Escape Pod 819: Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 2)


Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 2 of 2)

by Sam Schreiber

“So. Let me get this straight,” Madeline said as Nick pressed a warm compress to his forehead. “Your room attacked you.”

“I assure you, that’s not remotely-” the concierge started. Madeline silenced him with a glare and a twitch of her wings. Some time since that afternoon, she’d changed out of her bartender’s vest and into a black pantsuit.

“Not exactly” Nick said, then flinched. “It became the room. The thing that attacked me. It almost had me too. Powerful little shit.”

“Must have been a real pro if it had you on the ropes,” Madeline pointed out, pressing her long fingers together and leaning back in her chair. The Messier 61 galaxy cartwheeled slowly behind the window of the conference room where the concierge had insisted they take the conversation.

Nick shook his head.

“It was fighting on instinct. Experimenting. It didn’t know how to press its advantage and it wasn’t so hot on defense. At least not this time around.”

“So. How do we beat it?”

“Them,” Nick corrected her.

Madeline leaned forward. “How many?”

Nick paused, then spread his hands slowly.

“Oh, fuck me,” Madeline slumped back in her chair. As one, she and Nick turned to face the concierge, who didn’t seem to like what it was hearing one bit.

“You can’t mean-” it started.

“Infestation,” Madeline said. “Yeah.”

“And from what I can guess, these are just the babies,” Nick said. “Something’s been laying eggs.”

The concierge’s eyes grew wide. “The management hasn’t observed anything that would support that-”

“Sort of my department,” Nick snapped. “Don’t tell me you weren’t aware there was a problem. That’s a whole lot of empty rooms not to notice.”

The concierge’s cheeks glowed dark aluminum. “It was assumed their existence amounted to computational errors on the part of the part of the housekeeping department. An internal audit is currently in progress to resolve the issue.”

“Seems like the kind of thing you might have mentioned before you had me do room checks,” Nick said angrily.

“Appropriate safeguards were in place!” the concierge protested. “The Hilbert Astoria would have never been so reckless as to book an empty suite. They were considered fully under quarantine.”

“No skin off your back, though, right?” Nick snarled. “Not when you have an infinite number of rooms. Tell you what I think. I think you just hoped no one would notice.”

“Nick,” Madeline said quietly, putting a paw on his shoulder. “Those empty suites. You say they move around?”

“Yeah,” Nick said, turning to face the detective. “At least that’s my working theory. Why?”

“The Hilbert has infinite number of guests coming and going every day.” Madeline said. “What if those suites didn’t start out empty?”

“Impossible,” the concierge choked.

“Who would notice? Guests pay when they check out,” Madeline pressed. “All this would look like to accounts receivable is an infinitesimally small percentage of an infinite number of guests staying longer than usual. Am I wrong?”

“I don’t think we’re dealing with forty-seven murders,” Nick said soberly. “That’s just the spillover. The ones strong enough to leave the hotel.”

“Makes sense,” Madeline agreed. Then to the concierge: “How long?”

“Excuse me?”

Madeline showed her teeth. “How long have empty rooms been turning up in the Hilbert?”

For long moments, the concierge wrestled with its protocols, its face a portrait of silver indecision.

“It’s difficult to say precisely,” it finally admitted. “But for longer than the current version of my program has been operating.”

No one spoke for a moment. Madeline blew out an incredulous breath, her lips making a slight fluttering noise.

“This is…” Nick said.

“Really bad doesn’t begin to…”

“It could be in the billions,” Nick said. “But that’s not our biggest problem.”

“Billions of murdered guests aren’t our biggest problem?” Madeline asked incredulously.

“No. Because those forty-seven murders? Stop and ask yourself… why now? If this has been going on for as long as sparky here says,” Nick gave the concierge a dirty look. “What changed?”

Madeline closed her eyes and opened them again, looking as stricken as Nick had ever seen her. “The goddamn eggs are hatching, aren’t they? They’ve gestated and now they’re out looking for hunting ground across the fucking multiverse. Nick… ”

“We need to act now,” Nick said, turning to the concierge.

“Nick,” Madeline said again.

