Pope floated up from the internet into the stream, past the thick grating and into the soft flow of gifs, journal entries, art uploads, and dream descriptions.
It always good to get in touch with Route 50, and the stream at that point had probably become the main source of interaction between members, besides possibly the chat. It was like the circulatory system of the site, pumping silliness, whimsy, and the most heartfelt of feels throughout the community. So, it was fun to lazily ride down it in an inner tube. Pope's was designed like a majestic unicorn, and those who rode it, in turn, felt like majestic but very relaxed unicorns.
A dream of Fex's, some posts by Spark, endless likes from Metatyph and Kai... there had been something about Bill Clinton in there.
A note floated by from Sparkleaf written specifically for him. Pope reached out and grabbed it.
We must go on a magical quest to save Route 50
(even if it's only dead because everyone is in school and busy and such)
Welp, Pope thought to himself. I was hoping to not have to do anything today. But I could never say no to a magical quest! Hopping off from the stream, Pope landed in the base district. It was filled with colorful, personally designed mansions and towering structures filled with hundreds of more generically designed bases. For some people, imagination was a burden. Pope walked into the most aggressively generic (and largest) of them all.
Pope liked to put the 'secret' in 'secret base.' Hidden deeply by the building's powerful aura of boring, Pope had erected one of the raddest places to hang on Route 50. Yes. So rad.
Upon stepping into an elevator, the closely observant would notice that one had the option to choose between 111 rooms.(1) The obsessive compulsive elevator button checkers would notice that the button for '108' was missing. The trick was not to press any button at all, but to just wait for the elevator to take you where it wanted to take you. And it wanted to take you to the coolest secret base of all time. Yes. So cool.
Pope swaggered as jauntily as possible into his base.
The design hadn't been updated in a while, but he still loved it. Whether it was the mural of his friends, the violently pastel rainbow stripes, or the rarely updated music--currently, it was one of the Arcade Fire singles from last year--alright, so, it wasn't that mind-blowingly great. But it always felt like it really expressed an important part of his character. It was a home away from home. Or, like, a digital home, for when your physical body is safe inside your physical home but lost in other ways.
Clutching the note, Pope found his box and hid himself under it. Here, in this quiet, dark, and safe place, he could get lost in other ways. It was a form of meta meditation in which he could connect to the foundational energy of the universe and, as a general principle, get good ideas for stories or ways to get Route 50 active, or, as the case may be, both. Writing stories always seemed to be the most obvious answer. If he wrote a story, maybe that would inspire someone else to write a story.
That was always the best feeling. But, even failing that, hopefully they would at least read it and be excited.
Pope's consciousness fell away as he explored deeper powers.
Pope crawled out of his box.
"Yep, well. That was a waste of time."
Sighing, Pope peeked out through the blinds. Normally, his snooping eyes would be greeted with the lovely sight of the rising digital sun glinting off of the fine, shining structures of Route 50. The massive forums bedecked in colorful tapestries of legendary roleplays. The architecturally rapturous galleries, home of the most basically okay art on the internet. The beacons which shot announcements of new polls and new art and new posts throughout the site. The sprawling bases and digital living complexes. The stream which encircled and flowed through it all, gathering information and memories and the times, good and bad. Flying skateboards. Roller coasters. And even the relatively small but most beloved of all institutions: the chat, a simple building of just a few floors but the ground of many a discussion about life, video games, drama, and food. (2) It was all pretty swell. However, Pope was forced to ask himself a terrible question:
"Hm. In my brief absence, has Route 50 become a cold, grey, totalitarian state filled with security cameras, robots, and loneliness?
Why, yes. Yes it has.
I have absolutely no idea what to do with this information."
After a short period of freaking out a little, like in all emergencies, Pope reverted to ninja mode. Flitting around the site, he was able to confirm his suspicions of a fascist uprising, but the source was still mysterious.
Something that sounded like saxophone was blaring throughout the city, but Pope could only hear it faintly through his headphones. (3) Something was not right. Like, beyond the whole totalianariasm thing.
