While Kevin was recruiting and setting up projects, Marty was counting days… OH SHIT! He’d forgotten all about that four-week time slip! He only had like… forty hours to arrange the party! His daughter was going to be seven, and he had NOTHING ready!
Kevin was… oh, recruiting another batch. That could wait! They had to get to Sesame Street before it was too late!
What would be involved in booking Sesame Street anyway? What could you “pay” them that they would need? Would they just host birthday parties for small children because it was Sesame Street? Maybe they could wrangle a birthday episode? Toys, cookies, other refreshments, and access to more broadcast networks? A quest to find the current incarnation of the Jim Henson? Would the Church of Henson be interested? Well, he could start off with an offer on a birthday special, providing toys, cookies and other refreshments, and a promise to keep an eye out for Henson if he wasn’t already hanging around the place.
Kevin had a special party feature to throw in; “Anthropomorphosize your NeoDog!”. After all, the form you entered Core in was generally stable – and he had given all NeoDogs in Kadia some shapeshifting as a free feature. All they had to do was drop by, shapeshift to a humanoid canine, and go home – and the process was, of course, reversible with no fuss at all in exactly the same way.
Besides, the reaction to one of the gifts being a dragon did promise to be fun. Should they try to get it into a box, or would “outside on a leash” be better?
Marty voted for a box. That way the reaction from his ex-wife should be REALLY good. She’d probably have a fit when it expanded out of a standard-size gift box.
Well, if Oscar could fit a swimming pool, piano, and bowling alley into a trash can, the local physics must allow it.
They decided to simply drop by, see the Cookie Monster, and let him tell us who to talk to about a party. It might be best to just sort of assume permission; Kevin wasn’t sure that Sesame Street actually had anyone who was really “in charge”. The Cookie Monster should be happy to see them after that mess in Faerun.
“Hello Cookie Monster! Do you remember us?”
“Of course I remember you! But you hardly ever come by any more! Only once in the last twelve years! It’s always sad that way! You used to come by almost ever day! But we could never get you through the window! It’s sad, but most children never get through! But you’ve finally made it! Cookies!”
“Hey, guess what? My daughter would love to see you and I can get her through the window. Would you guys like to help me celebrate her seventh birthday?”
“Goody! Cookies and Cakes and Punch!”
“Do I need to give you anything in return? I’ve got toys and more cookies – and I can even help you find Henson if he’s not here.”
“He’s here! Never stopped living here! If you want a special party though, you have to make arrangements with the Big Bad Wolf! He keeps bad people with tentacle-faces and things out! Poor tentacle-face people don’t know how to have fun, they need more cookies!”
“Thanks, Cookie Monster. Here, have this. It’s from a nice bakery near Wall Street. Where can I find the Wolf?”
“YUM YUM YUM YUM!”
“I think we may have to just go and look Marty; I think the usual method of travel here is by scene cut. Can you think of a way to get one?”
“Call a cab? It always seemed to work back home. Of course, there it often led to a traffic and drive by shooting montage…”
“Oh dear. I hope it doesn’t work just by opening doors.”
“Worth a try.”
Marty went to the door, made a loud and dramatic announcement – “We’re off to see the Big Bad Wolf” – struck a dramatic pose – and started to open the door.
“I built my house of brick. Then my ex-wife won it in the divorce settlement.”
Suddenly, they were in the woods – towering trees, the roots of which made some comfortable chairs, and a stone desk and an assortment of accouterments.
And the Big Bad Wolf. Somewhat scary actually. He was apparently on time-share with the Talking Animal Zone and the Fairy Tale Zone – and had been a bit more prominent since Sesame Street had started incorporating cautionary notes about wandering off since the Manifold opened. They were about education, not about wrapping kids in tissue paper to shield them from anything that might upset them. They’d started that back in the very beginning, with an HIV-positive Muppet (in some versions anyway), they’d handled Mr. Hooper’s death in a very realistic way – and they hadn’t been shy about mentioning the possibility that, if you wandered off into the Manifold without someone to look after you, you might get lucky – but it was also quite possible that something would get you.
Well, the “naughty and disobedient children get eaten” bit was good enough for Beatrice Potter, and she was STILL a classic children’s author.
Occasional visitors also got turned into Muppets, but that was just a local role’.
Ergo, the Big Bad Wolf was doing security because he was big and intimidating.
“Hm? Marty is it? You’ve been letting little Julia become much too violent! That isn’t really good for real people at her age!”