“Forget discretion. We need to tear this hotel apart and-”

“Nick!” Madeline hissed, holding up a finger. She looked up, and Nick followed her gaze. The ceiling above their heads flinched, sensing it had been discovered. Then it lunged for them.

Jinjur,” Madeline swore as she leapt backward from the strike zone, her wings outstretched. The concierge burst into static as Nick reeled from the blow. The room ignored Madeline and pounded Nick instead. A rapid-fire attack this time. No broad hammer blows for him to match, no psychic grappling lines to latch on to and leverage. Just burst after burst of violent energy.

“Get out!” Nick spluttered to Madeline. “You can’t help me!”

“Like hell,” she answered, drawing a Mauser pistol from inside her jacket. Nick bunched space and time, pulling it inward and then forcing it up. The thing attacking him lost its footing and slammed back up into the domed ceiling where it had been crouching moments earlier. Nick hit it again, sending a crack running through the marble. It toppled invisibly to the floor, dazed.

Madeline swooped and caught Nick by his fleece collar as chunks of the ceiling began to fall. She couldn’t bend the rules of time and space, but Madeline could tear through the air like a falcon when she wanted. Nick’s bulk barely slowed them down as she yawed neatly through the conference room door.

But the room wasn’t far behind. The Hilbert’s plush carpeting turned necrotic as it chased them down the hall. Madeline rolled and pointed her Mauser behind them, but gave up on the idea without firing a shot. What was there to aim at?

“It’s gaining, Nick shouted as they flew through the air. “I can fight it off, but you have to-”

“The cap.” Madeline gritted her teeth.

What?!”

“Use. The fucking. Cap!

Understanding set in. Nick reached into his jacket, holding the golden fabric tight in his fist.

“You’re sure?”

Do it,” Madeline bellowed. The rotting death had nearly overtaken them.

Nick wasted no more words. The magic of the winged monkeys wasn’t so difficult to harness. It was what they had been created for, after all. Not a pleasant fact to dwell on, but there was no time to worry about that now. He gathered his own power around them, enough to turn the detective into a chimp-shaped ice sculpture in a matter of seconds if he didn’t intervene.

Then he pulled the cap over his head and summoned Madeline.

Instantly, their positions were reversed. The detective flew at reality-defying speeds behind Nick, trailing him like a fish on a hook. The integrity of her body, her senses, and her sanity were all propped up by the bargain struck between Princess Gayelette and Madeline’s long-defunct trickster king. She flew harder and surer now than any of her kind had ever had flown.

She looked like she wanted to throw up. But they were ahead of the threat by considerably more distance than they were, even if the lead was only temporary.

“You have a plan?” Madeline called out, the sound of her voice fracturing against the atoms whizzing between the two of them.

“This was your idea,” Nick shouted back.

But the truth was he did. With a mental nudge, he sent Madeline off at a perpendicular angle to his own path, looking over his shoulder to see which direction the room chose.

For a terrible moment, it looked as though the room had split in two, one half pursuing Nick while the other gave chase to Madeline. But no. A second empty suite had joined the hunt. A third, a fourth and a hundredth broke away from the perches elsewhere in the Hilbert Astoria, sensing their clutchmates’ frenzy.

Escalation. In its own way, the most terrifying of all possible outcomes.

Also, exactly the one Nick had been hoping for.

“I’m sorry, Madeline,” he said, reaching out with his mind. “This isn’t going to be fun for either of us.”

Probabilistic iterations of both Nick and the detective splintered off in a million directions, then a billion. None survived outside their native timeline for long. But it was enough to bait more and more rooms into chasing them. Nick’s own copies understood the concept well enough to accept their fate with at least some modicum of peace. He could only hope that the multitude of Madelines he’d sentenced to death would fail to understand what was happening to them before it happened.

As near as Nick could tell, the strategy was working. Strings upon strings of empty suites detached themselves from the physical structure of the hotel. It was difficult to say which ones where chasing Madeline and Nick and which ones were simply following the others’ murderous lead. As the number of new suites plateaued —in the billions, Nick estimated— Nick reigned in his future selves and summoned Madeline back to his side in as straightforward a path as he could manage. He’d sacrificed enough versions of her already.

