The Rules

Quick Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or the world they inhabit. They were created by the fabulous people at Zombie Orpheus for their equally fabulous RPG, Masters of the Metaverse!  Be sure to tune in to Twitch.TV/zombieorpheus every Monday at 6PM PST to see more!

Monday regarded the milkshake. Hollywood had had it waiting for her before she even reached the counter. Leaning against the linoleum countertop, she considered the frozen beverage carefully. The first approach was everything.

“You know.” Hollywood appeared as if from nowhere, “There are other items on the menu. I mean, if you don’t actually like milkshakes.”

“It’s not a question of not liking them.” she responded, her eyes never leaving her target, “I just have to take my time.”

“Okay.”

The diner was relatively quiet today. There was talk about an upcoming wedding in the Djinn galaxy and so most of the customers were busy either preparing for the big day or pouting over having not been invited. Those who remained were mostly regulars or people who were remarkably unconcerned with the celebrity gossip of the quadrant. Hollywood watched Monday for a few more moments before speaking again.

“So, why milkshakes?”

“Hmm?”

“Why choose that for your usual?”

Monday blinked and looked up, focusing on him at last, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I had never eaten anything before and there were a lot of factors to consider. Given the amount of varied and increasingly complex options in cutlery that there were, it seemed a better idea to choose something that required very little skill to consume. Or so I thought. Also, the color was nice.”

Hollywood stared, “You mean for your first meal ever and for the one item of food I would always know to bring you without question, out of all the unique, delicious, and exciting dishes in the entirety of the Metaverse, you made your choice based on ease of utensil and a pleasing shade of pink?”

“Like I said, I didn’t have much else to go on.”

“Well, fine. But you could have at least considered something that didn’t require mastery in personal internal suction first.”

Monday returned to her staring contest, “As I said, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Hollywood opened his mouth as if to say something more and then seemed to think better of it. He looked out one of the diner’s front windows and squinted.

“Hey, Monday.”

“Yeah?”

“Is that trash can new?”

She turned and followed his gaze, “Hmmm. Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I don’t remember seeing it before.”

Hollywood frowned slightly, “Well, that’s probably not good.”

“No?” Monday turned back to face him.

“No. Not much I can do about it at the moment but…probably should keep an eye on it.”

Monday nodded, “Think it has anything to do with that guy?”

“Oh, the wacko in the Hawaiian shirt?” Hollywood leaned forward and rested his chin in his hand, “I doubt it. He doesn’t seem the type to hide in garbage cans.”

“True.” Monday rested her chin in her hand and leaned onto the countertop, mirroring Hollywood’s pose. “Should we be doing anything about that?”

“The garbage can or the wacko?”

“The wacko.”

Hollywood shrugged, “Not much we can do. I mean, I can keep him out…for now. But, I can’t leave the diner. So, it’s not like I can warn anybody out there. And then there are the rules.”

“Right.” Monday nodded slowly, “The rules.”

She sighed, “Well, I can leave the diner except no one can see me. Or hear me. So not much use there. And there are the rules.”

“Yup.” Hollywood agreed, “The rules.”

They sat in silence for a time before Monday said, “You know when you said you wanted to keep an eye on the trash can?”

“Yeah.”

“I think it’s doing the same to you.”

Hollywood glanced over her head in time to see a large eyeball unstick itself from the plate glass window with a loud slurp before vanishing back into the trash can. He raised an eyebrow.

“So, do you want to try something else?” Hollywood asked, turning back to Monday, “Pancakes? Turkey club? Piece of pie?”

“Nah.” Monday shook her head, “Better stick with this. Besides, I don’t think that Turkey Club is as charming of a nickname as Milkshake.”

Hollywood chuckled, “They still call you that?”

A look of sadness passed briefly over her face, “No. They…they don’t remember me. That last loop, the one that fixed things, none of them ever saw me. So they don’t even know who I am. Or was. Or…I don’t know.”

“Well, maybe one day.”

She shrugged, “Maybe. But I don’t think so. I finished their chapter. Did I tell you?”

“No.”

“Just the other day. It was a good moment to leave them. They deserve the rest.” Monday looked up at Hollywood, “Do you ever have customers stop coming?”

He nodded, “Sure. Sometimes a franchise closes or people go on diets. Sometimes they just don’t like the service anymore.”

He paused and dropped a small part of the persona, “And sometimes they leave.”

Monday nodded, ducking her head, “Yeah. This is…this is my first time finishing a chapter. And it’s…just a little quieter than I expected it to be.”

“They might start talking again. One day.”

“Yeah.” Monday straightened, “Yeah, I know. It’s okay. Like I said, it was a good place to leave them.”

Hollywood smiled, “And now you have space for new stories.”

She rolled her eyes, “The people upstairs will be so relieved to hear it. They already wish I wouldn’t write the ones I do.”

“Oh?”

“Too much extraneous detail.” she intoned, “Not enough focus placed on the concrete facts and information of the events.”

Their conversation was interrupted by what sounded very much like an extremely large bird hitting the outside of the window. They both turned in time to see what looked like a Sparkle Sister Official Fan fanny pack hitting the pavement next to the garbage can.

“So, that…” Monday began.

“Yeah.”

“Do you think it was…”

“Probably.”

Monday shook her head, “This Metaverse is very weird.”

Hollywood nodded, “Yes. But entertaining.”

“You know what it means if he gets in, right?” Monday asked suddenly.

“The Hawaiian shirt?” Hollywood leaned forward again, “Yeah. You?”

