...By the standards of her own kind, Cheryl was in fact a rather terrible liar. She was unaware of this fact, but it just so happened that her kind were natural born masters of deception when compared to the sort of inexplicably selective naivette exhibited by most other thinking things, which you may have already gleaned if you're up to speed with the escapades of Fern and other wayward Grey Zoners throughout this and any related narratives. Thus, Cheryl's kidnappers, who were not the brightest bulbs to begin with, accepted without hesitation that Cheryl was definitely really Fern, which fortunately appeared to be the favorable answer, not that Cheryl felt anywhere near as threatened as she should have been with two entire dolphins between her and the only physical exit.

They were, in fact, the sorriest excuses for Delphinidae that Cheryl had ever laid eyes upon, and I'm sure you will enjoy laying your own upon them with her, unless you're perceiving these events by nonvisual sensory processes, in which case you should try to imagine how two dolphins would appear if one of them was sort of like a zuchinni that used to be someone's armpit and the other one was sort of like if someone tried to mop up a substantial amount of vaseline with a set of pantyhose, then taught it everything they knew about selling used cars.

"Pleasure ta make your acquaintances, Furn" answered the smaller, floppier dolphin, the one that forced me to think more about vaseline than I usually like. "This here's my brudda, Blowhole, and you can call me Blowhole 2. They consequentially call us Da Blowhole Bruddaz."

"Uh-huh" said Cheryl, who didn't care about that actually. "But someone sent you, am I right? Dolphs aren't usually in the business of sneaking around and snatching people with all their guts in the same place, no offense."

"None taken, but I'm afraid dat's strictly confidential information" responded Blowhole 2, differently enunciating every individual vowel in "confidential" and "information" with reckless abandon. "So confidential" he continued, pronouncing it a differently wrong way now, "they apparently didn't see fit to grace us with dat knowledge, neither." His tone was that of someone who wholeheartedly agrees they can't trusted and still takes it as an unforgivably scandalous insult.

Now they'd definitely grabbed Cheryl's long neglected sense of curiosity. Someone anonymously hired a couple of loser dolphins to ambush Fern, specifically? "You don't sound especially thrilled about this job of yours" said Cheryl. "Which was...what, exactly?"

Blowhole 2 emitted a sort of snort-laugh from his blowhole, causing the broken top of his hat to flap open for a moment. "Given the, ah, biomological prerogatives famously ascribed to creatures of our infamious persuasion [pronounced like "purse-was-zion," if you wanted an example of what we meant earlier]...we was intended to rub ya out."

"Intended to...PARDON????" said Cheryl, horrified, because although she was well accustomed to things wanting her dead, she had forgotten that's what "rubbing someone out" means, and considering the nature of the books she had been trying to "shoplift" very recently her mind was still VERY much elsewhere.

"You know" said Blowhole 2. "We was gonna whack ya!"

"You were gonna WHAT???" said Cheryl with exponentially escalating hostility, also momentarily unfamiliar as she was with "to whack someone" as another dated colloquialism for assassination.

"I...I'm just sayin we was 'sposda BUMP YA OFF!!" the dolphin hurriedly attempted to clarify, sweating a little as Cheryl began to roll up her sleeves, an unseen phenomenon now rattling the planks around her. For those who were not native English speakers, we can assure you these were all really various slang terms for homicide. "DO YA IN! SNUFF YA! NO?? LAY YA FLAT!?!" he continued, backing against a wall. He had been under the impression that grey-zone dirtwalkers were chumps, but already a network of what looked like throbbing veins had begun to pulse beneath his skin as Cheryl drew closer. That wasn't what they were, and they didn't belong to him.

"ORP!" interjected the other Dolphin, just called Blowhole, which in this instance meant "Pardon my brother's obtuse vocabulary, but we were offered substantial compensation by an anonymous individual to permanently terminate your operational processes."

"Oh. Ohhhhhhh!" Cheryl laughed, because she somehow caught all that. As her mood stabilized, Blowhole 2 experienced a physical sensation kind of like if thousands of sharp little fingers had been scratching at the inside of your spinal cord but somehow you just didn't notice until the moment that they stopped. "Yeee-ikes. No wonder someone wants this dame outta the picture" was at the moment the only family-appropriate thought of the many thoughts squelching around in his awful dolphin brain.

