This Toy Facsimile of Life
rating: +15+x

Pen.

Pen to paper.

Pen on paper.

Pen tapped on paper.

Cornelius tapped the pen on the paper. The feather swishing in the air, his quill not yet wetted with ink, only thinking. Thinking, and tapping, the sound of which felt huge in this spacious office, dark despite the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him. No lamplight. No light of any other sort. Just a dreary grey mess, objects too ensconced in shadow to be made out. The only illumined section was the desk, and it was only a faint, diffused light, coming in from the window, grey from the clouds, sad in its own right. And all it illumined, the only objects it touched, were the desk.

And the pen in Cornelius' hand.

Tap, tap, tapped on the paper.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

Dear Holly, Cornelius thought. Holly my love. My dearest Holly. Holly, my light Holly. Holly Light. To whom it may concern (namely Holly). Holly, Holly, Holly.

Cornelius ran through variation upon variation of how to start this letter. It could be light, it could be humorous. It could be serious. Should he prepare her for a hard truth, or let her have her smile and warmth until the end? It was all so confusing. There was no clear answer. And plus, if he kept agonizing about this one insignificant detail, he could indefinitely postpone confronting the entire rest of the letter, which was surely a larger and more daunting task than any introduction could be.

So tap, tap, tap went the pen.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap.

Tap.

"This isn't the short stop along the way you said it would be, Corny."

Tap, tap, tap. "Don't interrupt me. I'm thinking," Cornelius replied, his tenor (nearly alto) combining with his height and shaven face to give him just a little hint of childishness despite the funeral-appropriate apparel and mesopelagic eyes.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

"You're not thinking very fast."

Cornelius laid the quill horizontally on the page, but refused to look up. "You have nowhere to be. Why can't you wait?"

There was a pause that Cornelius imagined might have been a shrug. "I can't wait for the same reason you can't. I don't like staying here. I've got places to be… in the general, undetermined sense. In other words, Corny, I have no schedule, but I do get bored."

"Well then why don't you take a walk. Explore. My schedule isn't strict. I'll be here when you get back, with a finished letter."

"I can't take a walk."

"And why not?"

There was silence. Silence so loud and enduring that Cornelius could hear his own heartbeat, and every single shift in every single fold of his clothes. The silence spoke for itself.

He twisted in his chair, daring, for a moment, to look out the window behind him. That great grey expanse that he was hundreds of feet above. The project. The failure. The world of wonder.

But only briefly. Only enough to catch a glimpse of the edges of the buildings. The empty buildings. The rides without patrons. The plastic streets and the candy grasses beyond. Vast, grey and gaunt, overcast by clouds that shouldn't have even existed, given that Cornelius had the controls to the weather in this wide, upscaled snowglobe.

Then he was facing forward again, with only two places to look: the letter, and the darkness. The corners of his office the unnatural light from outside couldn't reach. Everywhere that wasn't his desk, his pen, his inkwell, his letter, and himself.

"They've already started, Corny. They're deconstructing the buildings outside as we speak."

"You think I don't know that?" Anger didn't suit Cornelius' voice.

Tsk, tsk, tsk, the shadows chided him. "I'm playing with you, friend. You're right. I have all the time in the world. Now write your letter."

"Thank you," Cornelius replied, grateful for the possibility of silence and concentration once more. He picked up the pen, and returned to tapping.

Tap, tap, tap.

Tap.

Tap.

There's no point to it, Cornelius thought to himself. There's just no point in trying for perfection. That's what got me here in the first place.

And with that, he dipped the pen into the inkwell, and began.

To Holly, my niece,

You may find it curious to be receiving a letter from your uncle at such a time as this. I admit I find it curious to be writing one as well. It is only that I can't imagine anyone else to bring with me, but I also can't imagine going alone.

You may be wondering what I'm talking about, but bear with me.

There are a great many things that won't make sense to you, right away. Only some years ago were you disillusioned of the normalcy of your world, and you may have never heard that your uncle Cornelius had his own company. If the stamp on this letter means anything to you, then you may already have guessed that it's true. That you are related to the great Doctor Wondertainment. Or the not-so-great Doctor Wondertainment, as it were.

Nevermind that. I have written a letter to make a request of you. A request I know you can fulfill because you're so kind of heart because, if I'm being honest, I have left you no choice. My life is coming to a close, my dearest Holly. I need an heir. I know that we have spoken only a few precious times. I know I have been very distant to you. I know that at family gatherings, I've been something of an eccentric. It is no secret to me that I am often unwelcome. It is no secret that people were relieved when I stopped coming. What was a secret was that I stopped because I had been swept up, my dearest Holly. Swept up into this great big unbearable thing! This great, mystical, magical, fantastical, whimsical, Wonderful thing.

And it was awful. And it was awful because of me. Not just because of me, but I have done more than my fair share. I have failed, you see. I meant to start something beautiful and I have failed.

But I haven't given up. Even as I am dying, I haven't given up. I want to start it all over again, Holly. You may be thinking: At a time like this? At a time when we cower in fear, when the world over is under the thumb of the Factory? How could you start anything at a time like this?

And to that I reply: Not a time like this. In fact, it's a time like this I am hoping to avoid entirely.

By this point in the letter, I think you will have started the process. Unknowingly, unwillingly, unconsenting, and I am aware how dirty it is to trick you like that. I wish with all my heart I knew how to do anything without hurting people. That's the poison in my heart, Holly. A poison you don't have, a poison you won't have, a poison whose absence will make you a great, mystical, magical, fantastical, whimsical, Wonderful Doctor Wondertainment.

Holly Light, you are my hope.

I love you today and every day after,
Uncle Cornelius

"There," Cornelius declared, pen high in the air, his voice reverberating through the shadows.

He waited for no reply. He folded the letter three times, slid it into an envelope which he retrieved from a drawer in his desk, retrieved (along with the envelope) a stick of wax and a box of matches, and then melted the wax onto the fold of the envelope, retrieving his stamp to finally seal it.

"There," he said again, softer.

He stood from his chair, pushing it several feet back, and then picked the letter up and extended his hand.

"My letter, dear courier, is ready for delivery."

From out of the darkness a long, colorless arm extended, and its fingers, thin and bony, gently clasped the letter and pulled it back.

"Criminy, when did you ever decide to be so creepy?"

The voice chuckled. "Oh, Corny. I'm a nobody. How can you say that I'm anything?" Then a face poked into the light, its skin pale, its eyes dark, its hair short and black, and its cheeks round and pudgy. "Ever considered that you're the creepy one?"