Monday nodded, “Yeah.”

Hollywood considered something, “You don’t know where he is, do you?”

She made an incredulous face, “I’m informed not omniscient.”

“Right.”

She turned and began rifling through her backpack, “I have some stories about him. You can read them if you want.”

She pulled out a few sheets of paper and pushed them across the counter at him, “Might as well. No one else reads them.”

Hollywood picked up the pages and began leafing through, “I read your stuff.”

Monday blinked, “Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh. Well, thanks.”

She paused, “Wait. How did you even get a hold of my stories? They’re supposed to be filed away in some sort of official Chronicler vault or…”

She trailed off as Hollywood glanced up, “Oh. I see. Dumpster diving.”

“Their loss is someone else’s gain.”

Monday waved a hand and turned back to her milkshake, “Whatever. I’ll be sure to bring this up at the meeting next week.”

Hollywood stopped skimming and looked up again, “Meeting?”

“Yeah. With the higher ups. I have a feeling this is going to be about those four hundred years and how I didn’t exactly do what I was supposed to. You know, on account of the rules.”

“Right. The rules.”

“Right.”

“What do you think is going to happen?” he asked, putting the papers under the counter for later use, “At the meeting.”

She shrugged, “No idea. Demotion, disapproval, or outright firing all seem pretty likely. Maybe all three? I mean, the disapproval is kind of a given at this point. Never mind that I helped fix an entire world that was stuck in an endless loop. Almost like it was set up to be someone’s personal version of hell or something.”

Hollywood said nothing and began absently wiping the counter with a towel that had appeared in his hand. Monday squinted at him and then threw up her hands.

“The rules! I know, I know.” she shook her head as she slowly inched her fingers closer to the stem of the milkshake glass, “You ever get the feeling that the rules are stupid?”

“Often.” Hollywood replied, “But then again, I haven’t found a better solution yet. So until then…”

“Right, right.” Monday muttered.

Outside, the garbage can suddenly tipped itself over and began rolling away. Hollywood watched it go and checked the clock on the wall behind him. At least it had left before the lunch rush.

“If he does get in” Monday said quietly, “That’s the beginning isn’t it? The beginning of the end.”

Hollywood stopped wiping and regarded her, “In theory. I’ve never been in a situation like this before. I mean, I’ve been around long enough to remember a few times when it felt close but this is…well, it’s a little different.”

“It is.” Monday agreed, “I haven’t heard any stories like it either. Some stuff comes close but nothing exactly like it.”

Hollywood laughed slightly, “Two beings who are supposed to know everything and we come up empty.”

Monday snorted, “Informed not omniscient, remember? And who ever said we knew everything?”

“People?”

The door swung open and a dragon pushed its way in. Hollywood raised a hand, “Hey Carl. Usual? Cook has some great omelettes on special if you prefer.”

Carl froze and twisted his head around to glare at Hollywood, “You tryin’ to be funny, mate?”

“N-no?”

Carl sniffed, “Just the usual. A small green salad and some mint tea. My stomach is a right ol’ mess today.”

“You got it.” Hollywood disappeared and returned a few moments later, having settled Carl into five of the back booths and given him his food.

“I’m beginning to wonder what the point of the rules is.” Monday said, “Following them seems to lead to people suffering and worlds ending. I mean, if the rules are supposed to keep the Metaverse safe then why is it in danger?”

Hollywood looked at her, “Well, I don’t know if the rules are about the rules. I think it might be more about following them or not.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I think it does.”

“Fine.” she sighed, “It makes a little sense.”

“Did you ever think about how interesting it is that all your stories connect?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” Monday replied, her gaze again focused on the increasingly melted milkshake.

“I mean all your stories are about the same group of people. Some more indirectly than others, but they all center on the same set of pilots. I just thought it was interesting.”

Monday lifted her eyes and gave him a flat stare, “Did you.”

“I did.” Hollywood smiled in his most charming manner, “But I won’t ask you anything more about that.”

“Because of the rules.”

“Right. The rules.”

“It’s always so relaxing coming to visit you.” Monday said sarcastically, “These conversations are really the highlight of my day.”

“Thanks. I like them too.” Hollywood grinned and Monday was unable to hold her glare.

“I’ll admit, I was a little worried after the dome came down.” he continued, “Wasn’t sure where you were going to end up or if you would come back for another milkshake.”

Monday smiled, “I enjoyed being seen and heard. You don’t tend to forget the people who can still do that.”

“I’m flattered.” Hollywood leaned closer, “Though off the record, I wanted to ask.”

He lowered his voice, “Any changes? I mean, four hundred years is a long time…”

Monday said nothing, she simply sat down and took a sip of her milkshake. Hollywood smiled, “Well done.”

Before she could reply there was a tremendous roaring sound from outside. She and Hollywood turned and found themselves staring at an enormous creature that appeared to be digging itself a giant hole. The roaring was on account of the fact that it had hit a large boulder while digging and was now nursing a bruised digit. They both tilted their heads to the left as the creature returned to its burrowing.

“Is that a…” Monday began.

“A mimic. Yes.” Hollywood replied.

They moved their heads to the right as the mimic began to bury itself in the planet’s surface.

“And is it…”

Hollywood nodded, “Wearing the diner as a hat…yeah. Looks like it.”

“Oh, nope!” Monday pointed, “That’s not a hat, that’s its head.”

“And I thought the space armada of Mannschplainers was going to drive away customers.” Hollywood sighed.

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