by Aristide Twain, who unfortunately has a cooler name than every single member of the Arcbeatle Press staff, and has written things that are actually funny, so we might not commission him again just because he'll keep making us look bad in comparison.
art by Bri Crozier, who is an angel and we're all glad is here.
REMEMBRANCE of the JUDICATOR “So on the bright side,” began Ashlyn Oswin, straining against her bonds, “we're not back with the talking cats.”
“Everybody wants to be a c...” Miranda began to hum sarcastically.
“Hush, you can't sing that here,” barked a guard. “No copyrighted music, are we clear?”
“If you think I give a damn about that sort of thing, you have another thing coming,” the mysterious traveller in all of narrative space only known as the Tourist retorted, trying to take a daring stance.
Unfortunately, she had yet to get used to being chained at the ankles, and so ended up tripping and falling headfirst into the murky, greenish, knee-high waters of the Time Sewers.
“I could go for some singing cats right now,” Shona commented with surprising calm while the Tourist flapped around in the water, clumsily trying to get back on her feet.
She really didn't appear to be succeeding — she'd probably got her wrists tangled up in the chains while trying to disentangle them from around her feet, Shona and Ashlyn reckoned. She struggled some more.
In fact, the Tourist was making an awful lot of bubbles.
Could... specimens of... of whatever species she was... drown like regular people? Clearly they could trip like anyone else. Or get chained up by sentient crocodiles like anyone else. The real question was, could you drown in a Time Sewer? As soon as they'd arrived here, the greenish water had clogged up the plumbing of the Tourist's Pyramid, and indeed put it temporarily (and temporally) out of commission. The Tourist and her merry crew had stepped out in search of the fluid leak that was so rudely interrupting their lackadaisical rampage through the slice of omniversal reality known as the 10000 Dawns, and been immediately set upon by—
—well, there was no non-silly way to put this, and anyway, looking at the Tourist and Miranda, Shona and Ashlyn were of a common accord that trying to hold back on the silliness now would have served little purpose.
If Pathway had been here, there might have been some hope. Things seemed to get suddenly more serious when Pathway was around. Possibly because of the katana. But, alack, Pathway was not here, being busy following a probable wild-goose-chase for a Numbered connection in Dawn 789.
So it was by its name that Ashlyn eventually resolved to call out to the taciturn guard.
“Hey! You! Crocodile-guy!”
“What is it?” the upright, sentient crocodile hissed in response, reflexively pointing its golden spear in their direction.
“Not to be overly dramatic, but, uh, we think our fellow prisoner there is, er, drowning? Could you maybe... make sure that that... doesn't... happen?”
“It's in your own interest,” Shona added on a bout of inspiration. “Presumably. You've kept us alive, so clearly we're valuable to you.”
“You're not talking to a Centro stooge, you know,” Ashlyn muttered with a glare in Shona's direction, which was rather impressive as they were tied back-to-back. “Maybe these guys aren't even capitalists.”
“I should say not!” grunted the Crocodile, waving its spear closer to them. “We are in fact a Collective! The Collective of the Retconning Crocodiles!”
The Tourist continued to flail and bubble.
“Isn't that nice,” Ashlyn said urgently. “Can we maybe swap cards after you save our friend—”
“—well, more of an acquaintance really—” Miranda quipped.
“—from drowning to death?”
The Crocodile's unnervingly toothy maw curved into a smug grin, in a way that gave off an impression that the Crocodiles did this quite a lot.
“Oh, that won't happen here, not in these waters,” it (he? they?) explained. “The Time Sewers aren't exactly a physical location.”
“Oh? Isn't this part of the 10,000 Dawns?” Miranda asked with a disappointed pout. “We were rather heading for the 10,000 Dawns here.”
“Yeah, we had a whole thing going,” Ashlyn concurred.
“I'm only a humble guard,” the Retconning Crocodile answered, “I'm sure I wouldn't know.”
“I thought you said you were a Collective, and yet you have an undereducated... working class? Soldier caste?” Shona asked dubiously.
“...Good point,” said the Crocodile, and then it pulled a remote control from one of the pockets of its regal silk robes.
Wait, since when had it been wearing a silk robe?
...All of them?
Ashlyn, Shona and Miranda looked around in bafflement. There was now an entire crowd of Crocodiles in fine silk robes watching them; the low ceiling was now high and arched, like a cathedral's. The Tourist was still flopping around in the water, though.
At long last, one of the Crocodiles — there was no way to tell if it was the original one — stepped forward and pulled the unearthly woman out of the water. She was drenched and gasping for breath, but inexplicably, not only had her never-ending cigarette not left her lips, but its tip was still smoldering.
“You! You!” she panted and raged at the watching reptiles. “If you do that again I will destroy you! I will annihilate you!”
“Bigger fish have tried, little OC,” said another one of the Crocodiles.
“Fish, drowning, hahah, very funny,” the Tourist said, rolling her eyes. “And don't call me an OC.”