“My head feels wrong,” Madeline’s voice rippled and cracked as she rejoined Nick. “Like one big toothache. Is that-”

As smoothly as he could manage, Nick brought the two of them to a stop alongside a door he remembered from earlier that day. Not the most noteworthy of suites by some measures, but it did possess a feature that would help bring this game to a close. Or at least, Nick hoped it would. Thank providence the celestial honeymoon hadn’t come to an end yet.

“You’re going to want to hold your breath,” Nick said, tensing his hand on the handle of the door.

“Any day now,” Madeline warned as a tidal wave of homicidal hotel rooms bore down on them. But she obliged.

Nick took Madeline’s paw in his hand, opened the door, and leapt out into the space.

The first million or so rooms dove after Nick and Madeline of their own accord. The next billion or so were pulled in by the limitless atmosphere of the Hilbert rushing through the open door. Nick waited a full second before exerting his own power and pushing the stragglers inside on a wave of cold spacetime. It would have been impossible under normal circumstances, but vacuums were on the slippery side.

Just as Nick had hoped, the near-zero kelvin temperature of the neutron stars’ solar system-sized suite was enough to solidify the monstrous rooms’ tempestuous forms. Tendrils writhed, then curled into oblique patterns. They were beautiful, really. Like a hail of deformed snowflakes, some the size of a snowball, others the size of a house, all pinwheeling through the suite at thousands of kilometers an hour.

Nick felt a frantic tapping on his arm. Madeline’s cheeks were puffed out and her eyes were beginning to glisten. Nick drew a cushion of atmosphere from the hallway around her body and the flying monkey gasped in relief.

“…look,” Madeline coughed, pointing over his shoulder. One of the neutron stars, trapped in a decadent, decaying orbit with its mate, was swinging around toward them. Slowly, in the grand scheme of things, but fast enough to close the distance between the feral suites hurling into its path, thawing them out and roasting them alive.

“That’s… convenient,” Nick said, as the star bathed them all in blue light. He made a note to send the honeymooning stars a fruit basket. That is, if they didn’t vaporize him and the detective first, which, given their present situation, seemed imminently likely.

Nick made a slow circle to face the door leading out of the suite, which was growing smaller in the distance. The last time he’d been in the room, he’d made it out before he could float away. He hadn’t had that option this time around, not if he’d expected the suites to follow him.

But now he and Madeline were drifting unmoored in the path of stellar folie a deux.

“You really didn’t think this through, did you?” Madeline said, her wings testing the pocket of air around her, to no avail.

“Let’s just say I’m open to suggestions.”

Madeline sighed, gave Nick a contemplative look, then snatched the golden cap off his head.

“I always hated this thing,” she said, tucking her arm beneath Nick’s and taking careful aim at the star. “Fucking ignition.”

The cap left her fingers and sent the two of them drifting backward toward the door. The product of a mind made to calculate aerodynamics with accuracy and digits made to manipulate objects with precision, her aim was unfailing. But their trajectory wasn’t the problem, Nick realized. They were moving too slowly.

And they had company.

Rogue rooms, half-thawed by the heat from the approaching star floated between them and their path of escape, twitching vengefully as solar wind filled their nearly weightless wings. They brandished half-formed bathrobe arms and lampshade talons, vestiges of their previous forms tormented by the toxic radiation of the oncoming star.

Nick batted away the things’ energetic attacks, but every defensive move stole momentum from their bodies. Nick swore as one of the suite’s phone cord tendrils flared out, encircling him and the detective in a hemisphere of curly psychic power. He had could blast the thing out of their way, but it would send both him and the detective reeling back toward the sun, which was already beginning to feel warm against his back.

All at once, the suites shrank away from the two of them, ruby-colored light burning their Damask patterned skins to ash. They attempted to flee, but the light was strong, exponentially more so than the approaching neutron star. Or at least it was closer.

Madeline shielded her eyes, but Nick managed to gaze into the epicenter of the newly arrived radiance. A cut gem the size of a quail egg and the color of Hawaiian Punch made its way toward them at a leisurely pace.

I believe you were looking for me, a sonorous voice free of inflection or accent chimed in Nick’s mind.

“I’ll be damned,” Nick said, stroking his beard.

“Is that—?” Madeline said, looking between her fingers.

“The Eye of Hestavar,” Nick confirmed.

