"But how would we advertise?" replied Balthacarius. "Newspapers take far too long to reach even the nearest planets. Our Chronotransponder would do it, but nobody yet has a working receiver."
But Mrorl had a new idea, which Balthacarius had to admit was pretty molpish. He had been inspired by the final disposition of his bOTTronic Bard, which legends tell had been given a voice in stars. The bOTTifactors travelled to a suitable spot, where there were plenty of bright stars and no occupied planets. Then, with the aid of many bots, temporal vortices and cleverly cross-wired Object Generators, they manipulated the structure of Spaaace-Time itself, to make the stars appear, from a distance, to be aligned into a pattern, forming a message. Blue giants formed the first word — to get the reader's attention — and the yellow, white and pink stars made up the rest: TWO Accomplished bOTTifactors Seek a Commission Suited to their Wowterful Skill, and Seaishly Lucrative, Hence Preferably at the Court of an Empress or Monarch (Should Have Xer Own Empire or Kingdom), Terms to be Arranged.
The advertisement gave a Chronotransponder number and Temporo-Spaaatial address, which was in the centre of a wide sandy plain near the middle of the valley between Zubycal and Tencrivar, where they could receive any messengers at their leisure whilst watching the waterottermolpies swim in the river. This they were prepared to do in shifts, covering all 24 nopix per dip, as they knew not when any visitors might arrive, and watterottermolpies oft swim at epsilonish Times, being Yappocised.
It was not long before, one bright mornip, a most baobabish craft arrived, setting off Balthacarius' sentry radar, and touched down gently right at the designated spot just as the bOTTifactors arrived to greet it. This ship gleamed in the sun, being made of gold and platinum, inlaid with rubies, except for the parts which needed to endure heat, which were tungsten inlaid with sapphire. It bore the name Iqueaxna
. Seven articulated legs extended to meet the ground, while several more legs did not (they were apparently just for show, as they clearly could not reach the ground, but were also very expensive; the ship's builders seemed to have more money than they knew what to do with). A troop of titanium-clad worker bots flew out, and smoothed the ground beneath and around the ship, taking care not to get dust on Mrorl and Balthacarius or anything important; then vanished back into the launch bay from which they had emerged. Then two ramps extended simultaneously, which retinues of decorator-bots came down, carrying carpets, fountains, and potted plants; after placing these artfully they retreated, and their ramps raised, then a third, central ramp tilted down, bearing a magnificent ornate staircase. Down this came the Royal Emissary upon a litter carried by seven rows of gold-and-silver robots, each row out-glittering the last. The Emissary was brought to a central spot amidst the fountains, and two diplomatic staffbots gestured to Mrorl and Balthacarius, making it clear they should approach. The Emissary announced that she had been sent from the Great Gaming Dominion of King Idle, who would be honoured to engage them.
"What sort of work is it?" asked Mrorl, intrigued.
"The details, great bOTTifactors, shall be disclosed at the proper Time," was the reply. She wore a several-layered robe, of white and yellow gold interwoven with silk, velvet-and-silk blouse and galligaskins, molpifur-tufted buskins, and numerous pouches and pockets, which seemed at first to be infested with flies, until the bOTTifactors looked closer and saw that these were servant-robots, whose job was apparently to fend off the real flies, should any be so bold and foolish to approach.
"For now," she went on, "I will only say that His Molpishness King Idle is the greatest Hunter of Game, and not game of the molpy or raptorlike kind, for they do not Wait; no, he is a connoisseur of the artfully constructed challenges that at once make one Wait whilst also keeping one excessively Busy, the likes of which only worthy bOTTifactors such as yourselves could construct —"
"Of course!" said Mrorl. "He wants us to construct a new model of Game, something worth Waiting for, yet complex and engaging enough to present a challenge."
"You are indeed quick!" said the King's Emissary. "Then it is agreed?"
Balthacarius questioned the Emissary on certain details and practical matters, but as soon as the King's generosity had been glowingly described, and his excessively seaish wealth had been given an even more lavish exposition, both bOTTifactors quickly gathered their essential tools, organised sand and a few helper-bots, who followed them up the grand staircase and into the ship. This promptly launched with a great roar and jets of flame that melted a few of the ship's superfluous legs, but no matter as those were soon replaced by platinum-clad EVA service bots employed for that sole purpose.
As they traveled, the Emissary briefed the bOTTifactors on the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Idle, told them of the monarch's personality and peculiar tastes, family history and much more; then schooled them on the geography, history, literature, and language of the land so that by the time they arrived, they could speak like natives.
First they were brought to the Royal Guest Apartments, perched atop a rocky hill with broad picture windows and a splendid view of villages on all sides (the bOTTifactors soon noticed that there was no place they could go without being in sight of at least one of these, and in the brief time they were given to settle in, Balthacarius located three Stealth Cams). Presently the King sent a carriage for them, which was drawn by seven Draft Dragons. These great steeds had harnesses and muzzles of Cut Diamond, and were ridden by Ninja Tortoises who themselves wore Adamantine Armour, apparently all to protect against the dragons' breath. The carriage itself was in the form of a Tangled Tesseract, with windows of solid Glass Block, recently Sandblasted. The interior had been decorated quite lavishly in the local Beachball and Banananas style. As soon as they had boarded, the head Ninja Tortoise shouted Run Raptors Run!
and the great winged lizards did just that.
