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Chap 1.4 - Page 3frangles: Skip book 1: Writer's Bricks
           "Fire ignite!"
           Frank the bartender glanced over at Skip and his vaguely humanoid water-composed friend.  Skip still wasn't quite clear on what constituted proper social etiquette in Flutonia, but from the look on Frank's face, randomly yelling out in the hopes your body will explode into a mass of fire at a wooden bar table near a storehouse of flammable liquids wasn't included.  A plush chinchilla and octopus broke their attention from their menus with a curious worry.
           Kilo frowned at his failure, then began snapping his liquidy fingers to create a spark.  While this seemed equally unlikely to ignite him, it provoked a stronger objection from Frank.  He shot a closing fist toward Kilo's hand, but scrunched his face in surprise as it just splished the water harmlessly, although the motion did succeed in the respect that Kilo's fingers were now temporarily missing.  Kilo looked up in a rebellious annoyance, but the barkeep simply shook his head implying something about what he'd just done was taboo.  Then he paused as if having an idea, and slid some free matches on the table over to him and resumed mixing the plush toys' drinks.
           "What was all that about?"
           Skip lowered his voice to a whisper.  "If I remember clearly, I think the bartender is very particular about copyright infringement and has strict rules about mimicking or alluding to copyrighted frwoa material.  If I remember right, he's so anal about it that he'll get ticked off even if you had no intention of violating anything.  Given your quest for fire, my guess is you came too close to mimicking some scene in Marvel's big screen rendition of the Fantastic--"  Four people in Frank's Bar halted as Frank slammed his fist on the bar table, causing absolutely nothing to happen except exactly what he'd intended to do: demonstrate his low anger management skills regarding copyrighted references in a threatening manner but not cause a mess.
           Frank simultaneously beamed like Peter in the Chronicles of Narnia when knighted after his first wolf kill, Lonestar in Mel Brook's Spaceballs when he lifts the Yogurt statue with a schwartz ring for the first time, Luke Skywalker shooing down his first X-wing, Wesley Crusher after saving the Enterprise in any given episode of Star Trek, Ms. Palmroy in Donnie Darko in that romantic shot as she stares down symbolically at Cherrita for particular reason after cursing loudly in anger, Grandma Death in the same film now twice alluded to as she gazes off her porch into the vast and wondrous world of her front yard, and SquishToGo in his prideful Fair Use YouTube videos founded on his impressive education of looking up 'fair use' on
           "But why'd he slip me the matches?"
           "Maybe he thinks they won't work for you any more than snapping your fingers will, and would rather you get those wet than your feet in an infringement lawsuit."
           "But--"  Kilo frused and glanced back at Frank who'd resumed his bar cleaning with a subtly lifted mood.  Kilo looked about to ask him something but Frank just slid them both a few complimentary beers.  Kilo reached for his I.D. but realized he hadn't been asked for one,  didn't have one anyway if he had had, and was probably too young to drink even if he had had much of a lower body to hold up jeans and a wallet.
           "Isn't he going to ask to see--"
           "Shush and drink up, I think he's in a good mood, and we'd better not ruin it.  I'll take responsibility if we discover you're under age and he comes to his senses."  Frank, apparently oblivious, pulled out some sort of thick reference manual and began flipping through it with a careful, devious focus.  Kilo's attention jerked back to Skip as he asked the most unoriginal question one can ask a teenager not particularly preoccupied with future ambitions.
           "So, any idea what you want to be when you grow up?"
           The indecipherable expression on Kilo's watery face said the expression itself couldn't even decide what it wanted to be when it turned into something.  Perhaps it was calculating the precise ratios that Skip was being genuinely curious, versus satirically ironic and/or blatantly sarcastic.
           "I dunno... a tsunami?"
           "I  thought you didn't want to be a murderous instigator of mass destruction."
           "Right.  So maybe something important like a tsunami but not the death and destruction part."
           "How about a kiddie pool?"
           "Howz'at important?"
           "Well, children have astounding imaginations, right?  I mean a child's imagination probably peaks right as he pops out of the womb.  So by kiddie-pool age, it should still be pretty fresh.  Even a 3-foot radius pool of tap water could be a vast ocean of life's possibilities to a 2-year old."
           "What if he pees in me?"
           "His youthful epiphanies bound to one day change the world for the better should make up for it."
           "What if his epiphanies land the world in a fiery apocalypse?"
           "Then they're going to need the tsunami."
