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Episode Fifty-Five: TRANSCENDED

Hello and welcome to the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity and Mortality. This audio tour guide will be your constant companion in your journey through the unknown and surreal.

As you approach our exhibits, the audio tour guide will provide you with information and insights into their nature and history.

Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the exhibits.

Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the audio tour guide. If you believe that the audio tour guide may be deviating from the intended tour program, please consider adjusting your preconceived notions of what the intended tour program may be!

While the staff here at Mistholme Museum of Mystery Morbidity and Mortality do their absolute best to ensure the safety of all visitors, accidents can happen. The museum is not liable for any injury, death, or bizarrely paced sentences with odd emphasis [NOTE: This warning is bizarrely paced and has odd emphasis] that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.

An Editor’s Pencil 

The Human memory is such a fragile thing. Compared to the certainty and precision of files saved to a computer hard drive- not to brag or anything- the thing you call memory is a very wobbly thing. Details glimpsed only for a moment will fade almost instantly, if they were captured at all, and the memories your mind does manage to hold onto can be corrupted so easily by suggestion or bias. One need only look at the tendency for witness statements to generate confused half-truths that tell more about the witness than they do the suspect to see that the human memory is more than incapable of grasping at the intricacy of the world it attempts to catalogue. 


 

In front of you, behind a pane of protective glass, is a pencil- or rather, what remains of one. What was once a standard sort of red pencil, of the sort an editor might make notes or a teacher might inscribe “See me after class” with a little angry face next to it on a struggling child’s homework, has been reduced by extensive use to a mere nub, barely even long enough to hold in one’s hand, the red wax at its core almost entirely spent. The glass that stands between you and it serves a dual purpose: it protects the pencil from being tampered with, and it protects you from tampering with it. And not just from the Museum’s rule against the written word: writing with this pencil has a… side effect. One you might not notice immediately, or at all. Because, depending on what you wrote, you might not remember that you’d written it.

 

The previous user of the pencil was Yiding Lu, a name that might sound familiar to those who pay attention to the world of Big Business. Until his death just a few years ago he was one of the most powerful media moguls in the world, wielding considerable power and capital with the stroke of a pen. His influence went back decades, from a long life dedicated to building his media empire through business savvy and remarkable insight into market trends. He had the ear of world leaders, with a reputation as a kingmaker whose word could bring down his opponents without needing to lift a finger. He was, truly, a Titan of Industry, the sort of powerful business magnate whose name will go down in history as having shaped the world of tomorrow.

 

Except, as compelling a story as that makes, it turns out there are some holes in it, holes which started to come out almost immediately after Lu’s death. It is not unusual for a person’s life and legacy to be re-evaluated after their death, of course, but this was a different matter. As the biographers and eulogisers looked back over the life of this person, a life which had been extensively documented as are all those whose lives impact others to the degree Lu’s had, they discovered irregularities. He was a businessman, so of course there was extensive documentation of the deals he brokered and the savvy plays he made… in the press. But as far as formal, legal, documents goes, it was oddly hard to find evidence of his career highlights. Everyone who worked with him knew of his achievements- even his greatest rivals would attest to his incredible acumen, to their defeats at his hand- but it seemed that many of these achievements existed only in hindsight. It was easy enough to find examples of his deals being closed or celebrated, but it was bizarrely difficult to find contemporary sources discussing the plans and dealings that led to those victories. It was as though his career simply lept from one triumph to another, with odd little gaps in between, skipping to the end results and reaping the benefits of work never done. Investigators were baffled- indeed, Lu’s own friends and colleagues were stumped. They had lived with this man, remembered him as a remarkable figure, remembered being there for his successes… but now that they really focused on the memories, some things just didn’t add up. In the end the truth came out. It was inevitable that it would. After all, Yiding Lu wrote down every part of the story himself, in red.