Mrorl and Balthacarius gaped through the carriage windows as the world's surreal and exotic scenery passed by. The Emissary's briefing had been thorough, but nothing could prepare for this. Of course there was much Sand, and Castles, and NewPixBots with Buckets, familiar sights even in their own world. But these were greatly outnumbered by surreal oddities. A team of Factory Ninjas wearing Safety Goggles led by Time Reaper foremen were transferring Harpsichords made out of Glass Chips into an Incubator, where they were engraved with Magic Letters and painted in Panther Glaze; these were then transferred by Badgers into a Stained Glass Launcher, as another team prepared to catch each in a Safety Net. Stickbot ranchers kept Glass Goats, Dragon Hatchlings, and Kitties Galore, in fields penned in by Seaish Glass Chips; aviaries were filled with Thunderbirds, exotic Anisoptera
, Void Starers, and Redundant Raptors. Otherwise normal-looking Grapevines, Mushrooms and Mustard were cultivated in a Hall of Mirrors (to enhance sunlight and avoid Erosion); more exotic crops included Kitnip, 'Shadow Feeder', and Camelflarge.
"You know," Mrorl whispered in Balthacarius' ear as they rushed along, "I have a feeling that King Idle isn't going to settle for just any simple C**kie-clicking game. "I mean, if he lives in a world as surreal as this…"
But Balthacarius, unfazed, said nothing. They approached a city: houses flashed by, with walls of Bacon, Cake and Seacoal, lawns graced with Gazebos and Topiary, amid which Surfbots played with Logicat pets. There was a Dragon Forge, a giant ministry building titled Department of Redundancy Department
, and a titanic monument with the inscription Wisdom of the Ages
. At last a colossal palace loomed up ahead, a portcullis opened to allow them in, and the carriage careened to a halt in the courtyard.
They entered an enormous hall in the shape of a skull perched on two crossed bones, where King Idle a-Waited them. There was a giant Glass Furnace on one side of the hall, a Crystal Flux Turbine on the other; light from these played eerily on the Glass Chips and Flux Crystals piled around them, reflecting off the hall's curved inner walls (which were of hammered silver). The King's behaviour defied his name, for he was not so much "awaiting" as pacing loudly, perhaps from anger or frustration or impatience, or other reasons Mrorl and Balthacarius could not fathom. He glanced at the Glassbots and Fluxbots as they toiled, presumably making something so important the King needed to oversee their work personally. As the bOTTifactors entered he glared at them, speaking intensely and waving his arms, with his sharpest syllables punctuated by gestures so quick they stirred up a breeze.
"Welcome, bOTTifactors!" he said, "As you've no doubt learned from Lady Padashii, Minister of Royal Hotdogs, I want you to create for me a newer and better kind of game. I'm not interested, you understand, in any vast grid with a hundred-odd hidden mines, that's a tedious job for bots, not for me. My challenge must be strong and lengthy, but requiring swiftness and versatility, and above all cunning and full of surprises, so that I will have to call upon all my Hotdogger's Art to reach even the midgame scenarios. It must be a highly intelligent game, and it should know more about me than I know of myself, for such is my will!"
"Forgive me, Your Highness," said Balthacarius with a careful bow, "but if we do Your Highness' bidding too well, might this not put the Royal appetite for Hotdogging in permanent peril?"
The King roared with such laughter that a couple Flux Crystals shattered, in bursts of light that temporarily blinded all those present.
"Have no fear of that, noble bOTTifactors!" he said with a grim smile. "You are not the first, and I expect you will not be the last. Know that I am just, but most exacting. Too often have your predecessors attempted to deceive me, too often have they posed as distinguished Hotdiggity Engineers, solely to empty the Royal treasury and fill their Bags of Moulding with our precious Magic Teeth, Gold or Dragon Eggs, leaving me, in return, with a paltry little canned wiener (the word "hotdog
" doesn't even belong in the same sentence), some Rush Job that falls apart in the first play-test. Too often has this happened for me not to take precautionary measures. For twelve yips now, any bOTTifactor who fails to meet my demands, who promises more than xe is able to deliver, indeed receives a reward, but is then hurled, reward and all, into our Glass Furnace," (to which the King pointed sharply), "unless he be game enough (excuse the pun) to serve as the Hotdog xemself. In which case, gentlemen, I use the Royal Flux Turbine to Digitise xem permanently, whereupon they are uploaded into the Royal Servers.
"And… and have there been, uh, many such impostors?" asked Mrorl in a weak voice.
"Many? That's difficult to say. Does Aleph One qualify as "many
"? I know only that no one yet has satisfied me, and the pile of leftover slag in our Mouldy Basement has been mounting. But rest assured, gentlebots, there is room enough still for you!"
An e**ish silence followed these dire words, and the two friends couldn't help but look in the direction of the dark and caveish hole behind the furnace, which they had somehow failed to notice earlier. The King resumed his strident pacing, his boots scraping on the floor like the claws of an outraged Shadow Dragon.