Ducking into an alley to avoid a patrolling robot squad, Pope racked his head for any logical explanation, but that (as always) seemed a long ways off. So, you can't blame him for trying. The answer was as distant and droning as that blaring saxophone, drowned out by the sweetest dreamwave rap.
Only two things really occurred to him. If there was an evil government in place, you could bet there was an underground resistance going on. Heh, Xetaja was probably in charge of it, if she hadn't been the one to instigate the coup in the first place. It was really a 50/50 thing.
Secondly, Pope realized he could really use a sidekick, preferably a magical animal of some sorts. (4) "I better write that down," he said to himself. He would work on that later. There was a dictatorship to topple.
"psst, pope," came a voice from a nearby manhole. Pope stared back at it thoughtfully.
"Yes, Satan?" (It wasn't Satan. It was actually just Fexible.)
Fexible: "Pope, quick, come down here before they catch you!"
Pope: "Do you guys all float down there?"
Pope leaned in real close. "Do you?"
Fexible, sighing: "Yes, Pope. We float."
She slid aside the manhole and, smiling, Pope ninja jumped in. A ninja jump is the same as a regular jump, but you do it whilst wearing a ninja suit. (5) He splashed down into the sewers. Now, it's important to understand that the sewers in Route 50 weren't like regular sewers. Because Route 50 was a website, sewers instead served the function of storing old stream content. As such, they were incredibly massive and were great for halloween parties and for level grinding, if you wanted to fight some traditional sewer mooks and the occasionally horribly high leveled flesh eating monstrosity that had found its way in there and decided not to leave. But one mostly tries to avoid those.
"Hey, there's a .gif I posted a few months ago," Pope whispered, pointing into the murky waters. (6) Schools of friendly robotic fish swam by, glowing, faintly, of many colors in the dim light. Their job was to eat broken .gifs and the remnants of deleted threads. "Pretty."
"Focus, Pope," Fexible said. "We're on a mission here."
"We're on a mission from God," Pope whispered back, mystically. (Remember, he was kind of freaking out.)
Fexible frowned. "We need to get you back to base immediately."
Floating down the sewers...
Pope: "Xetaja." He made a pistol with his fist and clicked. "Totally called it." The aforementioned Route 50 executive stood imperiously over a makeshift base. In what was probably the only dry nook in the entire sewer system, the resistance had set up a very technologically impressive command center. Metatyph was furiously clicking away at some shiny screens and Fexible sat down to join him. "Hey, why are you guys all wearing headphones? I was totally doing it before all of you, just for the record."
"Pope," Xetaja said sternly. "It's good to see you made it. Has Fexible briefed you on the situation?"
Fexible cut in: "Uh, no. I brought him here first so that I could show him the montage." Xetaja nodded sagely. Pope nodded sagely in response, although a little more flirtily. You know. Just to give it some spice. "Bring him up to speed, Fexible. I'll be patrolling the waterways for their drones. The hunters will become hunted." It was actually pretty intimidating when she said it. It was always a comforting feeling when Xetaja was on your side.
Fexible walked over to one of the screens with a remote and began cycling through diagrams and images.(7)
Pope: "Ah, pictures. My comprehension of what is going on is like, skyrocketing right now."
Fexible: "Alright, so, here's what happened..."
About a week ago, Spark was getting pretty troubled about the lack of activity on the site. You even got a note from him about it, right? He was hoping to go on a magical quest with you. Anyway, with no one to quest with, he had to resort to plan B: celebrity promotion. Through a friend of a friend, he thought he could get Bill Clinton to join the site and maybe draw some traffic that way. Unfortunately, he was right. He just had no idea how disastrous the consequences would be.
As soon as he stepped foot on Route 50, he overthrew Kat and installed a dictatorship. Xetaja was only able to escape because Sparkleaf held his robot minions off. I was able to escape because I had a dream about Bill and his slick trickery--I was paranoid about him since the moment Sparkleaf mentioned him! Plus, I happen to have the best lurking abilities of anyone on the site, if I do say so myself. Metatyph was actually already down in the sewers.