And then it retreated, silently, like a haunting ghost. The silence, so loud once more. That ringing in Cornelius' ears, audible again. Faced with nothing and nobody, in what was soon to be nowhere.

"I have," Cornelius muttered, one hand twiddling his own short black hair, speaking through his own round and pudgy cheeks. "I have considered it."

But this time, he really was just talking to himself, the king of Wonder Tower, the ruler of Wonder World!™ — his project, his failure, his toy facsimile of life.

He thought he might have heard some kind of commotion emanating from the streets below. A distant, metallic skirmish. That would be the Factory, he thought to himself, coming to claim the remains of my city. Any number of Cornelius' toys would be fighting them off, but the Factory's resources were functionally endless, and their eyes tended to be just as big as their stomach. If they were hungry for Wonder World!™, there was little point in attempting to stop it.

So Cornelius didn't look out the window. He didn't care to see the specifics of those battles. The Factory's army was vast but thin. His robots would have time to fend them off in waves. So he could work slow. Good, he thought to himself, I've always liked taking my time.

He strode into the darkness, and felt about for a candle he knew was there. Once discovered, he produced a matchbox from his pocket, and lit it. Picking up the candle holder's handle, he had his light source.

"I've got to take my time," Cornelius reminded himself, "because Holly needs to receive my letter."




Nobody in particular watched the battle up close, perched over the arch atop the main entrance to Wonder Tower, a safe distance away from the screeching metal and screaming faces. On the big, circular steps leading up to the arch were the unnamed sentries that Cornelius had made in preparation for such an invasion. They lacked much of the color and whimsy and muster that "front-facing" Wondertainment products had. They were grey and built for function over form. Four spidery legs extended from a base, from which a long multi-jointed neck grew straight upwards. On top of that neck was a cannon, bright and shiny and polished, that always knew where to fire.

In this case, these countless sentries were firing everywhere, as the grotesque Factory "soldiers" crawled into view from behind buildings, out of windows, up from the man holes, and sometimes they even fell from the sky. In true Ford-approved fashion, they were uniform, exactly the same in their biology and mechanisms, masterly efficient in their utilization of (mostly) human parts with electrical mechanisms — faces stretched across their coleopteric backs, arms becoming these long, mantid, clasping things, with excavator hands and storage space for salvaged parts.

Nobody had a particular distaste for them, and enjoyed watching rows of them get blown into pieces by the sentries, though they were all the while wary of the potential shrapnel. Only once did Nobody watch one dive onto a sentry and use their claws to crush its neck, then mindlessly pull off pieces and attach it to their body to carry back to the Factory. Another sentry made quick work of it by skewering it with one of their legs, then tossing it back into the street.

But the sentries were finite, and the Factory just kept coming.

Coming and coming and coming and coming.

Still, there had been moments when it looked like it was going to let up, and Nobody noticed that a period of silence had lingered. They gracefully hopped off their perch and approached the line of metal soldiers.

An ear to the air, a tongue to the wind, and Nobody was confident in their opening.

They knocked on a leg, and a cannon turned towards them. Someone lesser might have been intimidated — well, someone who was anyone at all. Nobody wasn't so easily scared.

"How far to the nearest Way?"

The thing looked at them, dumbly, not just in that it portrayed no recognition, but in that it was irritatingly mute.

"Come on," Nobody goaded, "Corny makes all his toys talk, you can't be any different."

It lowered itself so that its base was on the ground, and its neck stood straight up, so that the cannon end acted purely like a pointer. With a voice like a cartoonish caricature of a little girl speaking from the bottom of a well: "The station is that way," it pointed down the widest road, "take a right on Pom Pom and then a left at Squeak, you can't miss it!"

Nobody smiled. "Thank you. You're doing great!"

"Thank you —"

It stopped before it could say something else when another small crowd of Factory drones started dropping off a nearby rooftop. The combined fire of the sentries caved in that side of the building, burying the things in rubble. Right, Nobody thought to themselves, no time like the present, then.

They set off down the way, glad to be separating from those Wonder Tower guards. They were massaging their neck, which had been making a genuine effort to roll up and over their shoulders, and make its way down to the center of their back. Their arms, as well, were straining to become longer, and their skin felt harder, their mouth and throat straightening to try to get that cannon shape.

Nobody was enjoying the feel of Cornelius' warm bouncy figure, and so had fought it for a moment or so, but where he was going, he would gladly take function over form. Nobody released what little grasp he had on an identity, creating a vacuum, exactly that kind which nature so abhors, and it was filled with metal and gunpowder in seconds.




Cornelius had other lights available to him, of course. Wonder Tower was full of enough magic to entirely tune out the fight outside and maintain a cheery, vibrant palette, full of song and merriment and joy. Only, such a display was for the benefit of others, and Wonder Tower was — besides himself and perhaps an intruder or two that were now navigating the labyrinthine funhouse — completely empty.

In truth, he could have written his letter from the basement. Cut out this entire journey. But he wanted an excuse to walk through it all one last time. His project. The Wondertainment brand.

The tower was split into sections for each of the departments, generally structured so that the most important were near the top and the least important were near the bottom, but such was not always the case. The Public & Human Relations Department, for example, was at the bottom so they could be the most effective face for the company. But the Toymaking Department, on the other hand, was right by the top. Right under Cornelius' office, for easy access and monitoring.

But no one had been here in months.

With only his candle to guide him through, Cornelius walked past the workbenches. The dozens of pinned-up blueprints, so swiftly abandoned as the company had fallen apart along with the world around it. There were half-finished products, scraps and parts lying around — plastic doll pieces, tools, googly-eyes, sheets of metal, of wood, of metalworking tools, of woodworking tools, plugged in or not, wrapped up and put away or strewn about. All the in-betweens of work and of disfunction, placed into stasis and with the human element removed.

The candlelight gave Cornelius a spotlight for this journey through time. By name placards he dared not read, pinned pictures of family — or pins where there were pictures, snatched up in the drive to escape. The room was massive with an arched roof, and his footsteps echoed through the space, touching every corner, finding every nook, and dying only with the natural decay over time. When Cornelius stopped to inspect something closer, the echo took a full five seconds or more to leave him. When he resumed, the space reverberated so well that he wondered how anyone worked here with those loud machines, those drills and screwdrivers and saws.

And their laughs. The smiles and greetings and laughter. When there were smiles and greetings and laughter, that is. There were of course quieter days. Or more serious days. At the beginning of the company, when Cornelius was not yet sure if the immense investment would pay off, when he was hard on his tinkers. For their own good, he'd think to himself. Now, he wasn't so sure.