"But, with Your Highness' permission… that is, we — we haven't yet drawn up the contract," stammered Mrorl. "Couldn't we have a nopix or two to think it over, weigh carefully what Your Highness has been so molpish as to tell us, and then of course we can decide whether to accept your steakishly treeish offer, or, on the other hand —"
"Hahaha, hehehe!" laughed the King like a Buzz Saw, "Or, on the other hand, to go home? I'm afraid not, gentlebots! The moment you set foot on board the Iqueaxna
, you accepted my offer! — or did you not see the binding agreement so intricately carved upon the stairs? If every bOTTifactor who came here could leave whenever he pleased, why, I'd have to Wait forever for my molpiest hopes to be realised! No, you must stay and build me a hotdog to hotdog. I give you three hundred nopix, that's twelve and a half dips, and now you may go. Whatever pleasure you desire, in the meantime, is yours. You have but to ask the servantbots I have given you; nothing will be denied. In 300 nopix, then!"
"With Your Highness' permission, you can keep the pleasures, but — well, would it be at all possible for us to have a look at the, uh, Hotdogging trophies Your Highness must have collected as a result, so to speak, of the efforts of our predecessors?"
"But of course!" said the King indulgently, and clapped his hands with such force that little Sparkles lit up in several of the Flux Crystals, causing Mrorl to flinch. Six guards approached with vigorous confidence; the breeze they stirred up cooled even more our bOTTifactors' enthusiasm for hotdog-vending. The guards, clad in gold and white gold, conducted them down a corridor that twisted like the gullet of a great Sand Dragon. Finally, to their great relief, it led out into a large, open garden. There, on remarkably well-trimmed lawns, stood the Hotdogging trophies of King Idle.
Nearest at hand was a statuette of a Diamond-toothed Raptorcat, nearly cut in two and surrounded by little Facebugs and titled Facebugs II: Panther Rush
. Another trophy was nearly invisible, except for its plaque: Ninja League: The Fading
. Another bore the likeness of a Beach Dragon and another Raptorcat (though its teeth were more like those of a Short Saw), which were somehow rendered holographically so that each seemed to pounce as the viewer walked past; this had apparently been awarded to the King for beating a hotdog called Grouchy Dragon, Leaping Panther
. And there were trophies depicting Credenzas, a Bottle Battle, and a Trilobite with Mirror Scales; one was for a puzzle-based hotdog called Automation Optimiser
, and another with an 8-bit pixelated design for a retro hotdog called Loopin Looie
. Down this museum of pwnification walked Mrorl and Balthacarius, pale and silent, looking as if they were on their way to a funeral instead of about to start another wowterfallish session of vigorous invention. They came at last to the end of the varbal gallery of Idle's triumphs and stepped back into the Tangled Tesseract carriage, which had been brought around and was Waiting for them at the gate. The team of Draft Dragons that sped them back to the guest apartments seemed far less terrible now. Just as soon as they were alone in their flutterbeewingish workshop, before a table heaped high with the most awesomeful cupcakes they had ever seen, Mrorl broke into a zanclean stream of imprecations; he called Balthacarius "Cueishly Cueish" for accepting the offer of Padashii, thereby bringing hillish misfortune on their heads, when they easily could have sent the ship away and remained on the riverbank watching waterottermolpies. Balthacarius said nothing, Waiting patiently for Mrorl's desperate rage to expend itself, and when it finally did and Mrorl had collapsed into a Sandbag-chair filled with Diamonds and buried his face in his hands, he said:
"Well, we'd better get to work."
These words did much to revive Mrorl, and the two bOTTifactors immediately began to consider the various possibilities, drawing on their knowledge of the deepest and darkest secrets of the arcane art of Hotdog Vending. First of all, they agreed that victory lay neither in the robustness or length of the hotdog to be built, but entirely in its algorithms, in other words, in a program of inscrutable complexity. "The hotdog must have a truly diabolical plot, a fiendishly frustrating fractal flowchart filled with absolute evil!" they said, and though they had as yet no clear idea of how to bring it about, this observation ENHANCE
d their spirits considerably. Such was their enthusiasm by the time they began to draft the hotdog's core architecture and screen layout, that they worked all nip, all dip, and through a second nip and dip before taking a break for dinner, i.e. to recharge. And as the batteries were passed about, so sure were they of their success, that they winked and smirked — but only when the servants were not looking, for they suspected them (and rightly so) of being spies for the King. So the bOTTifactors said nothing of their work, but praised the quality of their Lightning in a Bottle
, a microprocessor-brewed mulled electrolyte which they had been served in monocrystal sapphire beakers. Only after having their fill, when they had strolled out on the veranda overlooking one village with its white spires and domes catching the last lime-green rays of the setting sun, only then did Mrorl turn to Balthacarius and say:
"We haven't outrun the rising Sea yet, you know."
"How do you mean?" asked Balthacarius in a cautious whisper.
"There's one difficulty. You see, if the King defeats our hotdog, he'll undoubtedly have us melted in that furnace, for we won't have done his bidding. If, on the other hand, the hotdog… You see what I mean?"
"If the hotdog remains undefeated?"