 

It is not believed that Lu ever intended for his writing to be a confession, nor even a memoir. The existence of a record of the true version of events was merely an unavoidable side-effect, although surely he knew that the record would be uncovered. Through Yiding’s own writing, a portrait of a man very different from the one known to the world emerges. The real Yiding Lu was- initially, at least- an extremely timid person, with no self-confidence to speak of. Severe generalised anxiety, according to his psychologist, was the source of most of his problems, both personally and professionally. The smallest of mistakes, whether a botched social interaction or error in his work as an editor for a local newspaper in his hometown, would lead him into a spiral of self-doubt and misery that could overcome him for days at a time. His life was a mess, and despite the work of multiple therapists over the years there was no improvement in sight. Until one day, a discovery was made. The psychologist treating Yiding at the time had him using writing exercises as therapy, tapping into a medium that was both his work and his passion. Lu would keep detailed journals at his psychologist’s behest, in which he would collect all the things that had caused him strife in a given day- these journals also served to fill in some missing sections of this story, long after the fact. His psychologist hoped that, by collating all of his daily disasters in a format that was both manageable and comprehensible, Yiding would be able to view them with the benefit of hindsight and understand that the mountains he had made in the moment were, in fact, mere molehills. Progress was slow, however, if it existed at all: Yiding had a rationalisation, an excuse for every catastrophisation and overreaction he made. In his mind, he could do nothing right, and the journals did little to disabuse him of this notion, and so a modification was made: in addition to writing down a summation of the day’s disasters, of conversations gone wrong, he would also write a version of events that he would prefer to have happened, an edited version of reality to reflect his job at the time as an editor. By treating his life like something as surmountable as the thing he did every day for a living, Lu’s therapist hoped that he would begin to see how solvable his problems truly were- he could even use the same red pencil he did at work for added verisimilitude. And this did have an effect, although it certainly was not the one Yiding’s therapist expected.

 

According to Yiding’s diary, when he acted upon this advice by rewriting a conversation he had with his boss, a strange thing occurred. After writing down the version of events he would prefer to have happened- that instead of meekly agreeing with his manager’s harsh critiques, he had stood up for himself- he found himself confused. He had written down the true version of events, rather than an idealised version. He had stood up for himself… hadn’t he? In the diary, he berates himself for not even being able to follow the instructions of his therapist correctly.

 

But in subsequent entries, a realisation slowly dawns on Yiding Lu. The day after the altercation with his manager, which Lu had rewritten, he was called into his manager’s office. Expecting that the verbal lashing he had received the day prior would be repeated, Yiding entered the office already in the midst of a panic spiral. But instead of castigating him, his manager commended Yiding for standing up to him, saying that he’d raised some good points and that some of the suggestions he’d made- that had, in reality, only been made in a diary- would be implemented. Yiding’s terror was quickly replaced with confusion, and it was all he could do to simply nod along with what his manager said and shake hands at the end. 

 

The next period in Yiding Lu’s life has proved somewhat difficult for researchers to follow. Lu spent some time attempting to determine what, exactly, had happened to him. This involved a great deal of trial and error, as he rewrote and re-rewrote reality- and only realised he had done so some of the time. One can understand how this would be a challenge: Lu was not immune to the effects of whatever it was he was doing, and as a result when he altered the past- if indeed that is what he was doing- he would remember the new history as the true one, same as everyone else. Despite this difficulty, eventually a timeline of events has emerged. By cross-referencing Lu’s writings with the events of recorded history and finding the points at which the two match, it has been concluded that a sizable amount of recent history may have, in fact, been written by Lu. Through a process of trial and error, Yiding Lu determined that he could not, in fact, alter the events of the past- but he could do the next best thing. By writing down what he would like to have had happen, he was able to alter the memories of everyone involved, thus making his version of events the one they believed to be true. All of his alterations that researchers can identify were made with what appeared to be the same red editor’s pencil, although we are unable to determine if this was because the ability was tied to the pencil or if this was just out of force of habit. Certainly, when others have subsequently attempted to use what remains of the pencil Lu used, no powers like the one he possessed were granted.

 

What we can say for certain is that Yiding Lu used this power to grant himself increasing amounts of power. First, he made his manager believe he had been given a promotion- thus meaning that he effectively had been. From there, he obtained a role at a higher-profile company, and so on. He gained ever greater power in perhaps the most passive manner imaginable: by making others believe that he already had it. Eventually he went into business for himself, using the capital he had already acquired over the years and a loan which he retconned a bank into having granted him to create a publishing house all of his own. From there, he began to grow an empire, spreading into all forms of media: from its beginnings as a publishing house, Lu’s influence was soon felt in radio, then film, then television. His company was even able to handle the emergence of the internet better than most, taking advantage of this new information age in ways no other seemed to manage. Of course, this may just be what we think happened: the fact of the matter is that we will never know if the writings recovered after Yiding Lu’s death encompass all of his alterations to society’s memory, nor what those alterations were. Certainly, some of his wins can only have been possible with the power of hindsight, which is what the pencil really offered.