I have never cared for that name, the stone said. Or any name, for that matter. My kind find the entire concept distasteful.

“No problem,” Nick said quickly. “And thank you for the assistance. I don’t suppose you could… ?” He gestured helplessly to himself and the detective.

Of course.

Nick felt the tug of the stone’s power on his body and saw the door to the Hilbert approach at an accelerated rate.

“Not that we’re complaining,” Madeline said. “But is there a reason you’re helping us?”

There appeared to be a chance you would be devoured, the stone said. Or incinerated. Possibly asphyxiated. I could not allow that. The hatchlings assailing you… their wounds were too severe to recover from. Even if they had survived, they would have spent the rest of their existence in agony. It would have been no true kindness allowing them to linger.

Nick and Madeline passed through the door leading back into the Hilbert’s hallway, floating a foot or so above the floor, before being deposited with an unceremonious plop on the floor.

“Ow!” Madeline barked as Nick fell, backside first, onto her hindquarters.

“Well… I’m glad to hear you feel that way,” Nick said, standing up and rubbing the small of his back. “We owe you one.”

No thanks are necessary, the stone he’d formerly referred to as the Eye of Hestavar told him. Such brief deaths would have been wholly inadequate punishment for the injury the two of you have inflicted upon my family.

“…fucking what?” Madeline said, pushing herself to her feet.

I cannot fault you for your motives, the pulsing red gemstone informed them from the other side of the door. The preservation of your own kind is your prerogative. But you have slaughtered a billion of my older brother’s brood.

“Wait,” Nick said, holding up his hands. “What are you saying? Those things in the room… they’re sentient gemstones?”

They would have been, the stone said. The oldest of them had just begun to grow strong enough to leave the nest. The nest my brother built and maintained in this establishment for some time now. Eons of nurturing, care, and love, all destroyed in the blink of an eye. I would deliver retribution myself, the stone flared an angry beryl. But that is a privilege I reserve for the aggrieved parent.

“We can talk about this,” Nick said, stepping toward the door.

It is fortuitous the Baroness of Lessor Falls brought me to this place, the stone continued. It had been my intention to visit my brother for some time now. But had I not been here today, of all days, the last of his children might have finished you off before he had the chance to carry out more suitable justice upon you.

The door slammed shut, sealing them off from the solar system-sized suite. For a moment, neither Nick nor Madeline spoke.

“Yeah. What were the odds?” Nick finally said.

“So the infestation is a colony of a sentient gemstone larvae,” Madeline said. “Good to know… ?”

A slight rumble passed under their feet. Nick looked down, then back up at Madeline.

“I think we’re in trouble,” he said.

“More trouble than before?” She asked in genuine disbelief.

The floor rumbled again, this time cracking down a fault line and sending jagged wooden spears up into the hallway.

“We have to go,” Nick said, jerking his head toward the quantum entanglement elevator down the hall and breaking out in a sprint. Madeline was steps behind him.

“When you say trouble,” Madeline started as the doors to the elevator slid open. A terrible wrenching sound echoed from down the hall and the space around them went dark. Not dark, but lit by impossible, gray light.

An onyx the size and shape of a durian half out of its skin whirled around the corner. A behemoth of power condensed into a preposterously small form, humming, wasplike, in rage.

Nick yanked Madeline into the elevator and threw up a protective wall of condensed space and time an inch in front of the elevator door. A glowing black barb penetrated the wall an instant later, sending cracks spiderwebbing across its surface. The shield was moments away from shattering by the time the elevator door closed and the car shot along its immaterial cable.

Nick slapped the button he wanted and promptly collapsed. It had taken nearly everything he’d had to hold the Onyx back.

“Trouble,” he coughed.

“Right,” Madeline said, offering him her paw and helping him to his feet. “How long do we have before trouble catches up with us?”

As if in answer, the elevator car began rattling. The Onyx had clearly not abandoned its pursuit was strong enough to tear the elevator apart. Mad enough to do it too. Except that if its smaller red brother was to believed, it wasn’t about to let Nick and the detective off so easily. Not unless it had no other choice, he suspected. Yet another variable to juggle.

