Fuller & The Factory Funtime Facility, Act I: Industrial Arts
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October 17th, 1974

“And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls

And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

Virtuoso bowed his head as he finished Veronica’s request, pausing graciously for her enthusiastic applause. Normally, Virtuoso would only perform songs from actual operas or musicals (on Fuller’s insistence), but for now, it was just the two of them in his sideshow tent. She snuck him sheet music, when she could, of songs that Fuller would never approve of, and he would sing them for her when there was no one else around.

“Your covers are always better than the originals. How do you do that man?” Veronica asked as she took a puff of her reefer. Virtuoso softly hummed All Along the Watch Tower, so she wouldn’t have to speak over him. “Oh, so me and the Clowns came up with a new act for the Big Top. I use my magic to make a life-sized house of cards, which is pretty rad on its own, and then the Clowns start pouring out the front door, sticking their heads out the second story window, popping out the chimney and all that jazz. They’re generally causing chaos, and I act like I’m spazzing out because they’re going to knock the house down, but it stays up until I finally get them all under control. Then Pius sneezes like a kitten, blowing the whole thing over. I chase them around the ring a few times for good measure and then we run off stage. The crowd loves it. I bet you’d love it too.

“You know, if you really wanted, we could probably sneak you in some time. We could put you in some clothes and in a wheelchair, sit you where Herman couldn’t get a good look at you. I’m sure he wouldn’t even -”

They both went silent at the sound of squeaking tires rolling into the tent.

Before them was a tricycle made partially from a blond ragdoll, ridden by an oversized, bedraggled rat. The rodent itself was blind, but the doll head had a mismatched pair of button eyes so shiny they were practically mirrors.

Of course, some mirrors were actually windows, with their reflections hiding whoever might be looking through them.

The rat rider squeaked and pointed at Veronica, gesturing for her to follow it.

“Yes Mr. Fuller,” she nodded obediently, just in case Fuller happened to be looking through the Freewheeler's polished button eyes. “Talk to you later V.”

Virtuoso nodded in farewell, but did not resume singing until both she and the Freewheeler were out of sight.

Veronica followed the grotesque little minion to the Ringmaster’s Tent. There she found Fuller nervously pacing behind his desk, with a bemused looking Manny sitting on the opposite side.

“You sent for me Mr. Fuller?” Veronica asked. Fuller nodded, but was too caught up in his own thoughts to answer. “Am I in trouble?”

“We’re all in trouble Veronica. Real hot water, from a fine kettle of fish! Up to our ears in boiling, smelly fish water, that’s what we’re in!” he replied as he fretfully wrung his hands.

“… What?”

“He’s worried about this,” The Man with the Upside-Down Face replied as he slid her a newspaper, The Weekly Wanderer, a subscription available to anyone with a Library card. The headline read The Factory To Open Industrial Themed Amusement Park Next Friday.

"The organization known only as The Factory, best known for its mass production of anomalous goods as well as holding a monopoly on the anomalous market in certain realities, has announced that the grand opening of its own amusement park, The Factory Funtime Facility, will be held on October 25th. The Factory released the following statement to Library Docents earlier this week:

" 'Since our inception, The Factory has strived to be the purest embodiment of capitalism possible, like Coca-Cola. In the past, this meant maximizing production without any regard to social or environmental consequences. Those days are gone. Today, capitalism is about buying happiness. We want to sell you happiness, like Coca-Cola. Abstract concepts, like happiness, and Coca-Cola, have much lower overhead and higher profit margins than physical goods. Market research has shown that despite not having any clear definition, happiness is the most desirable abstract concept. To tap into this market, The Factory has constructed a special facility: The Factory Funtime Facility, where The Factory will facilitate fun times.

" 'Formerly a disposal site for our industrial waste, we’ve repurposed our obsolete and malfunctioning machinery into a multitude of rides and attractions that our Foremen are certain will induce fight or flight responses in our patron’s sympathetic nervous systems (the closest empirically observable phenomenon that we can equate with ‘fun’). Like Coca-Cola.

" 'In today’s busy world, people can no longer afford to participate in enough fun activities, like Coca-Cola, to reach their desired level of happiness. Luckily, The Factory prizes efficiency above all else, and with 140 years/all eternity of experience, we’ve become extremely efficient at efficiency. We guarantee that The Factory Funtime Facility will be the most efficiently fun experience anyone’s ever had.

" 'So, come on down to The Factory Funtime Facility, located throughout the Multiverse in the Crossroads Nexus (please consult local Wayfinders for your nearest emanation). Admission is one copper shilling or equivalent in human desperation. It’s like Coca-Cola!'

"The Library was unable to obtain any further information from The Factory itself, however, multiple Wanderers have confirmed the presence of an industrial-style amusement park in the Crossroads Nexus. Numerous members of the Serpent’s Hand are organizing boycotts and possibly even a protest of the Funtime Facility, due to The Factory’s history of horrific -”

“Oh, those hippies aren’t going be able to stop The Factory,” Fuller said, snatching the newspaper out of Veronica’s hands. “I can’t believe it. I’ve kept this Circus going for a hundred years. Through wars! Recessions! Persecutions! Social upheavals! The worst bugbears the anomalous world can throw at us! And this is how it ends? Being run out of business by The Factory?”

“Ah, sir, with all due respect, the Funtime Facility doesn’t exactly sound like it would provide an experience anywhere near what we offer,” Veronica countered. “And even if it did, it’s an amusement park. We’re a travelling circus, so there’s no direct competition.”