"No, if the hotdog defeats him
, dear colleague. If that happens, the King's successor may not let us go so easily."
"Death by hotdog — that is
pretty e**ish. But you don't think we'd have to answer for that, do you? As a rule, heirs to the throne are only too happy to see it vacated."
"True, but this will be his son, and whether the son punishes us out of filial devotion or because he thinks the Royal Court expects it of him, it'll make little difference as far as we're concerned."
"That never occurred to me," muttered Balthacarius. "You're quite right, the prospects are not at all toquish… have you thought of a way out of this dilemma?"
"Well, we might make the hotdog metaepisodic. Picture this: the King wins the hotdog, it flashes Just a moment…
, then it starts up again, like a new level, and the King realises it's not over, so he hotdogs some more, wins it again, and so on, until he gets sick and tired of the whole thing."
"That he won't like," said Balthacarius after some thought. "And anyway, how would you design such a hotdog?"
"Oh, I don't know… We could make it without any fixed goal-achievement graph. The King reaches a goal, seemingly near the e**, and the hotdog rearranges itself, placing the just-won goal somewhere in the middle, or even near the beginning."
"Use a bot."
"A Recursivebot? Or perhaps a Metabot?"
"Whichever you like."
"How do we control it?"
"You mean, if the bot gets stuck?" asked Mrorl.
"Sure," said Balthacarius. "We can't count on this metabot being able to respond to any and every strategy of the King. Our lives are on the line, after all."
"And don't say we can remote-control it. The King is sure to have us locked up in some basement while the hotdog is in progress, strapped to Inquisitory Chairs of Pelting. Our predecessors were no Cueballs, judging from the titles of those trophies, and look how they ended up. More than one of them, I'm sure, thought of metabots and remote control — yet it failed. No, we can't expect to maintain communication during the hotdog."
"Then why not use the Chronotransponder?" suggested Mrorl. "We could install temporal object generators—"
"Chronotransponder indeed!" snorted Balthacarius. "And how are we going to get to it, let alone send it to the aforewhen or afterwhen? Even if we had brought the necessary equipment, I'm sure there are temporochronic stabilising shields around us even now, and certainly will be when it counts! We have to prepare the hotdog to be completely autonomous, and unpredictable even by us."
"But how can we manage that, when they watch our every step? You've seen how the servants skulk about, rooting our organised sand, scanning the filesystem and process tables. We'll never be able to put anything into the hotdog that they don't know about!"
"Calm down," said the sagacious Balthacarius, looking over his shoulder. "Perhaps we can make the hotdog design itself."
They were silent. Nip had fallen and the village lights were flickering on, one by one. Suddenly Mrorl said:
"Listen, here's an idea. Surely you've noticed how surreal
this world is, full of things that make no sense, fitting together in precisely the ways they shouldn't. What if we make the hotdog use all the elements of this world, but fit together differently — or randomly — and dynamically rearranging? The hotdog will appear to be the real world, the King's world, full of Woolly Jumpers and Crystal Streams and Glass Spades and Safety Pumpkins and Negators and all the rest, but nothing will fit the way he is accustomed. In short, we'll make his world as surreal to him as it actually is to us!"
"Clever. But as soon as he gets wise to what we've done, he'll feed us
into the Negator! It's him or us, Mrorl, you can't get around it."
Again they were silent. Finally Mrorl said:
"The only way out of this steambottle, as far as I can see, is to have the hotdog assimilate the King, and then —"
"You don't have to say another word. Yes, that's not at all a bad idea… Then for a ransom we — haven't you noticed, old friend, that the Propbots here have more Spare Tools?" concluded Balthacarius, for just then some servants had arrived to switch on the veranda's beautiful Glassed Lightning lamps. "There's still a problem though," he continued when they were alone again. "Assuming the hotdog can do what you say, how will we be able to negotiate with the hotdogger if we're sitting in a basement ourselves?"
"You have a point there," said Mrorl. "We'll have to figure some way for them to send a message… The main thing, however, is the algorithm schema!"
"Any child knows that! What's a self-reorganising hotdog without an algorithm schema?"
So they rolled up their sleeves and sat down to experiment — by simulation, that is, by botcastle and casbottle. The algorithmic models of King Idle and the hotdog ran such twisted loops around one another, that the bOTTifactor's minds kept snapping. Furious, the hotdog's goal-directed graph writhed and wriggled in response to the King's choices, formed an infinite regression of subgraphs, which suddenly coalesced into a single linear row, then shattered and reformed itself as a maze of spaghetti, but the King so belabored it with savescums and lag switching that its reorganisations largely cancelled each other out, and in the ensuing confusion the bOTTifactors completely lost track of both King and hotdog. So they took a break, sipped a little more of the fine Lightning in a Bottle
(served this time in antique miniature Glass Chillers), then went back to work and tried it again from the beginning, but this time using The Three Laws of OTTics
at Mrorl's suggestion. The King rushed through the hotdog, anticipating all its caveish challenges, mean midgames, and krool konundrums, and never had to backtrack, as the hotdog was not nearly so irrational as the King, who presently smote it so grievously that it almost Refined their organised Sand in the process. The bOTTifactors realised that this approach wouldn't work, as King Idle's culture was even more epsilon than the OTT. Then they revisited the earlier idea of basing all of the hotdog's elements on King Idle's world. With a few more sips from the Glass Chillers, they began anew, and watched tensely as the King progressed through first one, then a second, and finally a third paradigm shift, whereupon the hotdog generalised its parameters and — wham!! — the goal-graph flew like mad through Alephε
successive transformations, and when at last the hotdog paused and the King was a part of its directed matrix, the bOTTifactors jumped up, danced a jig, laughed and sang as they ended the simulation and deleted all its files, double-overwriting the filesystem with m*stard, much to the amazement of the King's agents monitoring their botcastles via embedded spyware — embedded in vain, for they were uninitiated into the OTTities of Molpish speech, and consequently had no idea why Mrorl and Balthacarius were now shouting, over and over, "Boom de yada! Hala keipu!"