Cornelius stood at the entrance to the workshop, only some steps from the next spiral staircase. He looked back over it all — no, he looked over its image in his head. The candlelight reached only the cubicle-like walls of the first workshop, and some speckles of its flame made their way onto the reflective metal ceiling. But the room had no windows. He'd thought it might help the tinkers focus on their work.

He breathed in through his nose, and mindlessly twisted one of his thumbs with his other pudgy hand. I was made here, he thought to himself. He turned around, and left it behind him. That was good enough for one last look.




Nobody could feel a mussy melancholy making its way through the dilapidated and corroded remains of Wonder World!™. The stark destruction of its intended role, its face, its identity. It was almost like staring at a mirror — or at least, how Nobody imagined it. A peculiar manifestation of their half-real nature was that reflective surfaces never registered their presence. It brought Nobody a vague discomfort every now and then, seeing so clearly that they were an outsider to all that was fully real. And as if on cue, the grey clouds started pouring a torrential, oily rain.

Better make haste, lest Nobody stare at a dirty puddle and be reminded that they couldn’t be Somebody.

In the form of a Wondertainment sentry, Nobody fired into an oncoming wave of the putrid soldiers of the Factory. The cannonball tore through them and crushed them, releasing bursts of twitching viscera and demonic blood. Nobody made it a point to carry out their mission as dispassionately as possible, despite the disgust in their gut upon seeing the malformed enforcers of mindless, gnawing industry. It was pointless to hate that which didn’t think or feel, but even so, Nobody briefly wondered how a force so blinded by hunger sometimes appeared to have more of an identity than they did.

The Factory had a certain simplicity, a horrid consistency to it, a series of unbroken patterns which anchored it to reality. Perhaps the Factory was like Nobody at some point, but the weight of its hunger broke it somehow. A point of no return had been crossed, and the whole force was monstrous beyond the singularity. A thing with no heart or brain, only the desire to assimilate. Would Nobody also break if they became Somebody?

Before they could linger on such questions, the environment changed again. The ground rumbled and shattered as it gave way to a colossal soldier, skinless and covered by swarms of obese flies — its mouth poured smoke, and melted skin at the elbows revealed the mechanical joints underneath. Nobody, even as a sentry, didn't measure up to the size of the creature’s grasping, clicking hands. Facing it head on would be suicidal, inasmuch as being alive or dead mattered to a Nobody. Time for a change of plans.

Nobody took cover behind an half-salvaged ice cream van, and assumed the form of one such fly. They didn’t like it in the slightest, but had to blend in to find the nearest Way. As they flew over the gore-stained wreckage of what could have been Wonder World!™, Nobody thought back on the Somebodies that had previously summoned them for similar missions. Patterns would emerge and be partially committed to memory: Somebodies rarely learned from their mistakes, even the most tragic ones. There was a chance that this was going to be for naught, but Nobody pressed on. Always committed, yet never attached.

It was a limbo-like approximation of existence, with their memories often turning blurry and disjointed between journeys. But for some reason, Nobody stopped to stare at a lone piece of faded graffiti on a dumpster, which depicted a smiling child playing with one of the many discontinued toys that did not make it to the outside world. Nobody pondered on the significance of this image, and imagined a lost Somebody finding a piece of colorful plastic that was garbage to Cornelius but still sparked joy against all odds and out of sight.

Suddenly, Nobody was possessed and overwhelmed by an impetus unlike any other they had previously experienced. The success of this mission was not just a way to pass eternity, it was now Nobody’s business.




Cornelius walked along the catwalks of the Sweets & Consumables Department. There was once a time you couldn't be there without a suit for fear of breathing in the chemicals the candy vats produced, but with the operation defunct, there were instead merely stagnant pools of viscous sugar syrups that Cornelius made it a point to give a wide berth.

The smell was still sickeningly saccharine, but he could bear it. It was nostalgic, in its own way. Something strong and loud while the rest of the tower was dead. Silent.

Cornelius was leaning over the railing, shining his light down the messes of tubes and pipes and conveyor belts, when he heard the echoing of approaching footsteps.

"Hello?" He wildly swung in place, trying to find the source of the noise.

The footsteps stopped, though he was no closer to placing them.

"Hello, Cornelius."

The voice of someone familiar met his ears, and he relaxed somewhat. But only somewhat. It wasn't someone he was expecting to encounter.

"I hope you can appreciate my urgency here, I don't have much time to chit-chat."

"Are you sure?" The voice purred. "I thought you were going at your leisure."

There didn't used to be such an echo in there. When it was staffed and running, the machines would have filled the space, nearly deafening in their pounding and mixing and hissing. Even on the rare (very rare) occasions that the machines were turned off, the presence of people would be enough to dampen the acoustics. Now, it was empty, and it was like an echo itself.

"Leisure is a strong word," Cornelius retorted, "I am proceeding slowly but surely."

"Then you must have time to join me in conversation, do you not?"

Cornelius was continuing on his path, perhaps with a little more speed to his step. "What is it you want to talk about?"

"What is it I don't want to talk about?" The voice seemed to be becoming louder, and Cornelius could hear those footsteps return. Boots on the wobbling metal, getting louder and closer. Cornelius picked up his pace. It seemed neither participant was willing to continue the conversation. He could hear the footsteps getting quicker, and with the echo it began to circulate adrenaline — it sounded like he was being converged upon from every angle, rushed towards by an army of them. Not quite an intruder in Wonder Tower.

But someone quite unwelcome indeed.

Cornelius finally reached the exit, and shut the door behind him. Calm, for a moment.

He found himself in a felt-covered hallway, with a wall of photos of the employees. Proud Candy Catalysts. But Cornelius was now feeling the very urgency that he had described.

No more time to take the spiral staircases. He walked directly past a stairwell, and made his way through a turn here and a turn there towards an elevator, putting a hand in front of his candle to make sure it wouldn't blow out with the rush. He began to slow when he was confident he had put some distance between him and his pursuer. It was especially comforting that he hadn't heard a door open or close.

He allowed himself a sigh of relief, and a normal walking speed once more.

He pushed the button to call the elevator, and simply waited. His stroll was not so quiet and contemplative as he had hoped, and he was now eager to be done with it sooner rather than later.

When the elevator dinged, it opened on a face Cornelius was trying to avoid.

"Hello again," the man purred once more.

