To: QC." She excitedly looks back and forth between the woman and the gift.

"You can open that when you get back. It'll be here waiting for you." She looks at the clock on the wall. "Isn't it about time to go? You wouldn't want to be late." QC checks her watch, and realizes that the woman is correct.

QC stands up, then gives the old woman a warm embrace and a peck on the cheek. She climbs back out the window and gives her a slight wave goodbye, which the woman returns. Once QC is out of sight, having returned to the corner of the building, the expression on the woman's face is an odd combination of worry and self-satisfaction.

Outside, QC watches as Current Sloane, wearing Anna's fedora (the sight of it makes QC squint with something that resembles dissatisfaction on her face), finishes up her preparation of the reindeer. Viewed from behind, the back of a very large... thing... can be seen sitting in the sleigh.

The Rad is once again wearing red.

CS takes the reigns and moves them so that the bells that are attached all start to jingle. Slowly, the sleigh begins to slide down the runway as the reindeer begin to move forward in unison.

"On, Dancer! On, Dash- ," CS begins, then abruptly stops herself. "Oh, you know the drill! Just get your furry butts moving or we'll be having something other than roasted elf for the 'De-Gifting Day' feast tonight!"

Inside the room, the old woman holds her breath. Outside, QC emerges from the corner and begins to sprint after the sleigh. Gradually, it begins to pick up more and more speed, but QC remains just far enough behind to not be seen around the high backrest on the end of the contraption. Finally, the sleigh starts to rise from the runway. QC races faster after it. As it reaches eye level, then higher, QC's legs bring her directly underneath the sleigh. Once it's within easy reach, QC reaches out and grabs the sleigh's rails with both hands.

Suddenly, with the power of all eight reindeer, the sleigh's trajectory takes a sharp incline. It rises. And rises. And rises. As it does, across the face of the moon streaks its familiar silhouette... with the unique shape of QC's body dangling from the bottom.

As she sits alone in the room, the woman finally exhales. Slowly, her mouth curves into a mischievous grin.

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

"...then failed to fully investigate a suspicious sound in the corner of the room beyond simply firing a blind shot from her blaster into the darkness..."

Love it! There I was, in Starbucks (might as well start early, right?), laughing my head off.

And brain damage could explain a lot :)

Great installment, Todd.

Sun Jan 12, 04:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ha! Thanks, Diane. As it turns out, QC might have been the keystone of this story all along... as you'll soon see. ;)

Ah, Starbucks... and caffeine. I sense we'll be closer over the next two weeks than I probably should be comfortable with. :D

Grrr... crazy time differences.

Sun Jan 12, 05:45:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

watching venus play is really hard these days...

Sun Jan 12, 09:47:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

konjuh has so much power

seemingly unphased by the big stage


Sun Jan 12, 09:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

where is tay townsend? bencic and konjuh are passing her...

Sun Jan 12, 09:51:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

bencic a bit lucky to draw krumm in first round. beatable opponent for her style of play

Sun Jan 12, 09:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Hoergren said...

Well well 3 top/almost topseeds out until now Errani, Vinci and Kvitova! And she really have to think seriously about her play - didn't look good today.

Mon Jan 13, 03:56:00 AM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

robson lost first, venus second, kvitova (definitely your nominated crash and burn winner?)....there goes a good run in sydney and improved fitness. kerber now in a bit of luck in her quarter, but then would it be like sydney, that someone emerges instead?

stosur won too. down 1-4, thought it might go 3 sets. bencic, is it the first main draw for her? but about to end meeting li next.

bouchard gets a really nice draw. if she meets keys, i like her chances, and could appear in her first quarterfinal.

Mon Jan 13, 04:17:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Eric -

I'm guessing that Townsend must be injured. Not 100% sure.

Leif -

Even with improved fitness, I'm really getting pessimistic about Kvitova. I'm not shocked by ANY loss anymore, to a point where I'm totally unfazed by her loss to Kumkhum.

Jo -

Bencic has made a few MD tour appearances the last few years (the first being in Luxembourg in '12, against Venus), but this was her slam MD debut.

Mon Jan 13, 06:45:00 AM EST  

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