Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Against the Blog: 2-21

So, they head to Candlebrow U. At this university, a fat substitute named--I can hardly believe I'm writing this--"smegmo" was developed, which has proved super-popular and greatly aided the university financially. They use part of the profits to establish a big ol' annual time travel conference

Along with Professor Vanderjuice, they travel to a dump on the edge of town, where the detritus of failed time machines is to be found. They pick through the rubble, but are unable to find anything like the machine that Chick and Darby were involved with.

Alonzo Meatman is allegedly to be found at a dive called the Ball in Hand. A young man of doubtful appearance asks them if they're the ones who want to see AM. "Who wants to know?" Darby asks, causing the young man to freak out and start violently shaking, until finally he just fades from view in "a strange magenta-and-green aura" (410). No one else in the bar notices. Miles suggests vacating the premises before something of this nature is visited upon them. Outside, Chick evokes the "Scientific Officer's Discretionary (S.O.D.) Clause, which apparently allows him to poke around places the crew has decided are not to be poked around in. After some controversy, he re-enters the building. After waiting around for a while, the young man--who turns out to have been Meatman all the time--reappears. He's from some mysterious group, to whose headquarters he escorts Chick. There, they meet up with a guy identified only as "Mr. Ace," who explains that they come from...the future! A dystopic future, as it turns out. Capitalism has pretty much screwed the world over, and those who objected to this were denounced as heretics--so they escaped to the past, where there was some resistance to their colonization. Mr. Ace claims, indeed, that the Chums of Chance were established to stop them, and that all of their mysterious missions are, on a basic level, designed to prevent more future colonists from arriving.

Mr. Ace suggests that the Chums could be of use to the future colonists, if they would agree to accept occasional commissions from them--although, he regrets to say, they will be no more able to provide explanations as to the wherefore and why than their current employers are. What's in it for us? Chick wonders. Eternal youth, is the reply. Apparently, this is NO PROBLEM in the future. Of course, the fact that it's debatable whether the Chums age in any case renders (firefox claims that "renders" is not a word. Whatever you say, dudes) this highly ambiguous.

Chick reports all this back to the Chums, who are suspicious. What if the futurists have not, in fact, come in peace, but to steal stuff from the past? "Food," Miles, the cook, suggests. "Women," opines Darby, the lecherous one. "Lower entropy," thinks Chick, the scientist. "Our innocence," sez Lindsay, the one most devoted to the whole Boys' Adventure Stories aesthetic.

Miles being all psychic and whatnot, Chick brings him along to a second meeting with Mr. Ace. Upon seeing Ace, Miles immediately begins crying hysterically. Back at the ship, he tells Chick that he recognizes Ace, and that "assuredly he does not have our best interests in mind" (417). He explains that he has seen Ace and others at various points through portals that lead to their "home space." He further believes that, ever since they arrived at Candlebrow, the futurists have sent some group to deal with the Chums personally. There might even be a traitor in our midst! Scary! No need to worry, assures Chick. Pugnax would immediately sniff out any traitor!

Now things get REALLY weird.

The Chums are overcome with fear (paranoia?) brought on by the knowledge of these futurists--and it's a fear that suffuses the entire Chums organization. The offer of eternal youth was seemingly meant to shatter their "unquestioning faith that none of them, barring misadventure, would ever simply grow old and die, a belief which many of them over the years had come to confuse with a guarantee" (418).

Some Chums of Chance turned in panic to the corrupt embrace of the Trespassers, ready to deal with Hell itself, to betray anything and anyone if only they could be sent back to when they were young, be allowed to regain the early boys'-book innocence they were so willing now to turn right around and violate on behalf of their insidious benefactors. (418)

As this passage implies, my feeling is that, if they've become self-aware/interested to this degree, regaining this innocence is likely a lost cause.

Some Chums choose to deal with the situation by...well, by becoming other fictional characters elsewhere, seemingly. And thus it comes to pass that our particular group of Chums become students, members of Candlebrow's Marching Academy Harmonica Band.

During their first Spring semester, they are taking a break from studying, when someone wonders: where's Alonzo ('Zo) Meatman? As you might expect, this immediately segues into a loud, raucous comedy musical number.

Apparently, such displays are exactly the kind of thing Alonzo doesn't like, and what lead him to become a regular "squealer." Squealers at the Marching Harmonica Band Academy are well-paid, and thus, strangely, popular with the other students. That morning, Alonzo had made his regular report to the authorities, and then was seen no more.

The Chums begin to doubt:

What if they weren't harmonica players? really? If it was all just some elaborate hoax they'd chosen to play on themselves, to keep distracted from a reality too frightening to receive the vast undiscriminating light of the Sky, perhaps the not-to-be-spoken-of betrayal now firmly installed at the heart of the...the Organization whose name curiously had begun to escape them...some secret deal, of an unspecified nature, with an ancient enemy...but they could find no entries in any of the daily Logs to help them remember... (422; Pynchon's ellipses)

Nonetheless, they remain at the Academy for an unspecified number of years. It is theorized that there may be a duplicate group of Chums doing Chums-related stuff while they do this harmonica stuff--no doubt we should be thinking about Iceland spar, and Luca Zombini's claim to have duplicated several people. One day, they come across the Inconvenience, all shiny and new-looking, with Pugnax there to greet them. The way it happens, it sort of reminds me of the end of the first Narnia book. The Trespassers are still doing bad shit, but now the Chums are better able to deal with it.

Alonzo Meatman reappears, in possession of the Sfinciuno Itinerary, for which the Chums were searching in Venice, and which allegedly leads the way to Shambhala. He's not very pleasant, but he gives it to them.

One night, they receive a call from the Tesla device that gives them all their orders: apparently, Meatman was an authorized agent of the organization (more paranoia--who is who; who can be trusted?); they are now to head to Bukhara, where they will report to "His Majesty's Subdesertine Frigate Saksaul, Captain Q. Zane Toadflax, Commander" (425). The voice further notes that they will need "Hypopsammotic Survival Apparati." What? they wonder. Ah yes, sez, Vanderjuice. I know the guy who invented that thing: Roswell Bounce. You may remember Roswell as the Æther enthusiast who, back in 1-7, taught Merle Rideout the secrets of photography. Not a character I expected to see reappear.

The "Hypops" gear is designed to allow mobility/visibility beneath sand. Roswell invented it, but, he complains, the Vibe Corp stole it from him, so he's only too happy to undercut their prices. Vanderjuice explains the principles by which the apparatus works, although they sound suspiciously techno-babbly to me. The equipments arrives a few days later, and they're off!

Thus endeth part the second! Phew!

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