           Kilo had failed to light half the matches and was still fumbling for a technique that would work.  While increasingly hyperfocused on the task, he could still afford the attention to converse, as if rambling about the meaning of life was seventh nature.

    "Ever get the feeling you're supposed to start something big?  Like really big?  Like Flutonia's just some vifa training facility, and some day you're gonna find out there's a whole universe of tangible matter out there and you alone are going to have the brains to think up the ideas that'll save existence from a bunch of green slimy aliens from another universe?  Or that you're some kid Einstein growing up in some sort of dream-like sandbox in a remote corner of hyperspace, and as soon as you figure out what the hell energy is and what it equals, you'll be ready to use your equations to build the wormholes that will let everyone travel around everywhere they need to go?  And that they built this whole place just so you could get a grade school history lesson on what life was like before it got all real and stuff?  Or that life already evolved so much that everyone just got bored again and re-created the dawn of the universe just to watch it grow from the comfort of some matter-energy living room?  And that they've made you really important with genes to change the world and stuff because just watching normal people go to work every day is just dead ass boring?  Or it's all a super computer program and you're only purpose in life is to get to the last boss so someone can get back to their boring cubicle job?  Y'know?"
           To Skip, Kilo's train of thought had transitioned like a maze of free-flowing forest streams, their regular paths likely known to the forest and frequent travelers, but unmapped and alien to Skip.  Or perhaps it rode the river water like stray nomadic leaves.  Or, they could be running on the water like a wooden track star with feet that always float.
           Maybe the forest streams were part of a great liquid silicon operating system and Kilo's thoughts ran on them like a stray subroutine might run on a philosopher's water-resistant outback laptop.  Or perhaps the thoughts ran the water, if indeed all physical being runs on the universal O/S of pure thought.  Or more simply, ran it like a new hiking track, running and running until it finally runs its course.  Did mind run on matter, or did matter run on mind?  Was Kilo's soul simply water-powered by his body, or was his form a product of his sentience?  Was Skip's while swimming?  Was Frank's while drunk?  What about a drowning plush toy?
           Whether Kilo's thoughts ran with the water, ran on the water, ran the water, or were just water-powered in general, they certainly seemed key to many issues of character and theme going on and perhaps to who Kilo was intrinsically as a humanoid being, much unlike your ordinary non sequitur tangent.
           ...Not that a non sequitur tangent was always irrelevant--or even ever so--but Skip felt this was in fact inversely tangential, in that spilling a seemingly sudden stream of thought out over a drink at Frank's bar could perhaps be the most appropriate time to ever do so.  Hence Skip discarded labeling Kilo's rant as a tangent in favor of a slightly more favorable alternate label; for some reason, he instinctively decided to classify Kilo's style of ramble a "run-on".
           As to this particular run-on, Skip found it just as baffling as every other stream of ideas he'd ever had the obligation of co-pondering.  Skip had just barely started to come to terms with his setting; just barely begun to grasp the careful patterns in which the nonsense of Flutonia continuously re-baffled itself into more and more confusing nonsense.  That a bored teen who seemed less grounded than even Skip could start thinking about possibilities beyond Flutonia entirely was dizzily disconcerting.  (Of course, there was the scant relief that Flutonia's increasing habit of topping it's own bafflingness continued to become exponentially worse at a very steady rate, but this wasn't much.)
           What did it mean; was Kilo even more prolific a prodigy than everyone said Skip was?  Perhaps Kilo was important to all the universe in the way that Skip was important to the universe's obscure little corner of Flutonia.  Only an infinitesimal spec of jealousy prevented Skip's relief at being less important than he previously thought from dominating the moment in utter totality.
           "Nnnope.  I can honestly say that considering my role in all the universe has definitely been off my to-do list for the day.  Save any previous internal frwoa consistencies contradicting that claim, of course."
           "Yah.  Same here."
           "Same with me."
           "Oh, I wasn't talking about me.  I just had a thought that maybe someone somewhere was that important, and I was hoping it might be you so I could tag along and do something more exciting than sit in a nameless bar and drink this skanky horse piss."  Kilo took a long, ironic swig of his beer.  Frank was still absorbed in the book he'd pulled out and didn't take any apparent offense.  The plush chinchilla and octopus at the diner booth were getting antsy for their now-ready but abandoned drinks waiting up on the bar.  They were carefully gauging the distance while collaborating on how they might reach them.