You really are in the shit now, aren’t you, Nick? The same liquid obsidian voice that had intruded on Nick’s consciousness earlier that day reasserted itself. Outmatched, nowhere to hide, ready to curl up in a ball and die like the saint they all think you are. Unless.

Nick gave no answer. The elevator guttered, then came to a stop, letting out a defeated ding as the doors slid open.

“Come on,” Nick said, leading Madeline down the hall. A second later, before the elevator doors had even closed, the Onyx tore through the metal car, overshooting its target by miles. But it would correct its error soon enough.

Nick and Madeline raced down the hall. His suite had been in tatters when he left it, but that hardly mattered now. After all, it had ceased to exist the moment he’d chased after the intruder he now knew had been the Onyx’s tadpole offspring. Now that he was returning, there was a bastion of power behind the door, the amalgamated nostalgia of billions upon billions of humans from across time, space and realities.

He would need every drop.

“Cozy,” Madeline said, breathing hard in the flickering light of the fireplace after Nick slammed the door shut behind them. Nat King Cole invited them to have a merry little Christmas against a backdrop of warm violins and cellos. “A little maudlin, maybe. But cozy.”

Nick ignored her, planted himself in the center of the room, and drank in the psychic sustenance as greedily as he ever had. The tinsel, the cookies, the presents, they all buckled inwardly. They were sturdy enough as conduits, but could only handle so much volume at such a rate before failing under the pressure. But he didn’t have the time to do it the right way.

“Shit… !” Madeline gasped. The gray light had gathered outside the suite’s door. It tested the tiny cracks, while Nick redoubled his efforts and filled his bellows with weaponized cheer.

The Christmas tree burst into flames as Nick’s eyes opened, issuing green fire of their own.

“Get behind me,” he said in a commanding bass.

The Onyx swung through the door like a wrecking ball. The entire wall crumbled from the concussive force, revealing nothing but blackness beyond. The report of one shot, then two rang out as Madeline fired her Mauser at the dark stone. It wasn’t enough to harm the Onyx, but it was enough for it to rotate in the air, shifting toward the detective.

That was enough of an opening for a quick and dirty jab. Nick sent a golden battering ram of energy straight into the spiky vertex of three of the Onyx’s facets. It wobbled on its axis for a moment, then straightened. Lances of energy shot out from its hard black body in every direction. Every direction, that was, except theirs. Nick watched, horrified, as the Onyx anchored itself in the walls, ceiling and floor of his suite, growing a network of roots to hold itself in place.

“Is it… ?” Madeline asked, bewildered as the Onyx began to float backwards, pulling against the claws it had sunk into the suite, stretching them taut. The shimmering black jewel shrank to a pinprick as it put more and more distance between itself and the two of them.

“Oh… no,” Madeline gasped.

The Onyx was preparing to slingshot itself at them.

Nick diverted every ounce of strength he had into creating a barrier of spacetime around himself and the detective. He drained every last recess of his being, pouring enough power into the shield to light up a continent.

It wouldn’t be enough.

The incoming stone would crack Nick’s defenses like an eggshell. The force would completely incapacitate him and reduce Madeline to her constituent atoms, maybe for the Onyx to collect, reconstitute and torture at some later date. And there was literally nothing Nick could do about it.

Well.

Not literally nothing.

Nick shrugged off the protective field of energy. He heard Madeline exhale sharply as the air before them stopped shimmering.

“Nick!” She shouted as he took off his flannel coat and let it fall to the floor. “What the hell do you think you’re-”

And right then, just as the Onyx launched itself forward like a trebuchet, rushing to destroy them, Nick allowed the change to take him.

Where before there had stood a man —or at least a man-shaped form— moments earlier, there now stood a cliffside of obscenely pulsating flesh beneath patches of filthy fur. At the cliff’s peak hung a domed outcropping of curved horns, oozing pustules, and massive globules of saliva and mucus. The smell of burning coal pervaded the suite as the outcropping opened a pair of eyes, like windows into hell.

The Onyx tried to skid to a halt, but its momentum was too great to overcome.

“SHINY,” the Beast’s voice boomed as he caught the dark jewel in his massive, cloven hands. “I WONDER HOW IT TASTES.

