Mary Prankster: “I just got word that a skeptic has just ‘landed’ in our fair realm. He’s an ebook critic from some upstart website, and when he learned about Subreality he dismissed it as some elaborate hoax that his friends are playing on him. From what I hear even his trip here didn’t dissuade him.”
Bryan, frowning: “How could he not be persuaded? Or does he normally get beamed from place to place?”
Mary: “Well, apparently his friends arranged for him to arrive in a setting exactly like the one he left, so he thinks he’s still at home. Let’s watch him and see what happens…”
The day had started normally enough for Jim Green, ebook critic for CritiqueYou.com. Two colleagues were discussing the quality of the writing at some website and whether they should do a review of the site, and from what Jim was hearing, the stories themselves were rather far out. Set in a between-dimensions place where writers and their characters and muses can interact? Why would they bother with such trivial crap? But they were going at it for awhile, until one of them happened to say, “And, believe it or not, some people actually claim it’s supposed to be real!”
That was all Jim could take silently. Approaching his coworkers, Jim said, “Excuse me, guys, but did I hear you correctly? Somebody actually believes this Subreality thing is real?!”
“That’s what I’m told,” one answered. “Talk to Craig down the hall. He claims he’s actually been there, and he sounded mighty convincing.”
“Do you believe it?” Jim shot back.
“No,” the colleague said, “but that doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Go talk to Craig, man. He knows a lot more about it than me.”
* * * *
Jim looked around, bewildered. He wandered around aimlessly until he stumbled across a place called Victoria’s Secret Station. The front of the place seemed intentionally quaint, like an old-fashioned train depot, but inside were some of the finest women he’d ever seen, wearing barely more than lingerie. He had to check this out.
As he drew closer, he could see and hear a heated discussion going on between– Tyra Banks?! and… Adriana Lima?!
“Well, OK, so it is Victoria’s Secret Station, after all,” he said, deciding to go in.
* * * *
“All I’m saying is, I think you’re making too big a deal out of this whole Paulette thing,” said a shapely black woman who bore a striking resemblance to Tyra Banks. “I mean, I look just like Tyra Banks and you don’t see me stressing over it.”
The other woman, a willowy young woman who was the spitting image of Adriana Lima, retorted, “But your situation isn’t anything like mine. You know where you stand in relation to the other Tyra. You’re not likely to have some clones show up and threaten your identity. And besides–”
“Um, that’s kind of my point,” Tyra said. “If I understand correctly, you and I both exist because of the first Paulette. She’s Bryan Doe’s muse. He put us here after she inspired him to, well, to create us. Seems to me that Paulette’s the one who should be upset.”
After a few seconds with no response forthcoming, Tyra looked up to see Adriana looking daggers at her. “Oops, I didn’t mean to hit a nerve, boss. I’m just saying–”
Adriana sighed. “I know what you’re Ã¢Â€Â˜just saying.’ It still upsets me, though. I’m gonna go over there and give all of them a piece of my mind.”
“Just don’t go overboard, Adriana. Remember, pencils have erasers and computer keyboards have backspace keys, if you know what I’m saying, and I think you do.”
As Adriana stormed out she brushed against a man who had been standing agape outside her restaurant, staring open-mouthed at all the beautiful half-dressed women inside. “Sorry,” she mumbled on her way past.
“Excuse me,” Jim said, ignoring any advice he may have gotten in his life about interrupting an angry woman. “Aren’t you–”
“Yes, I am,” she replied over her shoulder, without breaking stride. She had more important things to do at the moment than to entertain a gawker. Especially when she wasn’t exactly who she appeared to be.
Jim thought momentarily about following her to see what was about to happen, then thought better of it and went on inside the restaurant. Once inside, he stopped dead in his tracks, staring at a gorgeous black woman in a wine-colored lace corset and tight black jeans. She looked up at him and smiled.
“Hi, sir, and welcome to Victoria’s Secret Station. Would you like a table, or would you prefer a seat at the bar?”
“Uh, I guess the bar is fine,” he said. After a beat he continued, “Excuse me, but you’re not really Tyra Banks, are you?
“What makes you ask that?” she responded.
“I just have trouble imagining Tyra Banks working in a restaurant, and, well, wearing her Victoria’s Secret work clothes at that.”
The woman chuckled. “Well, these are my work clothes, but no, I’m not Tyra Banks. I’m Tyra Cash.”
This time it was Jim’s turn to chuckle. “Cash. OK, so that wasn’t Adriana Lima who just tried to knock me down?”
Tyra’s smile faded a bit. “No, that was my boss, Adriana Pinto. She owns this place.”
“OK, Pinto instead of Lima, Cash instead of Banks — excuse me for asking, but is this just a big joke or what?”
“Uh, what do you mean, sir?”
“My friends told me they wanted me to check out Subreality, and that they would arrange to send me there, and the next thing I know I’m at a cross between a theme restaurant and a lingerie store, with jokey-named women who look just like supermodels. This has to be a joke, right?”
Tyra sighed. “Well, I can understand your skepticism, but there is really no joke here. I’m not sure just what you were told about Subreality, but, well, Adriana and I — and all the other employees here — are characters based on real-life models Out There. Our names are just a way of identifying us with the Outsiders we appear to be.”
Jim’s eyes widened as he took in Tyra’s words, in part marveling at how she was able to verbally capitalize words without having to resort to air quotes. Tyra took notice of his continued bewilderment and continued. “I guess you’re not convinced. Once you take your seat at the bar, you’ll change your mind. Our bartender ran afoul of a couple of characters she should have left alone. You’ll see what I mean, or maybe not. Just follow me.”