His body was tall. Unusually tall. And he wore with it an unusually tall suit. The jacket, tie, pants, and shoes were this deep green, like the treetops on a full moon. Underneath it he wore a scarlet dress shirt, the same color decorating his cuffs and his socks. His hair was, in contrast to his stature and attire, rather unkempt, long and tangled and falling over his shoulders. It was a bright, visceral red, like that of veins. In the dim light, Cornelius could almost imagine he saw it pulsing.

The man leaned down, and right in front of the candle, his face became clear. His skin was an inbetween brown that could belong to anyone across the globe, and his face was similarly placeless. But his eyes… they were that same visceral red. As if his eyes were not a window to his soul, but instead a wound, an open hole, a peering into his musculature, pulsing like his hair, like his whole body was a heart and you could nearly hear it pumping.

Seeing that there was no likely escape from this interaction, Cornelius decided to give in to it.

"Hello," he replied. "Good to see you, Mr. Redd."




Nobody emerged out of the purple and gold opening in reality, and stepped into the world which had been overtaken by the Factory. The last colors of whimsy vanished along with the Way, like a candle being snuffed out. Existence appeared to be more or less the same at a first glance, which Nobody had learned from long experience was usually a very bad sign. There were no horrific robots patrolling the slums and vivisecting people, no giant furnaces eating mountains of corpses, and no deafening screams of horror. At first, Nobody thought this might be a trick, some sort of trap meant to lower the guard of any dimensional travelers who found themselves lost in these quiet and grey streets. But as they shed their form of the engorged fly and turned into an unremarkable vagrant, their impression of hidden danger slowly changed into something much worse. What if the Factory didn’t need to hide anymore?

Nobody decided to observe for the moment. Something wasn’t right. No, something was deeply wrong. The first thing that became apparent was the pervasive greyness and silence; it was like the world had become an archaic movie, but there was no soundtrack or actors to give it a semblance of life. The closest the city had was a faint grinding of massive and unseen gears, like the daily grind made audible. Not a single person stood out visually — the only outfit was a featureless worker’s uniform. The air was laden with the stench of industrial chemicals, and the sunlight that feebly poked through the rotten clouds was likewise a lifeless grey.

The footsteps of people shambling numbly were unnaturally clear, and only interrupted by the occasional trembling sigh. No natural parks, graffiti nor other urban identifiers of any kind could be seen. In their place were outdoor advertisements, which were displayed on the ever-present clouds via massive projectors placed on the empty rooftops of the skeletal and identical buildings. The products being advertised had no name and no description, just an efficient representation of harsh lines and a price tag. People paid no attention to the skies, and instead looked over their shoulders with fearful glances.

Nobody could feel a growing disquiet, like what they were witnessing was only the surface layer. As they tried to progress toward the location of Holly, a noise akin to a camera’s clicking drew their attention. They turned in the direction of the noise, but saw no source. The creeping sense of paranoia was beginning to shake them out of their usual aloofness. Would some sort of intercom system blare out propaganda and remind the citizens to stay in line? Nobody humored that idea for a while and even tipped over a trash can, as if daring the Factory to come and arrest them. A ball of undifferentiated viscera fell out of the trash can and rolled toward a gutter. A pale and deformed hand reached out erratically and grabbed the ball of offal, followed by the distant noise of chewing and swallowing. Nobody glimpsed what might have been a barcode on the wrist of that arm, which made them shiver and change their trajectory.

The disquiet was slowly but surely festering into terror within the recesses of their mind. They had to focus. This was a no man’s land and they might become a permanent resident if they overstayed their welcome. Sneaking through darker and darker alleyways, Nobody found the outline of the school district a few blocks down. Nobody remembered that Somebodies breathed in and out to calm themselves in the face of fear, and imitated that technique before soldiering on.




The elevator ride was a special kind of uncomfortable. Wonder Tower, being as tall as it was, had full minutes in the elevator riding from the top floors to the lower floors, and they were going as low as they could possibly go.

Cornelius, already short by nature, felt utterly insignificant next to the gaunt Mr. Redd — who was very insistent on joining him for this journey.

"So," Redd began, "what is it you're doing?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Cornelius responded.

"I'm here to meet my old friend before everything ends, Cornelius. I thought you would be happy to see me. Elated, even. Besides, what secrets are there between us, really, hm? Between old friends?"

"'Friend' is a strong word."

Redd leaned down again, to get closer to normal eye contact. "Are you sure you want to be so coy with me?" Cornelius avoided answering, and Redd stood back to his full height. "I know you want to feel like a captain going down with your ship, but I know you better than to believe that lie. You're up to something. I can smell it."

There was silence. Cornelius let only the muffled squeaks and jostles of the elevator fill the airwaves. He began to think, earnestly, about Redd's end goal. He couldn't escape him, that was for certain. Hell, Cornelius had made Redd's body. He was fully aware of the gaps between their capabilities. Once Redd was within this range, escape was entirely impossible.

And yet if Redd wanted to kill or otherwise harm him, he would have done it already. There was something Redd was waiting for. Maybe he really didn't know what the plan was. The grand scheme. What it was all about. And why not tell him? At this rate, he would be there once Cornelius began the process. It wasn't anything he wouldn't learn sooner or later.

But no, the sooner he knew the more he could deliberate on it. Cornelius decided to stall.

"Where have the rest of the Misters gone?"

Redd looked down at him. "Fled."

"Where to?"

"Anywhere possible. There are those that are holding out hope in bunkers. Some are using their magic to get off the planet. There are even whispers that some might be finding ways to flee to other dimensions. I'm not even sure those exist. Do you?"

The hair on the back of Cornelius' neck stood on end.

"Who's to say, really. This world is chaotic and magic is insanity."

"Which is exactly why I don't believe it. If other dimensions existed, surely some of this anarchy would have bumped into it, no?"

Cornelius looked to the wall. "Fair point. Then why are you here?"

"Hm?" He thought. "It's the end of the world, Cornelius. Where else would I be?"

The elevator finally slowed to a stop, and opened into the basement.

"Anywhere else," Cornelius supplied, stepping off of the elevator and onto the raised concrete walkway over the pit of toys. His candlelight made concentrated yellow dots in the reflections across the plastic waste that was thrown down into the basements' pits for recycling.

"Wonder Tower is one of the safest places to be right now, you realize?"

"Alright, Redd. You had better stop being coy with me. What is it that you're up to?"

The duo came to a fork and took the left path.