           Kilo failed with his last match and another book of them was instantly slid in front of him.  He frused, as he still didn't know why Frank was now bent on aiding his goal to explode into fire, but didn't pursue the issue, and resumed his attempts with a diligent commitment.  He didn't seem sure what else he could do to get one lit, or even how he could light himself on fire being a whole body of water and all, but perhaps he figured it would work if he just got enough alcohol in his system.
           "Well, we could always think up some place important to explore.  I mean we thought up the bar, didn't we?"
           "Oh come on, we just walked around 'til we found one.  Who says we actually thought it up?"  Kilo managed to get a match half-lit, but his finger just extinguished it when he tried to burn himself.
           "Self-fulfilling prophecy, you think?"
           "Self-full-what?  No, I'm nowhere near full at all.  I think I have to be like half alcohol or something for this to work.  D--Dammit!"  Kilo chugged the rest of his beer and stuck out his hand behind him for another one.  Frank simply slid him one of the dozen he had lined up without raising his eyes from the book.
           "What in the--?  Something's up with Frank.  I think he's too absorbed in that book to realize he's dishing out alcohol to a minor.  That's enough beer, Kilo."
           "I have a high tolerance."  Skip shrugged off Kilo's shrugging off of his advice only out of a morbid curiosity of finding out what Frank's strange behavior was all about, and because of a really fuzzy sense on to what extent he had the right to tell Kilo what to do.  Was Skip like his older sibling?  His roommate?  His fraternity brother?  His AA sponsor?  Babysitter?   Math tutor?  Maybe Kyle played a role in a film Skip was writing a script for, or maybe Kyle was his connection into the high school drug scene because he didn't have much of a social life to procure them from.  Skip shook his head at the strange issue, then paused for a moment as he noticed the forgotten chinchilla and octopus trying to help each other up on a barstool.
           "Either way it should work.  If we set out to think up adventure and we really can't, then maybe we'll just bump into it anyway like we found the bar.
           Kilo got another match lit in vain.
           "What we need is a catalyst."
           "A whuh, Skip?"
           "Something to start with.  A nucleus, a focus, a nexus, a... spark, I suppose... around which everything we do will rotate and grow from.  For the only half hour of life I've known, life has been a whole bunch of random sh!@.  Someone told me it might all start to make sense at some point, but I can't wait for it to do it itself.  I need to write the greatest Flutonian story ever told by the end of the day stat, and you want to become the first Flutonian puddle of water to adventure through the universe, so if we could just pick some place to start and hurl ourselves into an instant story, maybe we can both get what we want if we team up.
           "I have a decent sense of worldly writing skills, and you seem to have some odd potential to ripple out into the vastness of existence, if only for lack of anything better to do than drink beer and whine about friter narration.  We've already thought up a bar together--or at least found one--so who knows what we're capable of when we're even more drunk and ambitious.  I'd say this one's a no brainer."
           "Oh, boy, batman, this sounds fun...  Not."  Skip paused to decide whether Kilo's ungrammatical negation of his sarcasm canceled it out or augmented it; or perhaps it just watered it down by rhetorically modifying a comment that was already mock-true by implication.  Skip took a guess that Kilo's frusion meant he was debating whether logical sarcasm negation was "in" or not, and whether he should add another "not" if it wasn't.  "Anyway, your plan would still require that starting point thing, and I'm fresh out of deers for a catalog."
           "You mean 'ideas for a catalyst'?"
           "Yah, isn't that what I just drunk?"
           "Kilo, are you drunk?"
           "Yah, isn't that what I just drunk?"
           "Kilo, you're drunk."
           "Best state for deers, yeh?...  Matches still aren't working.  Need more booze."  Frank slid him two more beers without blinking and Kilo tried chugging both at once.  "Alright.  Alright."  Kilo acutely concentrated.  "Katalogs... Katalogs... alright ok,ok,ok...  somethiiiinng.. simple.  Wind?  so been there...  already sick of waaater...  Fire?  Ice?  A bolt of deers?  Beers?  Nah, sounds like !@#$ing nerd RPG spells.  Okayyy... got it, I got  We'll start with earth.  A huge big ball of earth.  Yeh?"
           "Hunmm... that's not bad, kid.  That's great, actually.  A huge mass of solid, corporeal ground.  Yeah, that should work.  But what then?  Where is the ball of earth?  What's it like?  How will we get there?"