Jim did as he was instructed, marveling at all the Victoria’s Secret doppelgangers in the restaurant. Filippa Ambrosio, Grace Casta, Pennina Barros, Coco Iman, Simona Nemcova, Vir?inia Kirkova — they were all there and more. But when he got to the bar, he thought his heart would stop. Behind the bar was a well-filled bustier moving around beautifully but without anyone visibly inside it…
* * * * *
Back to Adriana…
Adriana made her way over to the Unseen Scene, mentally concocting all kinds of torturous schemes against both Paulettes and against Bryan, the writer responsible for creating all of them. She didn’t feel much of an affinity for Bryan, even though he was her writer, since she was no more than a corollary to Paulette when she did appear in a story — yet she knew she couldn’t really do much of anything to him without endangering her own existence. She’d probably wind up in one of those places for abandoned characters, a fate worse than death as far as she was concerned.
Resigned to just giving Bryan and her perceived rivals a piece of her mind, she charged into the Unseen Scene, coming very close to upsetting a hovering dessert tray. The tray had apparently anticipated her movement, though, deftly moving upward at the last moment without losing any of its cargo, then continuing in its original direction. Adriana watched the tray float away and glared at it, mumbling as she did so.
“Why are you so upset, girl?” asked a vaguely familiar feminine voice. Adriana turned towards the source of the voice, only to see a floating Negro Modelo bottle with no one apparently holding it.
“Excuse me?” Adriana huffed. “I don’t normally discuss my personal business with strangers, especially when I can’t see them. Who are you, anyway?”
“I suppose that’s open to interpretation, really,” the voice said. The bottle turned itself upward, draining about half of its contents in one shot, before the voice continued. “Ahh, that was good. I’m one of Havika’s and Mary Prankster’s… associates, so I guess to some people I don’t exist. Don’t really have a name, never really needed one. Just seems a shame to see that pretty face all screwed up.”
“Um, if you’re like Vik and Mary, then how… can you drink beer? I mean, you don’t have a body, do you?”
“No, I don’t,” the voice agreed with a chuckle, “but I know how to make beer disappear. As for how I do it, well, that would be very difficult to explain. Let’s just say I do it, and I enjoy it. Same with just about everything else I do. You, on the other hand, look like you’re about to end somebody’s fun, and fun is what this place is all about. You sure you want to do… whatever it is you came here to do?”
Adriana, not accustomed to having conversations with self-proclaimed thin air, or watching said thin air drain a beer bottle, found herself at a loss for words briefly, before recovering. “I… didn’t really come here to end anyone’s fun, I just had to clear the air a bit. Don’t mind me. And,” she continued as she began walking away, “enjoy your beer.”
“Will do,” replied the voice, as the bottle upended itself again. “Will do,” it repeated, even as the beer was disappearing from the bottle.
Adriana shook her head. Subreality is my home, she thought, and even I can’t get used to the way some things happen around here.
A few steps away a pink waitress uniform approached her. “Hello, Adriana. Here to see the boss?”
“Um, yes,” she replied. “How did you know?”
“Well, usually when you come here you’re showing a posse around the area. We figured if you ever came alone you’d be here to see the boss.”
By this time the Paulettes had made their way to the kitchen, where Paulette2 was giving Paulette a quickie tour before rejoining the others.
“So, any problems running this place?” Paulette asked, between bites of a biscuit she’d grabbed as it was about to place itself into a nearby basket.
“None inside, really,” Paulette2 replied, “but occasionally there’s trouble outside.” She sighed before continuing, “I have to say, though, my life flashed in front of my eyes when the Silver Surfer came through. I thought this whole pace would implode. Turns out that Subreality is one of the few places his powers don’t work as usual; he was just lost!”
They both laughed at this, as a pink waitress uniform entered the kitchen.
“Boss,” the uniform said to Paulette2, “Adriana Pinto’s here to see you.”
Paulette2 sighed. “Another tour group?” she asked.
“No,” was the reply. “This time she’s alone.”
Paulette2’s eyes went wide. “I knew this was coming,” she said.
“What was coming?” Paulette asked, tensing. “What happened?”
“A showdown, kind of,” Paulette2 said. “You remember that we… yeah, I guess that’s the best way to put it, that we — you and I — inspired Bryan to write
Adriana and to create Victoria’s Secret Station, but only after you and I split and I set up this place. She’s upset because she thinks that she — and only she — should be Adriana number two, instead of being number…” She stopped, counting on her fingers for effect. “Number four.”
“Are you serious?” Paulette said, eyes wide. “I’ve seen six James Bonds since I’ve been here. You name any character, from any story, and there’s likely to be a bunch of ’em running around in here. What makes her so special?”
“I was hoping this day would never come so I wouldn’t have to think about it too much.” Another sigh. “But it’s here, so I guess I have to go out there and deal with it.”
“We,” corrected Paulette. “We have to deal with it.”
Paulette2 started to object, but before she could say anything Paulette spoke up. “Remember when you brought me up to speed on meeting Bryan face to face for the first time?” They both smiled at the memory. “Well, you filled me in on a bit more than that. I know everything you’ve learned about this place right up to that point. So Ms. Pinto is our problem, not yours. Let’s get out there before anything happens.”
CHAPTER FIVE COMING SOON