"Y-yeah, dat's right!" he said out loud with a nervous chuckle, rubbing his flippers together with a sort of rubbery, squeaky sound. "And whoever it was wanted it on the down-low, but for some reason they said the deal was off if the little library worm bit da dust first. Said he was important. Said you was a liability to what they was trying to do. Must be why they turned to da Blowhole Bruddaz, on accounta our renowned expertise in these here kinds of delicate operations!" he pridefully cocked his head back, causing the boneless, drooping ends of his snout to twirl around each other for a second. He was correct of course that he and his brother had been specially selected to carry out this task, but he was TERRIBLY incorrect about the reason.

"Oh yeah. I can tell." said Cheryl, who was no stranger to the fine art of dumping your dirty work on expendable patsies, and had to admire the deviousness on display. A dolphin pathetic enough to need money and take orders was still a dolphin, after all, and nobody asks questions when yet another routine, senseless act of dolphin rearranges any one living thing into multiple smaller, less living things. But why? Entities as high-profile as the librarian were always under attack from something, but why did these attackers need a mere grey zoner taken out first, and why so secretively? You shouldn't even need a dolphin to explain a grey's sudden demise, as even Cheryl knew she could totally eat it at any given moment in any conceivable or inconceivable fashion. Out here in the zones, you never even knew when your bone marrow might book an exotic vacation and neglect to invite you along. Thinking square thoughts under a violet endomoon could redefine every third cell in your body as a verb. There were sneakers that ate feet, bifocals that ate eyeballs, strawberry yogurt that ate small intestines. Farther out there, so much farther, there were wavelengths of something ancestral to light that could crawl into your past and eat the day you were born.

Nobody so much as batted an eye or quivered a flange when these things happened to the unnaturally branchinated, the puzzling and comical tourists that blipped in and out from the forgettable grey. Things like herself, or Fern, or the plank maze loser were little more than weird bugs to most entities, a quaint curiosity at best and more often an unwanted parasite. Infinite layers of reality, and it still felt, in the worst way, like she'd never left home.

...."Thing is..." said her would-be assassin, just as she was starting to forget he existed, "we were just machinating our most diabolical of machinations when we got ourselves an even more appealing counter offer, see, from another unanimalous kinda customer, who wanted us to make sure ya don't get iced until the worm croaks, which they sounded pretty confident was gonna be your fault." This statement snapped Cheryl out of wherever her thoughts had been going, eyebrow raised as the dolphin continued. "So that's got us thinking...why not both? What if, and hear me out here, what if we make it look real convincing that we, uh..."unalived" ya?...at least until we get paid by weirdo #1, see, when in real actualiality ya just lay low for a while until BOOM! Ya get the drop on the worm, so weirdo #2's gotta pay up, and if weirdo #1 finds out, what's he gonna do now that it's four against one?! See?! Impenetrable! That's this big old melon for ya!" at this, he straightened up pridefully and gestured to his swollen forehead, his hat flapping up and down again as he emitted a couple of comical toots from his blowhole.

He held the pose for a few awkward beats before his cockiness dissolved and he shrank timidly, hat now held to his chest. "It's just, you know, that whole part where you have to play permacorpse for a while. That's gonna be significantly more challenging without your cooperation, and I get the feeling you ain't gonna fall for the sack again. Whaddaya say, Firn? All us three alive and richer?! 50/50/50?!"

Cheryl wasn't sure what to think. Why was Fern expected to unexistefy the Librarian? How was she supposed to? That shouldn't be possible for any grey-zoner, but now she HAD to see where the heck this was going, and she knew enough about faking her death that at least the first payout was practically a sure thing, even in the event she'd have to bail on the next. The dolphin really wasn't as dumb as he looked; his only mistake was thinking the real Fern would ever go for this kind of sleazy business, while his other only mistake was thinking that the fake Fern was ever going to be in a sharing mood.


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