           "Dunno Squip.  I ideered it up, didn't I?  's your turn."  Kilo effortlessly struck another match, and smiled that the ability seemed to come easier when he didn't have to work at it.  Since it still didn't help light him on fire, clearly more alcohol was required to progress on both fronts.  (A shame, since Skip had already moved Kilo's beers out of reach and given Frank a warning look.)
           "How about we stick the ball of earth in a big black void indefinitely until we figure out what else to do with it.  Then we'll fill the whole void up later, or just procrastinate it indefinitely or until it implodes in a big crunch of a lack of existence entirely."
           "Freckle it."
           "Freckle the void.  Some light dandruff or flavor crystals or somethin'.  Jus' so people know it's there and don't fall into it or whatever."
    "Hunh.  A total vacuum of matter that itself is a pseudo-graspable thing that can fit into a physical environment!  And that's just real enough to mark with some decorative warning lights to point out its presence; something the earth ball could stare out at to contemplate the poetic beauty of near-nothingness.  This is great!  We'll call it... space."
           "Uh, sure."  Kilo stared out into the space between him and the guarded beer.
           "Should there just be one ball of earth, or should there be many?"
           "I mean, how about a whole bunch of balls of earth.  Like a pool table."
           "Isn't that a little much to start with?"
           "Well, you know, we'll just throw in a number of them real quick just so we know how many there are, and go deal with those later if you and my career survive that long."
           "How about 3?"  Kilo lit an ambivolent match as if the suggestion was a light bulb-like idea of no special wattage.
           "Too 'Three's Company'-esque."  The match went out.  Frank blinked a few extra times.
           "Four?"  Light.
           "Too Fantastic Fourish.  Remember?"  Out.
            Frank half-subconsciously lowered his eyebrows a tad.
           "Five?"  Light.  Flicker.
           "Right out of Monty Python."  Out.
           Frank's eyebrows lowered another tad as he turned a page.
           "Six?"  Light.
           "Too Battlestar."  Out like an airlock.
           "Eight?"  Light.
           " 'Eight?  What happened to seven?' "
           Frank's grip started to tighten in conjunction with his expression, though perhaps a little less so than if Skip had hit the Spaceballs line verbatim.
           Flicker out.
           "Ninth Gate."
           "Ten monkeys."
           "11?  12?  13?"
           "Oceans Eleven, Oceans Twelve, Oceans Thirteen."
           "Geeziz.  Alright, let's jump ahead to some random unused number.  How about  37?"  Light like a clerk's store lights.
           "37!?"  Flick off.  Tighter grip.
           "40?"  Light.
           "The Forty Year Old Virgin."  Out.
           " 'You do have some numbers, don't you?' "  Frank missed this paraphrased allusion entirely, as did every Monty Python fan freer within a forty universe radius who didn't have every line of every skit committed to heart.  Skip and Kilo sighed and drank in deep thought for a bit.
           "Come on, think, what kind of number could be fundamental to an adventure story but not already used?"
           "Well any number's prob'ly been used for something; we can't take into account every single obscure freer cult we might never even come across anyway.  Let's just aim a little higher and screw it.  How about forty ttttt--"  Frank shot his hand under the bar as if for a cleaning towel with some strange urge to do so immediately.
           Frank froze.
           "Forty-ten?  Is that a number?"
           "(I was going to say 42 but then I got this strange vibe from--)"
           The towel yanked and whipipped toward Kilo with unfathomable speed.  He managed to dodge it, but it had the indirect effect of slapping Kilo's wrist and lighting the current match as it flew from Kilo's hand and fell in a napkin dispenser, which of course ignited.  Kilo reached to put it out, but the flame only ignited his arm.  It fwooshed through Kilo's whole body and for about a half a second he was the exact fire-person he'd been trying to become.  It only lasted a moment as the alcohol he'd absorbed burned off.  Kilo frowned, but at least could now splash out the napkin fire.
           Frank's favorite towel, however, wasn't so lucky.  As Frank yanked it backward from the flame, it burst into a full torch of light as it had recently been used to wipe up a spilled drink.  But instead of stomping on it, dosing it with water, or handing it to Kilo, he instinctively tossed it away avoid getting burnt.  Unfortunately, he tossed it on top of an open bottle of tequila, which ignited, as did six other bottles in turn.