“Hey, I might be able to do something about it if the ex-wife would let me near her more often. Not like Abigail’s much better on that.”
Unfortunately, Kevin hadn’t realized that the Big Bad Wolf’s office was on the borders of the Talking Animal Zone and the Fairy Tale Zone (as opposed to Wylds of Faerie, which were the realms of the Fey, not of humans and talking animals to whom magical things happened). He had an Identity in those Zones – a fairly powerful one – and as he arrived a few minutes after Marty, he found himself dropping into his Angkor Shadowfang “anthropomorphic predatory wolf” Identity without even realizing it.
“Grrrr… We want to have a party! With Toys! Kids! Snacks! Grrrr…”
The Big Bad Wolf knew perfectly well that Kevin was a soulbinder of children – even if a fairly benign one – and, at least as importantly, was a challenger on his territory.
And the circling each other began.
Marty just waited for the posturing to end. It wasn’t like the dominance practices of the Battling Business World corporate raiders at the water cooler were much more civilized.
There was blood and stuffing flying everywhere for awhile – Marty found the spectacle both enjoyable and instructive – but the Big Bad Wolf was pretty much unkillable, didn’t ever tire, was on his home territory, and had millennia of belief to empower him. Kevin could keep healing himself, but that took attention away from fighting, and he wasn’t really a physical combat specialist.
Marty kind of wondered why Kevin didn’t try yanking the threads loose around the Big Bad Wolfs eyes, or digging under them to cut them free – but Kevin didn’t really want to get into removing bits: he was much more sensitive to that sort of thing, and had a lot more in the way of important ones, than a muppet. Same went for yanking out wads of internal stuffing. Clawing and biting would just have to do.
The Bid Bad Wolf did tangle in thornbushes and twigs more readily than Kevin / Angkor did, but that was stalling at best; all it ever got him was a few moments for healing. Employing external powers in a physical dominance-struggle would be cheating…
Angkor eventually wound up beaten into submission out of sheer exhaustion.
“Right then! That’s settled! We’ll have none of that kind of behavior around here! Sit! Stay!”
Marty was reminded of the time Gelman punched him out of the window because he wanted his latte NOW. He wasn’t amused by the keep away attempt.
With Kevin sitting quietly and moping, the Big Bad Wolf turned back to Marty:
“Now, we have lots of party applications: What activities are you planning to have at the party? Why should we feature it? And don’t think you can get by me with huffing and puffing! I know all about that routine!”
“Oh, all the things kindergarten kids like. Face painting, balloon twisting, cake, ice cream, and maybe a trampoline thing or two. ‘No weapons’ is actually standard at kids’ birthday parties, since somebody getting stabbed ruins the ambiance, even in Battling Business World”.
“What special events will there be? There needs to be an audience hook.”
“Well, we’ve got “Anthropomorphosize your NeoDog!” already. How about dragon rides? That way, we can surprise Julia with her own dragon and make it even more awesome.”
“That should do nicely. Lets see… There’s “count how many presents you’ve gotten” with the Count, birthday cookies with Cookie Monster, baking birthday cakes with Bert and Ernie and the Swedish Chef, a public service spot – the usual “really naughty child runs off into the Manifold and vanishes” – along with the dragon-riding and a few standard party games. How many kids do you want to bring? Do any of them have special talents or needs?”
“No more than ten, and none with special needs. I think you’ll find that they’ll all be spirited and enthusiastic about visiting Sesame Street. The kids will be too awed to do anything but enjoy it- and one of our party will keep any who do try anything in line.”
(That would be Marty’s ex-wife of course, who was far better at discipline than he could ever be.)
“They had best be well-behaved! Children who misbehave here tend to slip across the border into the Talking Animal Zone, as you can see by your young friend here! He’s been quite naughty!”
Marty grinned at that, and wiggled a finger at Kevin – who was being wolfish, and subordinate, and on someone else’s territory – and thus looked properly abashed. Marty just clucked disapprovingly.
“Naughty little boy! – So, do we have a deal?”
“As long as you send out the toys and offer the dog-upgrades for free!”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.”
They shook on it, hand to paw.