 

But the strangest thing in all this- except for the part about the man having a magic pencil that can alter people’s memories en masse- is that it may not have been necessary at all. Some of the wins that Lu accrued throughout his long career were only possible with the alternatural power he had attained, certainly. But even with that taken into account, it cannot be denied that the man was a fantastic businessman. Whether or not you respect what he did, whether or not you think that Business Tycoons are a thing that should exist, he was one of the greatest. The fact of the matter is that, when one looks at the career of Yiding Lu in its entirety, one cannot deny that he was good at what he did. Some argue that he might have been able to have a similar degree of success without the pencil, if he’d just had some courage. Even with his alternatural gift, the real greatest asset he had was his savvy, his eye for business. Perhaps the greatest boon the pencil granted him wasn’t the ability to rewrite memories, but to believe in himself enough to take some chances, to do what he was truly capable of, to seize the opportunity. 

 

Or perhaps, somewhere out there, there’s a piece of paper with all of that written on it in red pencil, that’s made me believe all of that.

 

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

The Beach

[Sounds of Retrieval preparing for a mission, zippers etc]

 

Restoration:

I haven’t been here since just after the lockdown ended. The Clockwork Mother took me here to show what had happened to the Security Department. I had to see for myself. Of course, I wish I hadn’t…

 

Retrieval:
It’s all cleaned up in there now. Shelter looks good as new.

 

Restoration:
You’ll understand I don’t want to see for myself.

 

Amina:
[Approaching] Hey. All set here, then?

 

Guide:
Yes, the Glassway is back in place. The Head of Retrieval is preparing to… go through.

 

Amina:
Mm. Spooky. What’s with the cards?

 

Restoration:
It’s just… keeping my hands occupied.

 

Amina:
Right. You know those aren’t… normal cards, yeah?

 

Restoration:
Yes. I know.

 

Amina:
Okay then.

 

Restoration:
You’re sure about this?

 

Retrieval:
Yep. ‘Bout time I got off my arse I reckon.

 

Amina:
And yet you were so happy to let me do the work just a little while ago.

 

Retrieval:
For the last time that was different.

 

Amina:
Okay, all I’m saying is we had some idea what was gonna be in the shelter when I went back, whereas you’re completely blind. 

 

Guide:
Well, actually, I’ve already taken a drone through to take a look at things on the other side of the Glassway, so we’re not totally blind.

 

Amina:
And what did you see?
 

Guide:
…Well, the drone’s wheels got stuck in the sand, so we didn’t get far. But there’s no sign of anyone there that I can see!

 

Amina:
Great. 

 

Restoration:
I’m sure that the Head of Retrieval has been in… uh, hairier… scrapes? In the past, I mean.

 

Retrieval:
Yeah, your pep-talks are still second to none, thanks.

 

Guide:
Sir, are you sure you don’t want to take any Retrieval Agents with you? Just in case, I mean.

 

Retrieval:
Won’t go far from the Glassway. It’s just a quick in and out, get an idea of what we’re looking at. Just you and me will do fine, Guide. 

 

Guide:
Right. Um, yeah. Sounds good.

 

Restoration:
You will actually stick to that, right? Just head through the Glassway, see what’s what, then head back.

 

Retrieval:

Don’t worry. Just a straightforward reconnaissance op, I’ll take a look and be back before you know it. 

 

Amina:
Well, if the mirror’s all set it seems like I’ve done what I’m being paid for. 

 

Restoration:
Yes, thank you for your assistance Amina, it’s been a big help.

 

Guide:
Yes! Thank you so much, it’s been great working with you.

 

Amina:
No worries. Won’t go too far, but I think I’ll get out of the way before whatever happens happens, you know?

 

[Footsteps away]

 

Retrieval:
[Hefting some heavy piece of gear] Yep, good call. Things could get messy around here.

 

Restoration:
You just said this was only a reconnaissance mission.

 

Retrieval:
I also said it could get messy. I’m not trying to start anything but it has a way of happening anyway these days.