Distantly, the Beast watched a small winged figure fleeing his presence. An appetizing little snack made out of stories from the look of it, but it was all the same to him. The rate it flew, he could catch and devour it at his leisure.

The Onyx wriggled free of his hold while he was distracted, and the Beast let out a laugh, stomping after it. Suite after suite gave way as the Onyx attempted to hide, then gave up and charged the Beast directly. He roared as the Onyx cut a gash in his shoulder, then batted the thing with the back of his hand. The Onyx shot through the outer wall of the Hilbert into space. The hole was narrow, but long enough for the Beast to slip his fingers through and pry open.

The Beast grinned savagely at the Onyx as the hotel’s atmosphere rushed past him.

NOT SO FAST, LITTLE ONE.” He reached out again, his hand closing around the desperate stone. Furniture, hotel guests, and other debris howled and whistled past the Beast’s face, but he ignored them. The Onyx was a feisty little morsel. Bright gray light poured out between his fingers as it struggled.

MY NAME IS KRAMPUS,” he said, pulling his fist back toward his face. “AND I’M WHAT YOU MIGHT CALL AN EPICUREAN.”

The Onyx struggled harder. The Beast shifted his weight as he reclined against the outer wall of the Hilbert Astoria.

YOU’RE A LITTLE MORE POTENT THAN WHAT I’M USED TO,” he admitted as he readjusted his hold on the stone. “CITIES THAT HAVE FALLEN OUT OF FAVOR WITH THEIR GODS. MIGHTY CIVILIZATIONS ON THE BRINK OF DECLINE. MISBEHAVING CHILDREN. THAT’S MY NORMAL FARE. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU MIGHT JUST BREAK ME. AT LEAST FOR A WHILE.”

He considered the Onyx, then dropped the tortured hillsides of his shoulders in a shrug. “FUCK IT. HE NEVER LETS ME OUT THESE DAYS ANYWAY.”

The Beast opened its jaws and clapped his hand against his mouth. The Onyx slid down his gullet, clawing against the darkness pressing against it until the latticework of its being cracked and its essence spurted forth.

The Beast swallowed. Black light spilled past his nostrils and teeth as he collapsed contentedly against the outer walls of the Hilbert Astoria.

HO… HO… HOHHhh… ” he slurred before his eyes rolled up into his head and a demented grin curled across his lips.

#

“I quit,” Nick told Madeline over a pair of rusty nails. “That should probably go without saying. But just in case you needed to actually hear the words aloud.”

Madeline gave a half shrug, impeded by the sling on her left arm. She’d escaped Krampus’s initial radius of destruction, but the hole he’d torn in the side of the Hilbert had apparently sent flying debris her way.

“Not how it works, Nick. You know that,” she said, taking a pull of her cocktail. “But sure. Guess you’ve earned a break. Think I might just put in a request for some PTO myself.”

“I mean it,” Nick said. “The next time I see you or anyone else from the Agency, I’m walking in the opposite direction.”

“See how that works out for you.”

“I killed people, Madeline,” Nick said flatly. “A lot of people.”

“You did. I get that. But in a place like this,” Madeline gestured with her right paw to the Hilbert’s bar. “That’s kind of relative, isn’t it? You put a stop to something that killed a whole lot more people. That would have wiped out whole worlds if it had the chance. At the end of the day, that’s one for the win column.”

Nick scowled. “Maybe I don’t see it that way. Do you have any idea how much worse it could have been if the Onyx hadn’t put him to sleep?”

“Some,” Madeline said mildly.

Nick drank half the rusty nail in a long gulp.

“I could have killed you too, you know,” he pointed out. “I remember wanting to eat you. He was distracted, but if he hadn’t been, if the Onyx hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have thought twice about it.”

Madeline’s eyes narrowed and her upper lip twitched upward.

“Did you think twice before you split me into a million pieces while you were wearing that fucking cap?”

Nick opened his mouth, then closed it again.

“Yeah,” the detective said, finishing her rusty nail. “Maybe I don’t have a cosmic egg timer in my head like you, but I knew something was happening. Something bad. Didn’t work exactly what it was until later. Maybe most of the me’s who bit the dust were too slow to work it either. Guess that must have been what you were hoping, right?”

“…Madeline,” Nick started.