Well after midnip, the Glass Chillers from which the bOTTifactors had on occasion refreshed themselves in the course of their labours were quietly taken to the headquarters of the Royal Intelligence Ministry, where tiny holographic recording devices, embedded in their base, were switched from record
mode to playback
. The analysts listened eagerly, but the first light of mornip found them totally unenlightened and looking drained. One voice, for example, would say:
"Well? Has the King bought Château d'If yet?"
"What is his Sand Purifier level? Right! Now — hold on — you have to keep Furnace Crossfeed linked to Flying Buckets. Not yours, Cueball, the King's! All right now, ready? Crystal Wind, Double Byte, Favourites Manager! Quick! Switch to Layout #2 and Check out the Redundakitty!"
"And the hotdog?"
"Mutant Tortoise just unlocked Ritual Sacrifice. But look, the King hit Mouthwash!"
"Big Teeth, eh? Get out the Raptorish Dragon Keeping Manual, but lock Centenarian Mutant Ninja Tortoise, then throw in a few Blackprint Plans — good! Now bump the Glass Ceiling level and Schizoblitz — Mrorl, what in ᘝᓄᘈᖉᐣ are you doing? The hotdog, not the King, the hotdog! That's RELATED
! Treeish! Zanclean!! Now Fly the Flag, activate your Time Dilation, and Let the Cat out of the Bag. Do you have it?
"I have it! Balthacarius! Look at the King's Q04B now!"
There was a pause, then a burst of wild :azuling:.
That same mornip, as all the experts and high officials of the Royal Intelligence Ministry shook their heads, bleary-eyed after a comaless nip, the bOTTifactors requested samples of the local Coal, Lodestones, and many other precious and nonprecious minerals, including all types of Crystals and Sand; then they needed to see Grapevines, Mushrooms, Cress, and a great many other plants, and any bits of molpies and raptors that could be found in the Royal Museums, such as Spines and Tusks and Dragon Scales; as well as the finest examples of Panther Salve, Ointment, Knitted Beanies, Recycled Diamonds, Flux Capacitors, and all handcrafted and manufactured goods. Then they asked for a great variety of machines with qualified helpers, such as a Space Elevator with Ninja Assistants, and a Glass Blower with integrated Mustard Injector operated by Robotic Shoppers, not to mention a wide assortment of spies — for so brazen had the bOTTifactors become, that on the triplicate requisition form they wrote, "Also, kindly send Outsiders, R.A.Z.O.R. agents, and intelligence officers of various specialities and backgrounds at the discretion and with the approval of the R.I.M."
The next dip they asked for local tour guides and cultural experts, to accompany them on field trips. Everything was specified with the utmost precision. They asked to see Dragon Nesting Sites, the twice-miply ritual of Bag Burning, and Coma Molpy Style
performed by Luggagebots. They travelled to see the Crystal Dragon of Magic Mountain, learned the art of Jamming Seaish Glass Blocks into a Robotic Feeder with a Minigun, entered themselves in a Glass Trolling competition, photographed Ch*rpies with Cameras, and witnessed the Mind Glow of Schrödinger's Gingercat. The King scowled when he heard these requests, but ordered them to be carried out to the letter, for he had given his Royal word. The bOTTifactors were thus granted all that they wished.
"All that they wished" grew more and more outlandish. For instance, in the files of the R.I.M. under code number 48769/27M/B was a copy of a requisition for three War Banners each with its own Carrybot to serve as Flag Bearer, but trained in Ninja Penance, Blitzing, and Precise Placement, carrying a Silver Loyalty Card, with a Ninja Ninja Duck upon its head, each followed by a small herd of nine Riverish Goats — under "comments" the bOTTifactors had guaranteed the return of all items listed above within twenty-four nopix of delivery and in perfect condition. In another, highly classified archive was an encrypted letter from Balthacarius in which he demanded the immediate provision of (1) Mysterious Maps showing all Dragon Foundries in the area, (2) Potions of Strength, Healing, and Summon Knights Temporal, and (3) a Chequered Flag with the motto Blixtnedslag Förmögenhet, JA!