"Cornelius — Wondertainment, I might say," Redd began, "your suspicion is utterly misplaced. I am here because I am Wondertainment, just as you are Wondertainment. We were both birthed here. One of us figuratively. The other, well. I have fond memories. Is it so strange that the last place I would want to be is right here? End it where it started? Besides," Redd leaned down again, as he was so fond of doing, "it's not as if I can go against you. You made sure of that much."

The pools of plastic behind them, Cornelius led the way down a long and gently curving stairway, descending steeply and deeply into the earth. As much as there was earth in Wonder World!™️, anyhow.

"You were my biggest mistake."

Redd remained silent, and in the narrow passage, Cornelius could barely even turn around to peer at his expression. He continued anyways.

"When I founded Wondertainment, I wanted to make something special. Something gorgeous and clean and Wonderful. I wanted to take the world and make it better. Make it cuter, and happier, and livelier. I do honestly mean that. Sometimes I doubt it even myself, but no. I did. And I do. I want the Doctor Wondertainment brand to leave an imprint of goodness so deep that people nearly fall into it by accident."

Cornelius was slow down the stairs. Being so short, each of the tall steps had to be taken with much deliberation, and being so top-heavy, each stair was a threat to his balance.

"So I did it. I founded it. I made Wondertainment work. It grew. It grew so shockingly fast."

Cornelius began to wheeze with the exertion of keeping himself stable as he climbed down the steps, nearly considering sitting down and scooting off each stair as an option. He might have, if he didn't have an audience. He looked enough like a bumbling fool already.

"There was a time, when I looked over it. My industry. My legacy. And I had to wonder. I had to wonder where all this wealth came from. Where all these materials were sourced. When all my workers had been hired. Why I was always so shut into my office. Cooped up in it. But I didn't explore these feelings. I just knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that it would be bad to go back through the history. To retrace all the steps. Maybe my eyes were on the goal, and I wasn't so conscious of where I was stepping."

"Is there a point you're making?" Redd drawled.

"You were the pin in the coffin. You and the rest of them. The Misters. You helped me realize that I can never make what I want. Not as long as I am in charge of it. Because as long as I was here?" He turned around and looked up at the darkness where he expected Redd's head would be. "I would make Factories. It's the poison within me, Redd. I'm not a toymaker. I'm a cost cutter. I can't help it. That's how I was wired. That's how I was made. Maybe you know a thing or two about that." He turned to face forwards and continued his descent. "Maybe you don't."

For some seconds, all that was audible were the echoes of steps.

"Is that all?" Redd asked.

"For now," Cornelius responded, as they finally reached a bottom. The temperature had dropped by a considerable number of degrees, and Cornelius could see his breath in front of his face.

Redd followed close behind as Cornelius treaded through. After a moment, Cornelius stuck his hand out and ran fingers along the wall, slowing his pace. He soon found what he was looking for. His palm slid up and down a seemingly inconspicuous section of concrete wall before pushing forward with all his weight. A rectangular section of wall depressed and then slid off to the side.

"Classic," Redd commented dryly.

"Practical," Cornelius shot back.

Cornelius paused at the doorframe. Not just any pause. Because these weren't going to be just any footsteps.

He closed his eyes, trying to forget for the moment of Redd's presence behind him. He simply breathed. He breathed through his lungs. His weighty lungs. Impeded by his body mass, but not in the worst of shape. He had never smoked. His abuses were in other areas. His distended belly, his pudgy fingers. His height. He had no genetics for these aspects. He made himself this way of his own vices. So he felt his sweat run down it, forming in his armpits, under his chin, in his brow. Making his dark suit cling to his skin with his own clamminess. He pulled his pink handkerchief from his breast pocket and ran it across his face.

One last breath. He silently thanked Redd for not interrupting the moment. As his eyes opened, he looked to his left to see Redd's enormous figure, locked in place in the relative darkness, still giving that awful, sickening, pumping feeling. Cornelius swallowed bile, a combination of stress from one thing and stress from other things. It sounded stupid but it was true.

He took the first steps, and spoke before thinking:

"Thank you, Redd, for being here. This would be difficult to do alone."

"Oh?" Redd replied in genuine surprise. "Well. You're welcome."

Cornelius began to pick up his pace. All that was before him was a concrete hallway. A hallway that nearly seemed to swallow the light of his candle — a candle whose wax was nearly melted to its base. It had survived the journey, but barely. Its flame flickered this way and that. Its light was so dim Cornelius could barely see the tops of his arms. But it led the way well enough.

The hallway stretched. This room, the way forward. Cornelius could feel it all throughout him. It throughout him and him throughout it. But it was just a normal hallway. It was just another passageway. Just a Way, actually.

"What is this," Redd said more than asked.

Cornelius reached a hand behind him, and Redd clasped it nearly instantly.

"I would say you get used to it," Cornelius said, "but I don't think you ever do."

Redd's hand was so moist. Sweat? Did Cornelius ever make his body sweat? Cornelius wasn't sure. It didn't matter. There was a smile broadening on his face, a smile that was all throughout it, it being all throughout the smile. And through his hand, Cornelius could feel Redd's pulse. Redd's real actual pulse, and the hallway began to pulse with it, like a heart valve, opening and closing. Like a drum beating. Like someone pounding on a door to be let in.

The candle went out, but it was a straight walk anyways. Cornelius dropped the candleholder, and it clanged against the ground. He could feel Redd startle, and that just made his smile broader. He was so known for his subdued smile, he surprised even himself. And that clang, that brass against stone, it rang out and grew and grew.

"What is this," Redd asked again.

"The transition process," came the response. "We're going somewhere different. Somewhere else."

"How long will it take?"

"Not long." Their voices seemed to extend forever. They added to the clang, to their repetitive footsteps. Footsteps. The pulse also felt like footsteps. Like movement, like speech, like cadence and cascadence and cascading clanging and consciousness flowing through it and it flowing through all of the rest of it, losing where the hallway ended and the self began.

And then it started to make sense. It wasn't just their speech, it wasn't just the clanging, it wasn't just their footsteps, it wasn't just their pulse. It was all coming back together, it was all coalescing and creating something. It was sensitizing. It was formulating. They were going through it. It was coming from them. And it was a door.

An ornate door. A pretty door. Purple with little hints of gold, spiraling patterns carved into what looked to be ages-old wood. There were some small holes in the door, through which there came light. Light that Cornelius used to find the handle, and pull the thing open.

"Welcome," said Cornelius, "to what I have been up to."