("I was studying the attack patterns of some of the lower level creatures when confronted with some of the more aggressive predators!")
Everyone else who was online was immediately put under mind control. Sparkleaf is now the head of the guard! As for everyone else... they're either dead, missing, or just inactive. If more people just got online, maybe we'd have a better chance of taking Bill down, but as things are...
Our only hope is what Metatyph and I are working on now. We don't know what Bill's ultimate purpose is, but we do know how he's operating. He's using his horrific saxophone playing to hypnotize and mind control the entire site! The beacons are playing it non-stop. The only reason you weren't hypnotized was because of your headphones. Partially tuning everything and everybody for once seems to have paid off. In any case, Metatyph and I have been trying to hack into the broadcasting system. We're hoping we can stop the saxophone signal and send out a message to everybody to rise up and stop Bill Clinton!
You just have to ask yourself one question, Pope: are you a bad enough dude to rescue us from the president?
Metatyph: "I think... I think we're ready. Ready as we'll ever be. Do you think we should wait for Xetaja to come back and give the order?"
Fexible: "I don't think we have the luxury of waiting. I think we need to go now." Pope nodded vigorously in assent.
Metatyph exhaled and pressed a big red button. "That's executing the override Xetaja gave me, only it's directed specifically at the broadcasting system. It's just shut down the saxophone playing and our own broadcast will go live in five..."
Fexible jumped in front of a video camera with a set of notecards. "Four, three, two--"
There was a large rumbling explosion and huge part of the ceiling caved in, destroying the equipment and nearly crushing the group. Xetaja flashstepped in, with bleeding cuts and burn damage in various places. "It's a trap! They traced the signal! You led them right here!" Behind her, the growing thrum of a robot legion echoed throughout the sewer system. Anywhere, it would have been terrifying, but in the strange underground waterways it sounded like the eldritch armies of hell. One burst out of the water and knocked off Metatyph's headphones. Immediately, he sat down calmly. "Run." Xetaja whispered coldly, decapitating the bot and stabbing another one in the chest as it rushed up, circuits and gears flying everywhere.
Barely processing what had taken place, Pope grabbed Fexible by the wrist and smoke balled the hella out of there.
Back in the alley...
Fexible: "We couldn't do it. That was our one shot and we blew it. Look, the saxophone signal has already started up again." Pope could hear it dimly behind his headphones, but even focusing on the heavily muted noise made him a little woozy. Fexible sighed. "There's really no point anymore."
"Whoa, whoa," Pope protested. "There's got to be something we can do. This might seem weird coming from a ninja, but what if we attack him directly?"
Fexible: "Bill does come out every afternoon to do a live saxophone session in front of the entire site... but, it's useless. He's guarded 24/7 by a hypnotized Sparkleaf. Sparkleaf's the greatest fighter on the site now that Xetaja's gone. You don't stand a chance." Pope frowned, uncomfortable.
Pope: "What do you mean by, 'you don't stance a chance?' We're in this together, right?" Fexible stared at him a little before calmly flipping off her headphones and tossing them aside. Pope gasped and tried to reason with her, but all she could hear was the saxophone now.
"It's alright, Pope. We can just all become one with Bill." Fexible leaned against the alley wall and breathed deeply. "One with Bill. One with Bill."
Pope just smoke balled the hella out of there.
At the Saxophonium
Bill had erected a large tower with which to look down upon the gathered hypnotized masses. Smiling, he called for his saxophone, which Sparkleaf promptly handed to him. There was a brief interlude of a few seconds when the recorded saxophone signal stopped and before Bill began the live session. That's when Pope struck.
Like lightning from heaven, Pope ninja jumped and knocked the sax out of Bill's wiggly pigglies. Grabbing it, he scuttled away into the corner of the tower. It was a long way down: he could see the masses staring blankly up at him.
"Well, hold on there, friend, " Bill said in his comforting southern drawl. "Can't we be diplomatic about this?" He motioned to the blank eyed Sparkleaf, who began to advance upon Pope with a menacing snarl.