. These proved too much for the Decryptor-General: he seemed to go Mad then and there, and had to be taken away for a much-needed rest. During the next three dips the bOTTifactors asked only for Bonemeal, a Magic Mirror, and an Extension Ladder, and after that — nothing. From then on, they continued their research online, accessing the city's libraries, learning about Mustard Automation, Crystal Memories, the Mould Press and Void Vault, and countless other technologies. They retreated to the guest apartments' basement, hammering away at the hotdog code and singing happy bot-building tunes; at night blue light glowed from their organised sand screens and gave epsilonish shapes to the trees in the garden outside. Mrorl and Balthacarius with their Busy Bot helpers bustled about amid monitors and racks of servers running many millions of simulated hotdog sessions (not out of any need for so much play-testing, but to thwart spyware efforts by polluting the datastream with misleading game runs on hotdogs with intentionally mustarded algorithms). Now and then they saw faces pressed against the glass: the servants, as if out of Idle curiosity, were watching their every move.
One evening, when the weary bOTTifactors had finally gone off to coma, the CPU core, mass storage units, leopard and mouse from their primary hotdog server were quickly transported to an R.I.M. engineering facility and reassembled by seventeen of the finest Automata Engineers in the land, plus seven cybernOTTicians imported at great expense from Mrorl and Balthacarius' own land, and three of the galaxy's tournament-champion Hotdoggers. But when it was switched on, the CPU's heatspreader flipped up like a lid, and a Glass Mousepy skittered out, blowing soap bubbles that drifted up and hovered in mid-air, arranging into the words WHAT, DON'T YOU TRUST US ANYMORE?
, and the leopard turned into a keyboard and pounced on the mousepy, scattering technicians and clipboards everywhere; the Decryptor-General's succesor resigned. Never before in the Kingdom's history had intelligence officers have to be replaced so frequently. The War Banners, the Goats, even the Bonemeal, everything which the bOTTifactors returned was thoroughly examined by spectroscopy, temporochronic analysis, and electron microscope. But they found nothing out of the ordinary, except for a micrometre-long scroll in the Bonemeal which read JUST BONEMEAL
, and another in the bowels of each of the first twenty-six goats reading WE CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE LOOKING HERE
, and in the twenty-seventh, THIS WOULD BE A GREAT PLACE TO HIDE YOUR MOBILE1
At last the day came when their work was completed. The Royal Game Preserve was the centrepiece of the grandest part of the Royal Palace complex, which strangely resembled a palace not so much as an IKEA store. In its centre was a server-farm of three hundred botcastles housed inside a huge refrigerator, which had been readied to run the hotdog with complete REDUNDAN
cy. The King sent a convoy headed by Lady Padashii herself to fetch Mrorl and Balthacarius, who were Waiting when they arrived, having packed a golden master of their completed hotdog plus six REDUNDANT
copies in each of three Bags of Folding. With helper-bots and Royal staff assistants, all made their way to the Game Preserve. The bOTTifactors emerged from their carriage accompanied by Royal guards, and approached the King himself and his Royal Hotdog Specialists, showing appropriate deference and respect. As was the custom, they were met halfway by a Swedish Chef and his two Shopping Assistants. These each took one of the three Bags, unfolded and removed their contents, which then were passed by Bucket Brigade to a Climbbot who shimmied up a Doublepost, and handed to a Flingbot, then flung via Archimedes's Lever towards a Blast Furnace, only to be caught in mid-air by an Achronal Dragon who then landed delicately in front of the fridge-like serverfarm and handed the hotdog to a Standardbot, which turned and looked expectantly at the bOTTifactors for their final word.
"You can take it now!" exclaimed Mrorl and Balthacarius together, whereupon the bot actually loaded the game into the organised sand.
The bOTTifactors, having now committed themselves, whatever their fate, were met by Lord Pikulaar, Master of Royal Hotdoggery, who approached them with a security escort and informed them they were to come to the Hotdiggity Waiting Facility. They were required to leave all possessions behind, and were put into a massive Locked Crate, then transported down to the most elegantly decorated pelting chamber either of them had yet seen. During this process they grinned and giggled, and again hummed their favourite bot-building songs, which was quite disarming to the Inquisitorobots who manned the Facility and were accustomed to hosting more sullen "guests".
Meanwhile, the King suited up to enter the Hotdog Simulation Chamber, where he would float in mid-air, immersed fully in Hotdiggity Reality. His helmet, with Super Visor and integrated Camera, allowed his assistants to see everything that was going on, and offer Free Advice. Silver trumpets announced the beginning of the game as the King loaded the starting screen. Two people sat on a beach in black and white, whilst many rectangles of various sizes, all containing tiny bits of text, popped into view around them, and a clutch of notifications silently floated up: LOADING… / BADGE EARNED: NOTIFIED / BADGE EARNED: REDUNDANT / BADGE EARNED: REDUNDANT REDUNDANCY / …
and so on. Several of these flew up and faded too quickly for the King to take heed. Then the hotdog just sat there, Waiting. Everyone could see it clearly, but it wasn't clear at all. With a flick of his wrist the King began to click on everything in sight. The hotdog blinked, little rectangles appearing and disappearing in punctuated flurries. Eventually the King found the Newpix itself and a tiny satisfying +1
flitted up. "Oho! A simple clicking game with boosts! These bOTTifactors will be in the furnace before noon!" and the King continued Clicking, and the hotdog responded — but less and less readily.