Nobody infiltrated the school by assuming the form of a rat and crawling through the rundown pipes and other infrastructure of the buildings. The world’s soulless mockery of architecture became all the more oppressive now that Nobody was a fraction of the size of a human infant. But strangely enough, the footsteps of the students were not the most intimidating sounds: the echoes were feeble and slow, for they would often stand completely still and give a thousand yard stare. The grinding of gears was louder here, and the Factory had replaced the faculty with asymmetrical, corroded automatons with cameras for heads. The movement of these “teachers” sounded like slithering oil and nails on a chalkboard, presumably so that the students would always know when they had broken the rules and gotten into trouble. One such automaton was carrying a teddy bear covered in dirt and blood, with a student silently following behind.

Nobody noticed how her gaze was focused on the confiscated toy, and how she was holding back sobbing. There she was.

Holly Light.

The visage of that hopeless child made Nobody think back on all the dying worlds they had passively observed. They vividly recalled the agony of their meaningless immortality, how they could only act via proxy and watch the Somebodies exist in plenitude.

Nobody looked at their rodent paws, which had pulled strings to enable the downfall of countless Somebodies, all for the sake of alleviating Nobody’s ennui. The graffiti of the smiling child back in the remains of Wonder World!™ catalyzed an unprecedented transformation. A strange, powerful emotion exploded in their heart, pure and unbidden. For the first time in eons, Nobody cared.

In the blink of an eye, and spurred by their newfound bravery, Nobody turned into one of the drones. Nobody wanted to take the nearest rusted pipe and take the toy back by force, but that would alert the entire network. Instead, they bided their time and methodically went through the corridors of the school. Nobody’s movements were perfectly robotic, allowing them to blend in and sneak up on the drone that dropped the teddy bear on a conveyor belt. Before the item could fall into a garbage disposal, Nobody grabbed it and made their way back to Holly. Nobody stopped midway and assumed the form of a student, but gave their uniform a golden and purple coloration. Holly had to see right away that Nobody had come from a world where the Factory had not won yet.

Holly saw Nobody approaching her, and her reaction at first was utter confusion. “Who are you? Where did you get that uniform? Did you steal it? Don’t you know what happens to the students who get caught breaking the rules?” she whispered in horror.

“Holly, listen. For the love of everything that matters, listen to me. I came here to deliver a message from before the world became like this. You have to read it, you have to believe in the words inside. You’re the only one who can undo this nightmare. Is there a spot anywhere in this school where students hide from the robots?”




It was a room. Just a room. But it was bright, and it was warm. And the view was spectacular.

Wasn't I just here? Cornelius would think every time he walked in. And the answer was that he was, and he wasn't. It was his office, again. It was his desk, his chair. His inkwell. His pen. Hell, on the shelf there, that was his candleholder plus candle, unlit. Never lit. But it wasn't gray that came in through the windows. It was sunlight. Bright, beautiful sunlight. Yellow, glorious sunlight, streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows, right behind Cornelius' desk, illuminating the room.

And what a room it was. Just a room. But his room. His room. But different.

Because it wasn't quite his office. It was his room. His room.

The walls were hung with art. With awards, with rewards, with framed letters and certificates. With pictures. Pictures of all his workers. His tinkers, his confectioners, his builders, his representatives, his directors, cinematographers, all of them. Them, with him. Him with them. There, on the wall, sat a painting. A painting of Dr. Cornelius Młynarczyk Wondertainment. Smiling. Properly, truly smiling. His short stature, his chubby body, his baby-face and his pudgy fingers. All there. There, represented truly. Wistfully. Peacefully.

And below it, in this room, in this cuter, happier, livelier room, there was a bed. A bed just outside the direct beams of sunlight coming in through the windows. A bed with night-sky blankets, yellow seams, and bright pink sheets and pillows. Exactly Cornelius' colors. Exactly as he wanted them.

But first, he strode to the windows. He looked out at it all. At his project. His city. His toy facsimile of life. Wonder World!™, he thought, my Juliet.

Redd slowly walked forwards, and joined him by the window to look at the great vivid expanse. The Seussian buildings. The pastels but also the oversaturated cotton-candy circus-ride rainbow that pervaded every single part of it, from the buildings to the grasses to the roads to the sky to the sun itself, it was all so injected with color that you could almost taste it. But that wasn't the most important part.

It was full.

Full of people.

"What is this?" Redd asked with a softer tone, eyes following a cart on a Ferris wheel just barely visible some blocks away between the buildings.

"This?" Cornelius caught on a hitch in his voice he hadn't expected, and took a moment of silence to calm himself back down. "Ahem. This, this is my legacy. This is Dr. Wondertainment. Not as it is. Not as I made it. But as it should be. As it was meant to be. Wonder World! Tee emm. The heart of childhood. The world capital of innocence. It's… it's happiness itself."

The pair looked down from Wonder Tower. It seemed like only moments ago they were in its basement, and yet here they were, once again at its peak, looking down on the thing from what felt like miles above. Like children looking at their models. Playing with their dolls.

But there were dolls. There were dolls at all, and that is what gave Cornelius mirth.

"This," Cornelius continued his explanation after a minute, "is an alternate version. What could have been. What I wanted it all to be, but what could ultimately not come to pass, for a… a variety of reasons I feel very little need to elaborate upon." He dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief before pocketing it again.

"Then we are… where, exactly?" Redd gestured towards the people riding the Ferris wheel. "Who are they? Who are any of them?"

"Citizens, of course. Residents."

"You know what I mean, Corny," Redd began to drawl again.

"Well, then they're no one. Is that satisfying?"

Redd pondered. "Not entirely. They're creations like me?"

"Not even that. They don't exist in any sense yet. Well that's not true. They exist as potential energy. As possibility. I have the power, right now, to make them come true. To cease being so dodgy, Redd," Cornelius turned back to the room, "this is merely a projection. We are, right now, in the basement of Wonder Tower. Its deepest possible element. But we are looking through a telescope, a telescope between worlds. A telescope that I've just so happened to point at a reality I so desperately wanted. But it's more than a telescope, it's…"

Cornelius looked to the bed. The occupied bed. The lump in it, so round and plump, it was hardly difficult to imagine who could be under the blankets.

"It's a cannon."

"A cannon?"

Redd followed Cornelius' gaze, and began to look at that very same lump.

"Yes," Cornelius' volume dropped dramatically. "A cannon. And I've spent the last decade learning how to aim it."

Redd's curiosity got the better of him, and he began to stroll towards the bed. His steps, so vast, so expansive, they took him across the room in nearly three footfalls. And then he knelt down. He knelt down, and he took his hand, and he pushed his fingers just under the blanket, and lifted it off, just so gently lifted it off of the body, letting it hang around his shoulders instead of his ears. It was clear, then.