The dragon, of course, was sizable-pony sized, even if it was just a hatchling. They could just use a big box – but it would be funnier coming out of a small one. How to get it in? Oscar seemed to manage… There was apparently an entire mansion in his garbage can, just like Snoopy and his doghouse. Oh wait! That was simple: they had magical-services branches in Crusader. He could just get the Thralls to do it… “Minnel, get on this.” The Dragon protested a bit – it was fairly sure that it would either be squashed or suffocated – but it wasn’t really like it had any choice or effective way to resist. Marty reassured it briefly anyway.
“Are you going to swipe her while you have her out of Battling Business World?
“I’m not going to swipe her! The ex-wife is pissed off enough at me as it is!”
Marty headed home to say that he’d handle the birthday party this year.
“Oh Yes! I can just see it! Take them to a bar and get them all drunk! While you watch the Takeover Highlights on the tube again no doubt! Like you’re ever around, you never turn up for anything in her life, you don’t even stop by to kill her once in awhile! That’s why I’ve got strictly limited visitation on you! It’s because you NEVER COME BY! Where’s my rolling pin! No! Wait! That’s not enough! I’ll use the Stove again!”
The only reason Marty didn’t smack her back was because she was a head taller than he was – and a lot stronger.
“No . . . I’m taking her to a Sesame Street party. Put the stove down, Abigail. See? I’ve got the receipts right here!”
At least she hadn’t go for the skillet. That thing HURT.
“Are you TRYING to ruin her childhood? She’ll be able to see the puppeteers and everything! YOU UTTER BASTARD!”
“No, no! They’ll be in the suits! These are really good suits too, you can’t even see how they put them on! OH GOD NOT THE WOK!”
The wok was full of boiling oil too! Marty was now on fire! And had deep-fried hair!
He opted to act like he was wearing a normal suit and not a set of smartclothes!
And he run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Eventually he stopped, dropped, and rolled.
“See! No dedication at all! If you really loved her, you’d be paying attention to her party instead of a little fire!”
“I want to be a better father. Look, couldn’t you give me a chance?”
Marty did the dewy eyes bit as he sizzled.
“Well, you did go to some trouble… I suppose I can at least check the place out before I say no!”
“Great! Thank you, dear!”
“Well, lets go!”
He drove her to New York on the normal roads, despite the way she criticized his driving and his preference for the dueling roads and made sure that the portal-sequence was as mundane as possible – starting with an “ordinary” alley and doorway – and that it looked as mundane as possible.
Unfortunately, there was a complication as soon as they stepped through the last door…
“Hello Piggy! You haven’t been by in weeks! Are you going to be in the show today?”
“HEY! That’s the mother of my kid!”
Then Marty looked over at her – and could barely contain himself. Ms Piggy?
“Why yes! Normally I wouldn’t take such a small-time gig, but I could use the exposure and… MARTY!?!? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME!!!! THIS TIME I’M USING THE HOUSE!!!!!!!!”
“ME? I didn’t do anything! I’m going to give the manager hell!”
At which point she was bustled off by the stage crew to get dressed for her appearance.
Marty didn’t start to laugh until he was damn certain Abigail was out of earshot… It was going to be a problem, though. It might be a little disturbing for Julia. Or she might find it uproariously funny. It was hard to say. How long could the girls keep up an illusory disguise that made her look like her normal butch self?
For that matter, should he try to pull her out? Julia did need a stable home, but travel study throughout the Manifold might do her some good! Ah, dammit. She’d ask where Mom was anyway… At least she should revert to normal as soon as she left.
“Who’s in charge of today’s show?”
“Hello, Professor! I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding!”
“Of course, of course! The proper form of the equation is as follows! – And that is why the dumplings expand!”
“No, no, no! My wife is stuck in the form of Kermit the Frog’s beloved Ms. Piggy! And she’s not happy about it at all!.”
“Remember, the total jocules released are proportional to the weight of the humor multiplied by the speed of the broadcasting spread squared!”
Marty had to fight a rising urge for violence – but then recalled that, while Professor Eisenstein was undeniably clever and knowledgeable, he never got anything quite right – or heard anything accurately; it was his thing. He explained basic physics and such with completely absurd examples, even if it never had anything to do with what he’d actually been asked.
“WHERE IS MS. PIGGY? I NEED TO MEET WITH HER.”
“Just follow the yelling!”
Well, that fit. “Follow the yelling”… Not unusual for Kermit the Frog’s girlfriend, and not unusual for Abigail. Come to think of it, they were surprisingly similar in some ways.