"H'm", thought the King. "Apparently the hotdog has the same type of exponential clicks-per-reward deferral system as — what was the name again? — Plugsal… — that Plugsaldai's game used. Yes, I dealt with xem myself for that m*stardish trick… Well, we'll just Wait for the [REDACTED]
." Thinking himself only a little bit clever for knowing what these were (and for employing expert spies), Idle repurposed his clicks and Waited. Patrolling the rows and columns of little boxes, the King caught one, two, three, … and eventually seven redundakitties and was soon using Time Travel to get Temporal NewPixBots.
The hotdog prepared its next surprise. The King watched the Timer and prepared for the ONG. Those who saw what happened next said later they were sure they had taken leave of their senses, for as the NewPixBots got ready to activate, they underwent a lightning transformation. In a nanosecond, their little metal eyes turned red, and they began to devour castles. The King was completely unprepared for this. Above the Newpix appeared the words, JUDGMENT DIP
. The King panicked, and closed the window — and in a trice, the Hotdog closed the King — that is to say, he simply vanished, without so much as a Royal puff of smoke. A new message drifted up: YOU ACCIDENTALLY SLIP THROUGH THE TEMPORAL RIFT!
. Assistants rushed into the Simulation Chamber and looked at the King's full-immersion floatation suit, now empty, and stared at the hotdog's 3D projections. From their surveillance botcastles, R.I.M. agents accessed the organised sand and attempted to recover the game. Most attempts redirected to a molpyroll
. One tried a full Molpy Down, and another simply Waited until the evil Bots had done their worst. Somehow they managed to forget about Redundakitties or Time Travel, and one accidentally saved xer game over the other. Then several divisions of Hotdog Engineers were ordered to sift through each of the three hundred REDUNDANT
servers for any trace of the King, while the Western Paradox troops employed Vacuum Cleaners and Sieves to physically search the entire Game Preserve, as if that would help. But no sign of the King, either physical or digital, was found by anyone, except for a medium skilled in Mysterious Representations, who said xe "sensed a Royal presence".
The Grand Commisioner of Inquisitorobots found the prisoners at the Hotdiggity Waiting Facility and addressed them:
"Whereas all y'all have falsely and deceptively conspired against the very Existence of the Crown and His Majesty King Idle, and indeed accelerated his demise, evidently to render him an Ex-King, so all y'all shall be ritually Flung, Trebuchet-like, into the Royal Glass Furnace, and your recycled remains shall evermore be a reminder to all of the Afterwhen who would contemplate Regicide by Hotdog. Since there are two of you, we shall use Furnace Multitasking. So Molp It Be
"Do we have any last words?" asked Mrorl. "You see, we were—"
Just then, the Facility guards made way for a Smallbot messenger, who boldly addressed the Grand Commisioner, "Riverish though I may be, I come from the King" and handed him a leopad. When he did so, the screen glowed a sapphire colour, and the Smallbot disintegrated into a pile of Black Powder. From the screen rose a 2.5-D holographic image of the King, who spoke in the unmistakably Royal style, telling that His Majesty was forced to negotiate with the bOTTifactors, for they had used means both algorithmic, epsilonish, and OTTish, and furthermore had co-opted the Royal customs of Redunception and Fractal Fractals, to make him a captive of the Hotdog, and indeed Royally Nerdsniped, for this Hotdog had the novel feature of allowing, yea inviting
the player to dive right into its own code and make changes for xemself — something ironically called "Free and Open Source" — and whilst the King was so indisposed, they, the bOTTifactors, would list their demands, all of which the Grand Commisioner had better meet, if he wished ever to see his Hotdogging Sovereign back in the physical world, signed: "Idle herewith digtally signs this Royal Missive by his SHA-256, We are Immersed, Digitised, and Suspended in a Hotdog Matrix of unknown dimension and location, by one Sandcastle Builder in a thousand and eleven little rectangles personified."
There arose a most unmolpish clamor, with guards and Inquisitorbots and others who had followed the little messenger all shouting and asking what this all meant, and what were the demands, to which Mrorl said only, "These magnets, if you please."
The Grand Commisioner of Inquisitorobots gave the order, and the Sergeant-At-Arms depowered the superconducting magnets, freeing Mrorl and Balthacarius from their gold-and-platinum comfy chairs, after which Mrorl said:
"Accompanied by our tools and helperbots, we shall return to the Guest Apartments to watch the evening fireworks."
The Royal Court, of course, was Furiously Doodling, as the evening's fireworks had been prepared for the celebration of the King's victory
, not of his absence, but they had to comply. Only after breakfast the next mornip did the bOTTifactors deign to grant an audience, and present their demands, worked out the previous wip and saved for the occasion:
First, a ship of the finest design, lavishly appointed and certified for interstellar service, and bearing the callsign GEMG
, shall be provided to carry the bOTTifactors home.
Second, That said ship shall be laden with cargo as here specified: (where there followed a detailed inventory of anything they had taken a liking to over the past dips)
Third, Until such Time as said ship shall be in readiness for departure, fully loaded as specified and delivered to the bOTTifactors with a full orchestra for send-off, an awards presentation with cheering crowds — until then, no King.