"This is you?"

Cornelius kept his distance. "Yes," he said.

Redd looked at him. His face was scrunched in pain, like he was having a nightmare. He was drenched in sweat. He was shivering. Cornelius watched as Redd made these observations with him, his sanguinary hair draping over the slumbering copy of himself. Finally, Redd put a hand onto the body's forehead.

Redd stood.

"He's sick."

Cornelius nodded, even though Redd couldn't see him.

"Why?" Redd turned around. "Why are you sick?"

Cornelius approached, each step plodding, each step carrying his full weight along with it. He couldn't keep his head up. He walked until he was at Redd's side. "I'm not just sick," Cornelius said. "I'm dying."




Holly and Nobody climbed what seemed to be the last remaining tree of the city. Nobody refrained from asking how Holly knew of this place, or how the tree hadn’t been taken down to be used as fuel. Nobody saw a carving of a family on the bark of the tree, with the heads of the adults crossed out. All around this drawing were tally marks for the passage of time, akin to those found in prisons.

“I haven't seen a kid sneak away and come back,” she said, worry bowing her vocal cords.

"Don't worry about that. This won't take any time at all," Nobody soothed with the voice of one of her peers. "As I said, it's just a message. You can read, right?"

She nodded, avoiding eye contact, constantly looking around at the possible angles from which they could be spotted.

"Hey, hey hey hey…" Nobody gently grabbed her hand, and she flinched away. He frowned. Different approach. "You trust your family don't you?"

She finally looked back, a little bit confused. She nodded.

"Good. Well, this message is from family. My being here is because your family planned it. We know what we're doing, you're not going to get caught. Okay?"

Her rapid breathing eased up a bit, and her wandering eyes seemed to linger on objects longer, less darting and frantic. Good, thought Nobody, we just have to keep you calm enough to read.

"Now. Do you remember your Uncle Corny?"

She shook her head. "Mom talks about him sometimes. I think I met him but I was very little."

"That's okay."

"Mom says he's weird."

Nobody laughed. "He is weird. If I'm being honest, I'm surprised you two are even related. But that's besides the point. This is a message from Uncle Corny, and all you need to do is read it. Then I can sneak you back into class, and they won't even know you were gone. But we had to sneak away, because it's a very secret message."

Nobody produced the envelope from his pocket, an object that had been hidden somewhere in his being through every transformation he made, even when he was as small as a fly. Hammerspace, he'd heard it called.

"Can you keep a secret?"

She creased her brow. "We're not supposed to keep secrets anymore, except when everyone knows them already."

"Well this will be the one and only exception ever. And trust me, it's a secret you're supposed to keep. Okay?"

He extended his arm to give her the envelope. She didn't take at first, but after he eagerly waved it a bit, she grabbed it from his hand.

He smirked as she tore open the letter and began a process wildly outside of her control.




"Why are you dying?"

Cornelius briefly ignored the question, looking instead at his own shivering body. He sighed. "Because, Redd. I would ruin it. I can't let myself ruin Wondertainment a second time. That's why it won't be me. My niece, Holly, I've decided she will bear the responsibility. She has spirit. She's maintained hope in the darkest of all possible times."

Redd grunted. "Then why be there at all? What purpose does it serve, if you'll only live to die?"

Cornelius looked up at his bleeding companion. "Either I die here, under the foot of the Factory, never exactly sure if my invention worked, if my brighter future prevailed, or I die there, in the utopia I have always dreamed of, surrounded by the friends I have been imagining for decades. I'm selfish, Redd. I need to see that my invention has worked, or I will die a miserable man, and though that's what I deserve, I can not stomach it."

The room became brighter, and both Cornelius and Redd suddenly had the sensation of losing their balance. An expression, equal parts smile and nervous wince, came across the soon-to-be-former Dr. Wondertainment's face.

"That must be my niece, then." He turned to Redd. "She's begun to read my letter."

Redd was quick-witted. "The fuse is lit?"

Cornelius' hands began to sweat and he rubbed them together over his rotund belly. "Indeed," he replied. "And we're standing in the chamber."

Redd grinned. "I knew following you would be fruitful. Clever, clever Corny. What's the process look like?"

"Don't you want some of it to be a surprise?" Cornelius' gave as convincing a grin as he could, but Redd only narrowed his gaze. With wringing hands, the smile disappeared. "Well, Redd. I've devised some vessels to transport into. You can see mine on the bed there. Holly's is somewhere else in this building. Nobody, who delivered the letter… well, they've got other magic on their side, they are their own Point A and Point B, which is what made them the ideal confidant. Once the cannon is launched, our souls will be shot from our bodies and into our new vessels, on the other side of the world of things-that-could-have-been. I don't know if this world will remain at all, or if it will be completely replaced by my new imaginings, but that is not much of my concern. If all of this world is erased, it will be doing its inhabitants many favors, and if it isn't, I can die happy knowing that I did all I could."

Redd stood stock still. His porous eyes met Cornelius', and all curiosity had seemed to drain from his face. After all, Redd was quick-witted.

"What happens to those who are shot and have nowhere to land, Cornelius?" Redd astutely questioned.

Cornelius took a big gulp of air and played with his collar. "Well, Redd. I suppose they'd burst on impact, wouldn't they?"

Redd could move with such considerable speed when they wanted to.

Cornelius yelped as Redd's long, veiny arms pushed a hand against his bloated throat, pressing him so hard against the glass that Cornelius wondered why it didn't shatter.

"You lured me here!" Redd pulled Cornelius back and slammed him into the glass a second time. "You meant to kill me!"

"No," he wiggled his legs in the air, trying to find a foothold to ease the pressure on his esophagus, "you followed me, you —" he hacked "—you followed me!"

"And you didn't tell me!?" Redd's spit stung where it landed on Cornelius' skin. Then he was dropped, landing on all fours, coughing and hacking into the floor, straining to get oxygen back into his lungs. Redd breathed just as heavily for entirely different reasons.

"It was an accident," Cornelius spoke, as the room continued to brighten, like the sun was being summoned gram by gram into the confines of this small space. He struggled to his feet, and wiped some sweat off of his brow. "A, uh, happy accident."

Redd kicked him in the stomach with such force that his layers of fat meant no protection. He stumbled backwards into his desk. Cornelius laughed just as much as he wheezed.

"I thought we were friends, Corny."

"Friends?" Cornelius genuinely guffawed, to which Redd responded with another swift kick to the ribs, cutting the merriment short.