“Forget it,” she snapped. “It’s the job. There wasn’t another way. Not then, not when you became… him. So fuck it. We don’t cry into our beers at the Agency. We do what no one else can because no one else can.”

For a while, neither of them spoke.

“What about the rest of the rooms?” Nick inquired, more to break the tension than anything else. Krampus had slept for long enough he imagined Madeline had taken care of at least some of the paperwork on that front. “We must have missed at least some of them.”

“A few thousand, give or take,” Madeline said. “But knowing they’re susceptible to the cold was useful. Management’s been corralling the ones that didn’t end up in the honeymoon suite into cold rooms. Might take a bit, and maybe they’ll be a few holdouts, but when all’s said and done, I’d say it’s the best we could have hoped for.”

“And the Eye of Hestavar?” Nick asked.

“Gone,” Madeline said. “Wanted for questioning by the Agency, but honestly I don’t even know what they think they’ll do with it when they find it. Aren’t too many forces in the universe that can contain a sentient gemstone that doesn’t feel like being contained. And I don’t think anyone’s in a rush to see your better half any time soon. Another round?”

“I don’t think so,” Nick said, standing up from the table. “I think the management’s going to give me the boot if I don’t see myself out soon. I’ve destroyed an entire wing of the hotel already. Plus two custom suites already.”

“Three,” Madeline corrected him. “Apparently the honeymoon suite needed some serious delousing and, well. There’s a pair of young neutron stars who I understand are demanding a full refund for their stay.”

“Is that right?” Nick said, closing his coat.

“Shouldn’t be too bad. They’ve only been here seven, eight thousand years.”

“Ouch,” Nick said. Even for a hotel with infinite profit margins, that had to sting. “Something tells me I’m officially banned from the Hilbert Astoria,” Nick said as the pair made their way through the non-Euclidean lobby. Was it his imagination, Nick mused, or was he starting to find the madness-invoking décor charming in spite of himself?

“Well,” Madeline waved off the glaring concierge as they approached the door leading back onto Bleecker Street. “Banned is a strong word, under the circumstances. But I’d say give it at least for a millennia or two.”


Host Commentary

by Tina Connolly

As I mentioned last week, I love stories that bring a whole lot of disparate, well known characters together, along with the powers they are known to have, or might theoretically have. (I mean, Santa Claus’s naughty or nice list would in fact be such a gigantic help in finding people!) But despite being on the lookout for more mythical people to appear, I was delightfully surprised by Krampus appearing in some kind of Hulk-like, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde switchover. It makes total sense.

I remember reading a book in middle school called The Incredible Umbrella, by Marvin Kaye. (Now, please note that I have not read this since, and I have no idea how well it holds up.) But teenage me was delighted by the idea of a magic umbrella that drops its protagonist in a variety of literary worlds (including Gilbert & Sullivan, Sherlock Holmes, and Flatland), where, if I remember correctly, the protagonist has to use the literary rules of that world to get back out. I found the same joy in Santa and the flying Monkey taking down the sentient gems, and I can only imagine—and look forward to—what adventures these two might get up to next.

And our closing quotation this week is another pertinent observation from Oscar Wilde, who said: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Thanks for listening! And have fun.

About the Author

Sam Schreiber

Sam Schreiber

Sam Schreiber is an Adjunct Instructor of Science Fiction and Fantasy at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. He is also one of the co-hosts and co-producers of the audio speculative fiction magazine the Kaleidocast, currently in its third season.

His work can be found in such markets as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Vastarien: A Literary Journal, Occult Detective Quarterly, Martian Migraine Press’s A BREATH FROM THE SKY: Unusual Stories of Possession as well as such podcasts as Tales to Terrify, PodCastle and the Overcast.

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About the Narrator

Dave Robison

Dave Robison

Dave Robison is a storyteller who has been captivated by tales and legends his entire life. He’s contributed vocal fabulousity to dozens of audio drama and fiction productions for EscapePod, Pseudopod, Cast of Wonders, and Podcastle, as well as The Drabblecast, StarShipSofa, Tales to Terrify. He has narrated several audio books for Tantor Media, J. Daniel Sawyer, Scott Roche, and John Meirau and appeared in audio dramas by Jay Smith and Bryan Lincoln.

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