Meanwhile, Kevin had delegated a few Thralls to intercept naughty children slipping out of Sesame street to the Talking Animal Zone or the Fairy Tale Zone before they got eaten or something.
When Marty reached the dressing rooms – approaching stealthily, like on any other raid – Abigail / Ms Piggy was actually almost ready for her part; a musical number with Kermit and the Electric Mayhem. She’s was mostly just yelling at the moment; she seemed to be a “bit” confused at not being able to find the zipper in the costume and being able to feel with it.
There was a listing of today’s acts up: after the Electric Mayhem there were fairy stories, followed by the Fluffy Bunnies building Space Warrens, followed by the Alphabet Bats.
Marty changed to listing so that “Fluffy Bunnies building Space Warrens” was replaced by “Ms. Piggy turns into Abigail Saunders-Tabard.”; he’d have the girls do a covert illusion and hold it up until he could get Abigail out. The transformation would be followed by the conjuration of an illusory manager for him to chew out (which should not appear on the TV, or at least he hoped not). That’d be a bit weird, but dammit, he hadn’t been aware that his wife would transform upon arriving here. Besides, after the number was over, Ms Piggy wouldn’t have any urgent business on the show anyway.
He chewed up that “manager” as only an offended Brooklynite husband could.
“And you want to take MY DAUGHTER to that lunatic place?!? What are you going to turn HER into!?!”
“Yeah, what she said! You better not turn my daughter into a Muppet! Where would we buy clothes for her!”
Marty kind of regretted this turn of events. Oh well, snatching Julia for the day would be more fun anyway – although he might have to use the another ID though.
“Look, it wore off as soon as you left. Can’t Julia have a little fun, even if she does get turned into a Muppet? She won’t be a kid forever, you know.”
He braced himself for the “It didn’t stop YOU!” routine – but got a surprise.
“How can ANYONE turn into a muppet? How did that happen?”
Limey chimed in too: “Polymorph! Is easy!”
“Hey, I’m not a scientist. Why are you asking me? Oh yeah, honey, meet my new laptop.”
“All right; evidently you really have gone all out to arrange something special…”
“Yeah! See, I mean well! Isn’t that right, Limey? I’ve been working my ass off the past few months to pay for this! I’m more than a child support and alimony check!”
The party was a lot of fun. Julia loved it. She loved the Dragon too.
Marty’s only regret was that he couldn’t get a look at Abigail’s face when it came out of the box; after all, the face on top was an illusion, and the one under that was Ms Piggy…
Kevin was pleased too: the response to the “Upgrade your NeoDog” routine was quite positive; a fairly high percentage of NeoDog owners (and most of the remaining free individuals without the obedience-programming) made inquiries, checked on the details, and scheduled a brief visit-appointment for their pets to give them hands and a humanoid form. Evidently it appealed to most of the kids who had NeoDog companions, to the more adventurous spirits among the adult owners, and to the NeoDogs themselves – for whom it would make life in a world designed for humans a lot easier. There were a few misgivings – that seemed to be standard with anything to do with the Manifold – but the easy reversibility handled most of those. The shape you arrived in was generally stable in Core, it was changing that was hard.
And for his own agenda, that would get people used to pretty human-looking pieces of sapient property walking around in Core. Given the number of genemods floating around, and the ease of getting cosmetic transformation and cyberware, it would only be the computer registrations and genemaps that keep track of the difference. Even if he wound up starting a major movement for more rights for property-class NeoDogs, even that will serve to blur the lines in peoples heads.
One small step closer to becoming the Dark Lord of Core!
Ah… Box of loose screws to slip into your enemy’s machines, 3.25. Compiling notes on lengthy plots, 49.85. Renting a city street for a day, 14,350.00. Finding a way to turn ANYTHING into a way to advance your schemes… Priceless. There was Life – and then there was MASTERcard.
He started staffing some of the offices with anthro-human Thralls too. They wouldn’t give quite such a strong impression of “kid” if they were just different. That sounded good to Marty too – and there were plenty available at the moment; better than a hundred thousand NeoDog Thralls, a few thousand from the Five Worlds – and a steady stream of potential recruits pouring in from the Linear Realms, a solid majority of which took the offer as being better than any other prospect they’d ever had. With 20,000,000 illegal youngsters / potential recruits there – and more being born every moment – the question was more where to use them all, not where was a priority. That was quite a change.
If he ever managed to get a solid recruitment program running in Core, that would be another order of magnitude higher. What would he do then?