“Why? It's what you are, you know, little traveller,” said yet another Crocodile with a patronizing grin. “A first draft. An echo of the future, half-formed, bereft of a story to your name or—”
“Ugh! I know!” she cut it off moodily. “But don't say it in front of them!” She gestured at Shona and Ashlyn. “Miranda's like me, but they — they don't understand metafiction the way I do.”
“Tough,” snapped a Crocodile who wore a bigger and more ornate miter than the other, and was thus presumably in charge. “We are the Collective of the Retconning Crocodiles. Metafiction is our thing.”
“Metafictional parasitism, more like,” the Tourist retorted. “This sludge you call a timeline — you seep in through the cracks when something disturbs the balance of realities, is that it? And you try for... what, global multiversal takeover?”
“What? But... GMT's not possible,” Miranda observed, sounding as if she'd read that somewhere. “It's logically impossible. You can't linearly conquer an infinity of worlds.”
“Oh, my dear,” said the head gator, “please do tell us what about us made you assume we were linear, so we can change it immediately. But that's besides the point. You're one to talk, little draft! Behind those shades and that too-cool-for-school attitudes, you're just another intruder.”
“I am far more than just another intruder,” answered the woman with the pyramid. “I'm the Tourist.”
“Those are the same thing,” scoffed the crocodile, “always have been. A tourist is an intruder in denial. At least we're honest about what we do. Retconning. It's in the name.”
With a flourish, the Crocodile took out the remote control again and pressed another button. The chamber around them rippled and the next second, they were seated on a bench in some sort of courtroom — and they always had been.
“So were going to do what every tourist-trap in the omniverse has wished to do from the very beginning,” the Crocodile continued. “We're going to hold a tourist accountable. We're going to put the Tourist on trial.”
“What about us?” asked Shona, who had made the unpleasant discovery that all four women's ankles were still chained, now to the foot of the accused's bench.
“Shona, that's the wrong question,” said the Tourist.
“Hey! Speak for yourself!” Miranda interrupted. “I mean, I like you, but I do want out of this!” said Miranda. “If they have an issue with you for some reason—well look, we're not tourists, there's no reason they should imprison us—or kill us—or whatever it is they're going to do to—”
“I'll thank the prisoners to please stop bickering, before we retcon them to have been mute from birth,” said the Head Crocodile, holding up its remote menacingly. “Alright?”
All four gave silent nods.
“And for the record, we have you three humans down as accomplices.”
“A-ha! So you're not human!” Miranda whispered excitedly to the Tourist, who gave her a glare.
“Even I had ever been human,” the Tourist answered through clenched teeth, “which by the way isn't admission one way or another—my method of travel would have turned me into something... more than human, one way or another, by now. Also, shut up, didn't you hear the reptiles?”
But then she turned back to the Crocodiles with an accusing look, which, as she was the accused, surely went against all kinds of courtroom protocols.
“That being said,” she almost shouted, “please explain to me why, and on what kind of authority, you arrest me for some innocent April's Fools Day fun, while you are planning the same thing, if not worse!”
“The 'why' is very simple,” one of the Crocodiles answered. “Your brute-force meddling with the 10,000 Dawns' narrative is throwing a spanner into our carefully-laid plans.”
“A little chaos between friends is a wonderful thing,” the Tourist boasted.
“Not in the eyes of the Firmament it isn't,” the Head Crocodile boomed, thumping his staff against the marble floor for emphasis, and the four realized that it had retconned itself into having held a staff all along, just so it could do that. “Don't you see? They'll never allow your wanton interference to stand. Before day's end, I expect they'll press a massive Reset Button on the entire thing. The entire thing.”
“Which means,” the other Crocodile elaborated, “now that you've dragged us into this mess, that our plan will be retconned out of History, too!”
“As for the 'how',” said the Head Crocodile, “true, we have no authority to judge you for intruding upon the 10,000 Dawns, but you know what does? A resident of the 10,000 Dawns.”
The Head Crocodile resolutely pressed the central button of his Retconning Remote, and suddenly, a Judge had been sitting on a throne all along. It was a robot of some kind — an android of minimalist design, wearing a robe dark as night, with two glowing blue rectangles for eyes and a slightly unnerving way to stare at you with them.
“May we present the Judicator,” said the Head Crocodile, with a graceful bow for the metal judge, “of Dawn 3. The most perfect legal engine ever devised within the 10,000 Dawns, and widely recognized to have full authority within them. You might have judges who had read the law of your country, but the Judicator had read the law of every country in history. You might have judges who form a decision based on weeks of testimony and careful work through of the information through their synapses, but the Judicator...”
“Hold on, you're just quoting the Judicator's introduction paragraph in the original 10,000 Dawns webnovel, aren't you?” the Tourist interrupted, unimpressed.
“We already told you, we're metafictionally-interdimensional mischief-makers. This is what we do.”
“I'm sorry,” the Judicator blinked, “did I just hear a full confession to crimes against the fabric of reality? That's... unusual.”