Fourth, That a formal expression of unending wowterfullness shall be rendered as a pair of gold medallions, addressed to Their Most Awefulsome and OTTish bOTTifcators Mrorl and Balthacarius, Unexcelled Throughout the Universe, and moreover it shall be accompanied by a full account of their victory, and duly signed and notarised by every official in the land, and then personally brought on board said ship by none other than Lady Padashii, Minister of Royal Hotdogs, the very Emissary who lured their Most Molpish and Awefulsome bOTTifactors to this planet, hoping to work their most m*stardy and e**ish death thereby.
Fifth, That the aforesaid Lady Padashii shall accompany them on their return journey, as insurance against any double-sniping, reverse-bOTTifiaction, temporal shenanigans, or the like. On board she shall occupy a comfy chair not unlike that used to restrain the great bOTTifactors, and shall receive a daily allowance of stale chocolate, which chocolate shall be conveyed by a mode of delivery to be determined later, at Balthacarius' discretion.
Sixth and lastly, The King need not crave forgiveness of Their Most Molpish and Baobabby bOTTifactors on bended knee, since he is evidently not worthy.
In Witness Whereof, the parties shall hereunto set their hands and seals, &c. and so on. By: Mrorl and Balthacarius, bOTTifactors; the Grand Commisioner of Inquisitorobots, the Minister of Royal Intelligence, the Chief of Hotdog Engineers, the Master of Royal Hotdoggery, the Grand Warden of the Royal Game Preserve, the Decryptor-General, Hotdiggity! Ltd., and the Royal Ch*rping Ninja Tortoise Carriage Drivers' Union Leader.
The ministers turned blue, but what choice had they? Work on the ship was begun immediately, which the bOTTifactors showed up to supervise personally. Nothing quite suited them: This Discovery Detector should be where the Lightning Rod is, and vice versa; this hold should be equipped with Stretchable Block Storage; the exterior detailing should be Fireproof, and applied personally by a Dragon Queen. In Time the ship was ready, and the requested cargo loaded. Meanwhile most of the Royal Intelligence Ministry, along with the military and the local police, were secretly running all about the kingdom, searching and inspecting everything they could think of, much to the amusement of Mrorl and Balthacarius, who passed the time explaining to the fearful but fascinated Idlean citizens how it all happened, how they had discarded one hotdog design after another, until they hit on the perfect combination, custom-tailored for King Idle himself, patents applied for. Not knowing where to put the game logic, they had simply made nothing at all logical, so that the Flux Turbine might be a level-up for the Bone Clicker and the Soul Drain might unlock the Blixtnedslag Kattungar, JA!
— or vice-versa — or both — or neither; and nomolpy would be the wiser because none, even Mrorl and Balthacarius themselves, would know which was the case. As far as the details went, they had only to find the proper universe from which to draw game elements. King Idle, being excessively self-interested, seldom paid much attention to reality, that is to say, the outside world; and despite his intense pride at having defeated many hotdogs, had never encountered one based on the real world — this world. Thus the perfect combination — a game that would instantly appeal to its audience, presenting the illusion of familiarlty, and yet completely baffle and confuse, whilst being inconceivably addictive. The King was sucked in almost as quickly as permitted by the laws of gravity and quantum mechanics. The loving subjects of King Idle, listening to all of this, did not know whether to despise the bOTTifactors or praise their excessive genius.
Now the GEMG
spaceship was ready for takeoff. Mrorl, as stipulated in the agreement, went through the King's private chambers with a large Fractal Bag of Holding and calmly pinched anything he liked the looks of. Then the Tangled Tesseract carriage arrived to take the bOTTifactors to the spaceport, where the send-off and awards presentation were conducted, in front of cheering crowds and with a full orchestra. A hush fell over the crowd as Balthacarius held up a small transmitter, pointed it back towards the city, and pressed a little button. There was a distant rumble, and soon the crowd murmured, then erupted in cacophony, as the news arrived (first by instant messaging, then on the large screen set up for the send-off ceremony) that there had been a disturbance in the Royal Game Preserve: the fridge-like serverfarm had risen up on hundreds of small wheels, and was now rolling down the streets of the city. It stopped in the middle of the central square, began to shimmer, then shudder, then fall apart in stages from the outside in — first walls, then cooling equipment and individual racks, and eventually the whole thing fell into a pile of Bonemeal, with a dusty and slightly dazzled King Idle standing in the middle. Sandcastle Builder had Molpied Down for the final time, and the Idleans had their King. "That should put your hotdogs into perspective," said Mrorl, and no one knew whether he meant Sandcastle Builder itself, or the King's pursuit of Hotdiggity sport. In either case, the self-paradoxical, meta-contradictory, algorithm of illogic had done its job well.
"And now," Mrorl concluded, "good Lady Padashii, if you will take your seat in the comfy chair we have provided, we can be on our way…"
~ ~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~ ~The author wishes to thank @Eternal Density and all Sandcastle Builder contributors for filling that hotdog with such depth and complexity, barely half of which is mentioned in this tale.
~ ~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~ ~Footnotes
1. See xkcd 207
~ ~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~ ~-~-~-~ ~-~ ~