 

Restoration:
Kind of feels like we’re poking the sleeping bear or… whatever, though. It’s been quiet, relatively. Nothing’s happened with the Glassway or the Security Department since Astrid and the rest escaped. Maybe this is the last chance we have to let sleeping dogs lie.

 

Retrieval:
Sorry, are they bears or dogs? I'm confused.

 

Restoration:
Stop that. I’m serious. Are we sure finding answers is worth the risk that we’ll find something else.

 

Retrieval:
Doesn’t sound like you. You normally love finding answers and stuff.

 

Restoration:
You’re thinking of the Head of Research. “Answers at any cost” is her game. I just… I miss working at a museum.

 

Retrieval:
Yeah. Alright, that’s fair. 

 

Guide:
Yes, I’m… I’m sorry that I called Amina and set this all up without consulting you, I didn’t think-

 

Restoration:
We already said it’s fine, Guide. Really. I’m just nervous. It’ll pass. You all set?

 

Retrieval:
Yep. Guide, you good?

 

Guide:
Um. Yes, if you’re really sure-

 

Restoration:
Yes, it’s fine. Go on, then. I’ll just… be here. We’ll shut the door to the Shelter once you’re in, for safety.

 

Retrieval:
Good call. Let’s go!

 

Guide:
Ok. 

 

Retrieval:
You excited, Guide?
 

Guide:
…Sure.

 

[The shelter door slams shut]

 

Retrieval:
Nervous?

 

Guide:
No. [Beat] The Head of Retrieval, clad in his protective gear and holding a rifle with practised ease, made his way through the silent Security Shelter toward the newly re-installed Glassway. He-

 

Retrieval:
Yeah, you’re nervous.

 

Guide:

N- Shut up.

 

Retrieval:
You shut up. Let me do the narration, if something happens you’ll still be around to tell your version. This is my only chance.

 

Guide:
Sure. Sorry.

 

Retrieval:
Right. Approaching the Glassway. Everything seems normal. Relatively speaking. On the ramp now. Ha. Here we go. About bloody time. 

 

[Glassway transition sound]

 

And we’re through. Guide, you all good?

 

Guide:
Yessir. 

 

Retrieval:
Let our people at the Museum know we’re ok. Let’s take a look around. Right. Ok, it’s a beach. That was true. It’s nighttime. Some big empty shells here and there. Not seeing any bodies, no idea if that means anything. The water… Guide, the idea was that it was all dead here, right? Nothing alive on land or in the sea?

 

Guide:
That’s what Astrid told us, yes. 

 

Retrieval:
Well the beach is dry, but the water… It’s all foamy on the surface. Is that… I mean, I don’t know anything about, like, aquatic life and all. What does that mean?

 

Guide:
I mean, we’d need to take samples. Foam on the surface of water could indicate a number of things, it could be a life form, but it could also just be a waste product or the decomposing remains of something. Of course, decomposition could imply that some life forms do exist that are breaking something down- again, we’d need to take samples. I mean, this is a whole other world, we know by now that they don’t necessarily… play by our rules… Sir, is everything okay?

Retrieval:
It’s not. 

 

Guide:
Sir?

Retrieval:
It’s not another world. Look up.

 

Guide:
I don’t really… what do you mean, sir? What am I-

 

Retrieval:
The stars. Look at the stars.

 

Guide:
Could you explain, sir? Is there something wrong with them?

 

Retrieval:
No. There isn’t. They look… just like they normally do.

 

Guide:
Okay, so what’s… oh. Wait, do you mean- you recognise them?

 

Retrieval:

The constellations, they’re all… They’re all here.

 

Guide:
But sir… that would mean we’re on Earth. That’s not possible.

 

Retrieval:

Guide I’m looking at the Southern Cross, we’re not just on Earth we’re in the bloody Southern Hemisphere. 

 

Guide:
But we should have picked up the drone’s transponder as soon as it came through, we can’t be-

 

Retrieval:
Guide, I am looking at-

 

[A bubbling, sliming, fizzing sound arises nearby. The Head of Retrieval drops into a crouch and chambers a round in his weapon]

 

Guide:
There’s something coming out of the water-

 

Retrieval:
I can see that, quiet down. It’s… [Beat} Astrid.


Astrid:
[Uncertainly, oddly] Hello. It’s… been a while, hasn’t it?

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