“Ah, no, your honor,” the Head Crocodile said, ambling closer to the robot, “we're the accusers, not the accused. The accused are sitting on that bench over there.“
The Judicator's eyes flickered briefly. “Oh yes. Now let me see, son. Ah...”
The Tourist narrowed her eyes challengingly as the Judicator peered closer at her.
“Your honor,” said the Head Crocodile, “are you ready to pass judgement on this inveterate meddler for her crimes against the 10,000 Dawns?”
The Judicator hummed slightly, and stepped back, and sat down in his throne again.
“Hold on, that's not normal,” said Shona. “The Judicator isn't supposed to need time to think. That's the point of a robot judge. Well, one of them. It deliberates within microseconds. It's not—”
“Oh, I am ready,” said the Judicator, eying the Tourist curiously. “The young lady's quite right. I am quite ready to pass judgement, if that would be proper. But you're not going to like it. I'm warning you. You're not going to like it.”
“What?” the Crocodile shook its head. “But you're completely fair! You know every legal system there ever was! If you're not satisfied with your verdict— what?!”
“Oh, I'm completely satisfied,” said the Judicator. “My programming is completely satisfied. I'm just saying that you're not going to like it, son. That's just how it is.”
“Stop teasing us and give your verdict, damn you!” the Head Crocodile roared, waving its tail around in a half-circle.
“I could hold you in contempt of court for that, son,” the Judicator, “but considering the rough time I'm about to give you that wouldn't be fair to you. So I'll refrain. ...But I could. Well, here's the dirty truth. Mysterious traveller in all of narrative space known as the Tourist, Miranda of unclear last name, Shona Davis, Ashlyn Oswin, I find you wholly innocent of any crime against the 10,000 Dawns by the standards of the vast majority of legal systems in my databanks. In fact, the vast majority of legal systems from the 10,000 Dawns' history present in my databanks concur that you five, specifically, by name, are especially, specifically and completely innocent, and that no further ruling may amend this verdict, and that you should be let go at once.”
The accused's bench and the chains at the four world-travellers' ankles began to vanish.
“No!” cried the Head Crocodile as all the other members of the Collective collapsed back into him. “You can't! You can't do this! I won't let you!”
But that's not how the story went. And in the Time Sewers, once someone had set a course for the story, there was nothing more to be said. The Crocodiles had put their all in the Judicator, and the Judicator had said that the prisoners should be let go. And so—they were.
“Come on, gang,” said the Tourist once they were all safely out of the Time Sewers and in the 10,000 Dawns proper. “We've got a lot of time-travel to do.”
“Oh, haven't you lot figure it out?” the Tourist said, adjusting her tie. “Well, I don't like to brag, but I am incredibly clever. And I always will be. Which is rather the point.”
Ashlyn's eyes widened. “Oooh.”
“Oh! Oh! I'm getting it too!” Miranda said excitedly, bouncing on her rollerblades, which was really rather impressive.
“Please explain,” Shona put her foot down.
“To come to its conclusions,” the Tourist explained, talking down to Shona slightly (to her displeasure), “the Judicator draws from a sense of morality and from every record it can find of every law ever passed in history. So, if someone were to, say, go back in time and spam all legal records with an overwhelming number of new laws, stating that we specifically have to be let go under all circumstances — well — its hands would be tied, wouldn't it?”
“But... wait, you're not really a time-traveller, are you?” Miranda noted. “You and I, we travel sideways in spacetime, not backwards and forwards.”
“Usually, yes,” said the Tourist. “So it's a lucky thing that I've become an increasingly metafictional individual since I escaped the Drafts, hm?”
“And an even luckier one,” Ashlyn added with a playful grin, “that you swallowed a bunch of metafictional... time-juice... from the Crocodiles' Time Sewers! Right?”
“And what about the 'morality' element? The Judicator isn't supposed to go in for loopholes. It's supposed to recognize cheating.”
“Cheating? Where?” the Tourist shrugged. “We, the heroes, did what we had to do to defeat the bad guys trying to take over the world. Pretty moral if you ask me.”
“What the Head Honcho, or whatever, said, though,” Ashlyn insisted with a front. “About the Firmament and a... reset. Is it true? Will someone step in and stop us from travelling any further?”
“...Do I have to answer that?”
“Ugh, enough soul-searching!” Miranda suddenly declared, and sprayed a portal onto the nearest wall. “I don't know how long it is before day's done. But in the meantime, let's have some adventures.”
(Collective of the Retconning Crocodiles © Aristide Twain, June 2019)
Story Copyright 2020 Arcbeatle Press and James Wylder
Any resemblance to persons living or dead, fictional or real, or events past or present is either purely coincidental or done firmly within the grounds of loving parody.
Any attempt to use this story to make weird claims on a wiki argument thread should probably be grounds to ignore any other arguments from the user making those claims forever. Just saying. It's an April fools story, I mean really.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.