Pope: "I'm thinking no, Bill. I'm impeaching you! Your reign of terror is over once I break this saxophone." Bill smiled and nodded sagely, to Pope's utter disgust.
Bill: "But you haven't broken it, have you lad? And that's because a part of you wants the sax. Whatever has filtered through those little headphones of yours, you've liked." (8) Pope stared in horror, unable to deny what he knew in his heart to be the truth. Sparkleaf slowly drew closer, which sort of shook him out of Bill's verbal tapestry of deceit. "Why don't you just give me the sax, take off those headphones, and enjoy the show like everyone else."
No, Pope thought, I can't. If I do that, I'll unleash one of the internet's most powerful demons and it will be under Bill Clinton's control. (9)
"Son," Bill clinton said, winking. "I can guarantee I have not had relations with that saxophone."
"Gross!" said Pope, immediately smashing the saxophone. "And that doesn't even make sense!" Seeing his beloved instrument in pieces, Bill hissed in frustration and, you know, pure evil, and at this Sparkleaf jumped on Pope's neck, snapping and growling. Pope tried to hold him off with his fists but it was no use. Sparkleaf was, now in fulfilling more definitions than ever, a total beast. (10)
"You're going to regret your decision, bucko," Bill said, his double forked tongue slithering between his lips. Wait, what? "I'm using Route 50 as my base of operations to take over the entire internet. Those with the vision to embrace my leadership, or, at the very least, the fortune to be taken over unwillingly by my mind control, will be the generals in my ongoing conquest of all digital realms. What can I say? I've sort of missed ruling the world. But at least I haven't lost my presidential abilities." This last point he emphasized by showing his hand, glowing with energy.
This was it. The end of the line. Pope looked Sparkleaf in the eyes. Deep down, beneath this brainwashed slave was a dude who just wanted to be free. "Spark," Pope whispered. "I believe in you, man. Use the power of your own animal nature. Break free of the musical chains our former president has set on you." Almost immediately Sparkleaf ceased and turned his head towards Bill, whose face had grown stony and grim.
"It does... it does feel good to have that saxophone out of my head," Sparkleaf said. "Liberating, in fact." Cursing, Bill shot an energy bolt at Sparkleaf, who dodged easily and immediately pounced on the dictator. (11)
"It's no use, Sparkleaf," Bill said gently, wrestling him the ground. "You can't overcome a president, past, present, or future." In a burst of energy, Sparkleaf knocked him to the other side of the tower. Bill simply stood up, unharmed, and dusted off his suit. Slowly, he began to float up off the ground, his hands beginning to glow with a radiant force. The shape of an eagle started to form behind him.
"Democratically elected powers, baby," Bill said, winking. "You can't beat America."
"Bill," Sparkleaf said in determination, his own kitsune powers taking shape and surrounding him. "Your term is up."
Shining lights, powerful energies, and deeper powers collided and exploded. Pope's brain short circuited and--
he woke up.
A few hours have past...
Pope stepped out of his secret base, groggy but also sort of excited. It was good to see Route 50 in typical colorful form, exactly the way it should be. Sparkleaf was walking by. "Pope," he said. "Did you get my note earlier?"
"I did, I did," Pope replied. "I thought it was a great idea. I even wrote a story! It's based off of a dream Fexible had and a meta vision I had and, of course, your own suggestion that we get the site more active. I know I haven't ever really gotten the meta project off the ground, but I still stand by the ideals behind it. I think writing a Route 50 story and getting people excited and integrated into said stories is the best way to get Route 50 active and generate content!"
Sparkleaf nodded. "Okay... That's not what I had in mind, though. I was hoping we could go on an actual magic quest to save Route 50."
"I'm down for that, too," Pope said, shrugging. "Just two things before we go. For one, don't ever invite Bill Clinton to Route 50."
Sparkleaf decided to just take the request at face value: "Sure."
Pope: "Secondly, on this magical quest, will you be my animal sidekick?"