May. 13th, 2009

It's Todd's apartment, his two roommates having cleared off for Boston together. He's got the most space. Tara brought the beer, Janet brought the takeout: from Ali Baba's Turkish Cuisine on Second Avenue, for the nostalgia value. Jason brought a large-size bag of Funyuns. Greg Toman brought seventeen Stephen King novels and a stack of those marble-fronted notebooks you use in the fifth grade.

Janet tries to stifle a yawn as he holds forth; Jason does not. Only Ethan, the intern, seems to be really paying attention. The rest ... well, the Elder Statesmen weren't expected, Zee is presumably still recuperating from her job interview, and Todd and Tara are nowhere to be seen.

"--so then it shoots a laser at her," Greg says. He's walking through the story of Susannah Toren's brief trip to a dark future again. "I mean, what kind of mystical entity can shoot a laser?"

"Enough," Parker says. He's on his back, staring at the ceiling. "Enough is enough, Greg, and I have had enough." Wryly: "Forever." God, so many stupid quotes taking up space in his head.

"Oh, up yours, Parkerboy." It's fairly automatic, and then Greg notices the guilty expressions on Janet and, yes, even Ethan's faces. "Guys, come on. We've hardly touched the canon all night."

"Greg..." Janet says gently.

"The sound you hear," Parker says, "is a clue going by overhead. It's over, Greg. They fired us. I've always been in this for the duration, you know that, I wouldn't be reading this crap if it wasn't real, but frankly I was a lot more interested in seeing Tara's new tattoo than hearing about a lost turtle in the middle of Queens or Steve-O's opinion on e-book piracy. Which makes tonight kind of a bust, from my point of view." He kills his beer, and pots the can in the corner. "They fired us. We got nothing to contribute anymore. You picked the right name, man. We're the Loser's Club."

"Guys." Greg looks betrayed. "This is important. Not, like, important to me. Important. Two hundred years from now, everything we worked for will be gone. Some kind of... thing, haunting the building. Killing the rose. Killing the world. We know it's going to happen unless we find a way to prevent it before it happens. And we're the ones who know how stuff like that happens. It's our job."

"Greg," Janet says quietly. "Not anymore."

"Well, look," Ethan puts in, "maybe we're not supposed to get involved. Maybe we're supposed to just stay out of it. I mean, look at NorthCentral Positronics, initially they were trying to help, right? But it was building machines to try to reinforce the Beams that caused all the--"

"Oh, don't give me that Luddite anti-technology crap," Greg snaps, and Ethan's face goes blank; brash and self-confident as he is, it's easy to forget sometimes that he's just a kid, and Greg's approval means a lot to him. "I never read it that way, if they hadn't built the generators the Tower would've fallen."

"It's ambiguous," Janet interjects, despite herself, and they're off to the races again, and Parker gets to his feet.

"I gotta use the--" He heads towards the bathroom, carefully ignoring any noise from Todd's closed bedroom door.

He sighs, trying to turn his attention to the matter at hand. Toman is a nut, no doubt, but his wife moved out last week. He needs this more than the rest of them, and Parker has no idea how to deal with that. Better leave it to Janet.

(None of them are particularly good at this. Making connections. There's a reason they're all better with books than having personal lives.)

Besides -- and this is the real problem -- Toman is right. It's important. Something, somehow, is haunting their building, two hundred years away. Sounds like a long time, but when you save the world, it's supposed to stay saved. Even NC Positronics, as Ethan pointed out, got a good hundred thousand years in before they went to the Dark Side --



Oh.

Oh god.


The realization -- sudden, awful and totally, self-evidently right -- is followed closely by a more prosaic one: he's pissing on his shoes.

"GUYS." He pounds back up the hallway, zipping up his fly, and smacks Todd's door for good measure on the way. Knocks over Ethan's beer (naughty, naughty) too. "It's us."

They stare at him. "The rose wouldn't let just anybody hang around the lobby," he pants. Out of fucking shape, can't even jog a damn hallway. Not important now. "It's our place. Our turf. Tet turf. It's protecting the rose. It's us." More stares.

"It HAD HER VOICE. Susannah's voice."

Janet shakes her head. "No. Jason, no, that's -- "

"Crazy? Obsessive? A really scary route to immortality? Tell me when I -- " Wheeze. "Get to the part that doesn't sound like a gunslinger."

Ethan's the first one to break the silence. "Anybody can be a hotel," he quotes. From the Talisman.

Janet makes a face. "I always thought that belonged on your list of quotes that don't mean anything, Jason. Up there with Gravity is everyone's mother. I know what they're going for, but what's scary about a hotel?" She's a little off-topic, she knows. Maybe she shouldn't have opened the last beer.

"Well, what about the Overlook?" Tara interjects from the hallway; Parker flicks a glance back at her, and she grins at him. Behind her, Todd looks embarassed but kind of pleased with himself.

"Are we getting off topic?" Greg asks, in the we're getting off topic voice.

"Nah, think about it." Todd slips into the living room and sits on a footstool, snagging the last piece of baklava. "The Overlook is more than just ghosts, right? The hotel itself is alive and uses the individual ghosts trapped there. That's why it wants Danny Torrence so badly."

"Haunted house in Rose Red, too," Janet agrees. "And the, uh, the short story with the one in Maine that keeps growing. And Black House -- I told you guys House of Leaves was important."

"There are a lot of them, actually," Greg says, flipping through his notes. "Houselike ... I don't know, psychic constructs. They grow by eating new minds, and form these structures -- Susannah said it opened a door that she thought was a trap--"

"Gingerbread House," Ethan says. When they all look at him, he raises his eyebrows and looks back at all of them. "At Blue Heaven? They made themselves a little pocket dimension. And it was a gingerbread house 'cause that's what Sheemie wanted it to be, but maybe if there was, I don't know, some mork who wanted to build something more like a defense installation --"

"You'd get a psychic construct that can shoot lasers," Todd muses. "But wouldn't you need a mork who could shoot lasers to begin with?"

"And that goes back to my question before," says Greg, "of what kind of mork does that?"

Janet shrugs, and says "Charlie McGee can start fires," and then the room explodes.

"Taos," Tara shouts. "The goodmind!" At the same time, Parker says, "Cell!"

Greg waves his hands like a traffic cop. "One at a time, what, what?" He points to Jason.

"It happens to the phoners, in Cell," Parker says. "Pulse wipes their minds, and low-level psychic links just ... build up, until you have a hive-mind."

"Yeah, but where does the mind-wipe come in?"

"Don't need one," Tara says. "There's the psychics in Taos, all linked up. Those kids -- they can't stop the connection if they want to. And why would they want to? They're happier. Smarter, like the phoners. More powerful."

"More able to protect the rose," Janet whispers.

"And it needs protecting," Greg says. "And that's what Tet's for. They'd -- we'd -- want to join."

"One way or another," Todd says, but Greg shakes his head.

"I mean it, we'd do it to ourselves. If we could share everything -- no misunderstandings, no hurt feelings, no limited knowledge -- wouldn't that be great?"

"So this whatsit, this entity, it moves in to protect the rose," Ethan says. "And then it ... goes evil? Why?"

"Hold on." Greg digs out his phone. "Guys, someone call Zee. Call everybody. I'm calling Michael. He's going to want to hear this."

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