“None of that matters when we’re talking about The Factory!” Fuller objected. “The Library doesn’t call them the Robber Barons for nothing! They ruthlessly create and maintain a monopoly in whatever market they decide to enter, and now they’re offering anomalous entertainment! They won’t tolerate competition. Best case scenario they drive us out of business, but more likely than not they’ll buy us out.”

“Buy us out?”

“That’s what it will say on the internal report, but I don’t expect any of us will ever see a cent from the deal. They’ll just seize everything and indenture all of us!”

“Most of us are already indentured,” Veronica reminded him. Fuller glared at her coldly, and his Freewheeler squeaked a little closer to her.

“Veronica, do you think I’m cruel?” he asked. The blood drained from her face at the not quite rhetorical question. “Oh, I may be a bit quick to crack out the whip when need be, and I may have killed a score or two of rebellious underlings in pre-emptive self-defence, but that’s all for the good of the Circus Veronica! Surely you see that? This Circus, and the people in it, are everything to me. I’m a philanthropist if anything; feeding, clothing and - most importantly - sheltering Freaks from a world that wants them either detained or decapitated. All I ask in return is for you to put on a decent show to earn your keep. Does that make me such a bad guy?”

“No sir, you’re very generous,” she replied promptly.

“It’s a privilege, if anything. Travelling the worlds, performing for adoring audiences. I know you love performing.”

“I do sir, I love it. I’m very lucky to be here.”

“We all are Veronica, but it seems our luck’s run out. Reggie Wondertainment told me about The Factory once. He used to work there you know, before he escaped. All the unskilled work there is done by humans. They’ll hire outsiders when they’re short on staff, but for the most part, their human workers are born and bred inside The Factory walls. They’re wretched, starving things with ghastly white skin covered in coal black soot, chained to the machines for 16 hours a day, every day.

"They live in constant terror of being mutilated by the machines or punished by the Foremen, but any will to escape or rebel has long been beaten out of them. Sometimes The Factory will modify them with mechatronics or spare parts to make them more efficient at their jobs if they decide it’s cost-effective, but even then they don’t last long.

"And of course, The Factory doesn’t share our libertine, bohemian outlook, oh no. They’d never tolerate a voluptuous little thing like you squandering her childbearing potential by canoodling with other girls. No no no, breeding pits are more their style. Fifteen feet deep, chained to the bottom for good measure. There are two pipes, one for water and one for gruel, both in meagrely allotments, plus a drain in the middle. They inseminate you with seed from the most cowardly obedient workers -"

"Fuller, stop," Manny objected.

" - and have you popping out litters of preemies every eight months like clockwork."

"She gets the idea."

"The pit fills up with them until they’re able to work, unless the mother has the gumption to put them out of their misery first. Course, if she does that, the Foremen will -”

“Goddammit Fuller, that’s enough!” Manny ordered. Fuller finally yielded and leaned back in his chair.

“I’ve made my point,” he said smugly.

“You have sir,” Veronica said softly. “I don’t want our Circus -”

My Circus.”

“ - to be taken over by The Factory. What should we do?”

“What can we do? Last time The Factory was driven out of a market it took the combined might of the Essie P and a Fey army. We’re doomed. Done for. Kaput!”

Herman jumped from his chair and took a punch at a floor lamp in frustration. It dodged the blow by swivelling its swing arm, and then swung it back to successfully knock Fuller back into his chair.

“It’s not as bad as all that. Wondertainment has been competition for The Factory for generations, and they’re still around,” Manny reminded him. “Listen: incarnation of capitalism or not, The Factory is still a business. Diversification is always risky, and this article makes it pretty damn clear The Factory has no idea how to run an amusement park. We go to their grand opening, incognito of course – don’t go blabbing your name to the first person who asks like you did in Sloth’s Pit – and we do a little Industrial Espionage. If there’s anything we can do to make it more of a nightmare than it’s already going to be, we will. We use the information we gather there to decide what we do next, but whatever we do we make sure everyone knows how awful The Factory Funtime Facility is. After one quarter of hemorrhaging money, they’ll write the whole enterprise off and go back to mass producing monkey paws.”

“Jiminy Christmas Manny, you’re talking about corporate sabotage against The Factory,” Fuller said, dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief. Manny laughed and shook his head.

“I remember back in the old days, you weren’t scared of anything. Whatever happened to the man who stumbled into a Dali painting of a world and convinced the monsters he found there to work for him as Clowns? To the man who stood before the Ambassador of Alagadda and insisted all our meals and accommodations be comped? To the man who once escaped a Geo Sea strike team by shouting ‘Look, a distraction!’?”

“I like Manny’s idea,” Veronica said. “And it’s not like we’re sneaking into The Factory itself. It’s a public amusement park. If we’re smart, no one will even notice us. Even if they do, we’re all magic to varying extents. We can handle ourselves.”

“Argghhh! It’s one thing for the big guy to be on board with this, but I will not have it said that a twenty-something female stage magician dared to go where Herman Fuller dared not,” Fuller said. “Very well then! Let us steel our courage and gather our wits! Let us muster what might we have and march upon those rusty gates! Let us risk imprisonment and torture and death and employment at the Unseelie Tentacles of the Foremen! May the Broken God have mercy on our souls, for Herman Fuller and Co are going to The Factory Funtime Facility!”

“It doesn’t open until next Friday,” Veronica reminded him.

“Yes, then, is when we march, is what I meant. So, go find something to do until then.”

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