Redd closed the distance to the sputtering Cornelius, highlighting just how different their heights were, pinning him between Redd's own physique and the desk. "Cornelius, do you remember those first furtive days, hidden in your study, slaving over your next big project? Mm? Do you —"

"Cut the monologue short, Redd. I know who you are."

Cornelius couldn't see Redd through his screwed shut eyes, pushing his way through the pain, but ears let him know that his companion had been struck silent.

"You don't have to do your entire monologue on how important you are, and just where I would be without you. You called me clever, didn't you? You must think yourself very subtle, for me to have never noticed the mountain of coincidences that brought something like you into being."

Redd took two steps back, as Cornelius finally got the strength to stand straight and steady his breathing. "You're not —"

Which of course he did so he would have space to level another disastrous kick across Cornelius' jaw, pushing him to the floor.

"Well," Redd drawled, "if you know everything, then you've even outlived your purpose as entertainment. Tell me, Corny. What happens if I remove you from the equation? What happens to your Point B if Point A doesn't exist? I'm curious to find out."

"You wouldn't dare," Cornelius coughed into the floor.

"Wouldn't I? What do I have left to live for, when you've put me in the firing range of your weapon of reality destruction? I have merely the entertainment of watching you fail, Corny. I intend to relish every last moment."

"No," Cornelius said, pushing himself into a seated position, cross-legged like a pudgy Buddha statue, "you don't."

There was silence. But this time, no sudden violence cut it short.

Cornelius smiled.

"What makes you so confident?" Redd asked, pacing a circle around Cornelius like a tiger in the underbrush.

"Progress, my dear Redd. I already told you I know what you are. It isn't in your nature. As little as you care for individuals, as little as you have love for human kindness, as little as you have heart to feel anything with… you can't divorce yourself from this notion you have. The notion of forward. You don't live to see any single human succeed, but you couldn't bear it if we didn't as a whole. You act aloof, but this Factory takeover, it's gotten to you. You're desperate. And you know just as well as I do that this is the last chance. You either die for the only possibility, the only chance humanity has of continuing, or you live to see your project fail, you live to see everything you've worked for die. You live to rot."

Redd stopped his pacing. The room was so bright now, it was difficult to make out facial expressions, but through squinting, he could see Redd avoiding his gaze.

Cornelius smiled. "You may not have meant for it to go this way, but you're in my exact position, now. We die together, if separated by some hours, for the sake of humanity. You can find complacency there, can't you?"

He continued his silence.

No longer with a conversation partner, Cornelius' mind began to wander back to the immediate reality of the situation, of what was soon to happen. Not only had the room brightened, but perspective began to distort. Cornelius could feel his body becoming nothing.

His heart raced, and in an instant, his mind had completely shifted directions.

"Redd," he said, fighting around a lump in his throat, "tell me one thing. This is the right decision, isn't it? I've been so acidic my whole life, I've never entirely been able to convince myself… that, that this time, I don't just think this is the right choice, but that it actually is. Cover my blindspot, you old fiend. This is right? I did the right thing?"

It was all white, but it was silent. His arms felt long, and then they felt like they were coming apart. Painlessly falling off in bits and pieces, like wet sand off of a sandcastle.

The last thing he felt was an inconstant hand falling upon his mostly intact shoulder, and the last thing he heard was:

"You did."

And then it all came rushing back to him.




And then it all came rushing back to her.

Her life she didn't lead. Growing up in Wonder World!™, gaining her Wondrous traits — looking in the mirror to see her hair turning white and her eyes widening as she hit pubescence. Growing so, so very tall. Becoming a receptionist for Wonder Tower, working for Dr. Wondertainment, a company that had been the cornerstone of her world for her entire life. The insularity of it all. Never seeing what lies beyond the Subterreror, out in the world their companies exported to. Hearing the stories of "mundane" life. Hearing the stories of what happened to those who were too careless in the mundane world. Slowly understanding that Wonder World!™ was not only a city but a safe haven, that just one generation back — her parents — they were all refugees.

Her relatively quiet life in the loud and bustling city.

Her graceful slide into adulthood and its associated duties.

The sudden and unexpected illness of the great Dr. Wondertainment, Cornelius Młynarczyk, the proceedings that were going on behind the scenes — the public reassurance that he would pull through mixed with the hushed talk of what to do when he didn't.

Leading to this moment.

This letter.

By this point in the letter, I think you will have started the process. Unknowingly, unwillingly, unconsenting, and I am aware how dirty it is to trick you like that. I wish with all my heart I knew how to do anything without hurting people. That's the poison in my heart, Holly. A poison you don't have, a poison you won't have, a poison whose absence will make you a great, mystical, magical, fantastical, whimsical, Wonderful Doctor Wondertainment.

Holly Light, you are my hope.

I love you today and every day after,
Uncle Cornelius

Holly Light, you are my hope. She couldn't look up from that line. She looked at her hands, but they weren't new. She'd known them for her whole life, but… she was equally that girl from the Factory's slums, struggling along with her family to understand their place in the newest of all systems, the pristine and brutally efficient world of the industrial, losing her friends to unseen forces and losing herself to forces very vividly seen. Having to grow up fast, but having no way to do so. Crying in class until they taught her how not to cry anymore. Losing her possessions until her house was as grey and unremarkable as every other building in the city that had just started to sprawl on until forever, black suburbs that were set to be filled as the Factory encouraged people to produce as many humans as possible.

Being too scared to leave the house without her teddy bear.

Having even that taken from her.

Having it returned by a strange and colorful child.

A normal and equally colorful courier, a messenger from Dr. Wondertainment, approaching her on her lunch break.

Asking her to show them to somewhere they could talk privately.

Climbing the tree with her.

Sitting on the bench in the breakroom with her.

Handing her the letter with a smile that knew more than it let on.

Watching her as they opened and digested the contents.

Until the Factory girl and the Wondrous woman were one.

She looked up. Her past may have been twofold, but her present was very singular. She was merely in one of the breakrooms of the Publicity Puppies, with its orange-and-yellow palette and peanut-shaped architecture. She was her only company. Well, Nobody was around, but she didn't know them by that name.

She turned to her courier. "Who are you?"

They smiled, and shrugged. "Someone who might have done the right thing for once. I'm sure we'll meet again. In the meantime, I think you have bigger things to worry about. Your commencement ceremony, for one."

"What just happened? Who am I?"

Nobody smiled wider than their face should have supported.

"You're Holly, and you just made the world a better place."

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