           Skip tried to pick up Kilo and hurl him at the fire like a bucket of water, but the attempt landed him on the floor as if he'd tried to climb a waterfall.  Finally, as Kilo was about to leap over the bar table instead, a final splash of water extinguished the flames, and everyone turned toward the ominously flammable plush octopus and chinchilla who had somehow been motivated enough to procure a bucket of water and chuck it over the bar.  They'd even managed to avoid hitting their drinks, still sitting there waiting for Frank to serve them.
           The fire out, everyone progressed back to their previous positions in an awkward silence: the toys to their foodless booth, Frank to his slightly-singed reference book, and Skip and Kilo back to their dialogue-friendly seats.
           "7 giant pool balls it is."

           As Skip and Kilo brainstormed their idea of the great pool ball-ish ball of earth named "Earth", Skip noticed the bar seemed to shift and morph around them as they spoke.  He couldn't tell if their very ideas were molding the fabric of the vifa space around them, or his subconscious had hidden what was there all along in order to pawn the place off as his own idea.  Or maybe it was a loose-knit dream, shifting one setting to another as the feel of the dream changed.
           As Skip and Kilo talked on, the vifa diner booths formalized into totally solid, visible entities.  They became upholstered in bark-brown leather next to lightly draped windows as if a ghostly interior decorator was working on them on some askew plane of existence.  They finally became complete with a salt and pepper shaker, napkins, and a bottle of A1 at each table, and the floor became a thin, dark carpet in a Celtic-esque pattern.  The walls were painted in subtle earth tones; the ceiling in a butch gray.
           By the time Skip and Kilo's Earth idea was as fleshed out as it was going to be for the moment, the place had achieved a net feel of a uniform cafe/bar.  Nothing clashed.  Their talk was of space and matter ad form, but somehow everything immediate right around them had shifted along with their metaphysical ideas.  The bar around them stood tall with Earthling patriotism, a regal ambassador to Flutonia.
           The place was nothing spectacular, but perhaps its very token average nature was something special in itself.  They hadn't expected their idea to have such instant results, yet here they were in a vifa Earth bar without having to have invented rockets or space ships or transdimensional transporters to get there.  The end result was as a short scene of someone sitting at a table eating a bowl of salad while the background changes from a barnyard picnic to a modern city park bench, via a Ranch dressing commercial stressing its manufacturing "Since 1884".
           Skip looked up at the clock as Kilo took the last swig of the chocolate milk Skip had switched him to quite awhile ago, but the clock was different, too.  Before it had had seven divisions labeled 1 through 7.  Now it had 12, with five little marks breaking up each twelfth-slice.  Something was wrong.  Even with all the shifting, it seemed out of place for time itself to have changed form.
           "What the hell is wrong with the time?"
           "Bases."  It was Frank who'd spoken.  Skip didn't have even the faintest memory of any bartender ever doing so.  His voice was as deep and introspective as any character who rarely speaks and then moves mountains the rare moments they break silence.  Of course, the epiphany-deep tone had little or nothing to do with the fact that Frank's words seemed as mundane and useless as possible.
           "New clock."  It was a conclusive statement, as if the meaning of "bases; new clock" was very clear, and any clarification or elaboration for anyone clueless enough to not know what they meant--or dense enough not to accept them as an exciting mystery if they had genuine reason to be unfamiliar with them--was completely out of the question.
           "But what does it say?  It's supposed to be 1:43."
           "It is," Kilo countered.  Somehow he found it easier to read the new clock.
           "Good, then we should hurry.  We still have time to catch 1:44."
           "What's special about 1:44?"
           "It's the precise half-way mark of the hour.  I get the feeling something really pivotal is about to happen, especially having thought up our sudden nucleus.  All the vifa nonsense around here already seems to line up in some bizarre numerial pattern, and now that we have a starting non-nonsense idea, its sure to collide with the half-nonsense in a way that can only spark adventure!  Maybe time stops, or implodes, or just skips to the chase.  Come on, kid, I think our plot's about to pique."
           Kilo frused at the clock.  1:44 didn't seem like the middle of the hour at all.  "What plot?  We don't even have a plot."
           "Trust me, around here, a void of plot is as good a plot as any!  Just come on, I think I know where to head."
           "Shouldn't we stick around and finish helping Frank with his whole fire scam thing?"  Skip glanced curiously toward Frank.  His vifa reference manual had finally polished itself off into a bright neon how-to book that he'd lost interest in and slid aside.  Skip could finally read its official title:
Burning Down Your Bar for Profit: Fire Insurance Fraud for Dummies 

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