The door explodes off its hinges and clatters to the floor moments before the TOY, still deranged from her run-in with the toilet bowl, lands atop it. Before they can react, she grabs CLANK and SCUFFLE by their legs and carries them, inverted and screaming, one in each arm, into the center stall. They grab onto the bottom of the door as they go, slamming it shut, but their taut quivering fingers disappear one by one. After some flailing, their hands gain a grip on the top of the door. They pull themselves up to shoulder level, but slip down again, maintaining their grip for only a few seconds with their teeth. Just then, to a well-paced flourish from the orchestra, the stalls slowly retract into the wings and the ENGINEERS enter with SERAGLIO. They find themselves in a spacious purple-lit room. The floor seems to contain, in thin neon lines, a diagram for the room’s construction. The walls are covered in other diagrams, mostly different variations on the theme of the Kit-N-Ex. The entire effect is reminiscent of advanced cave-paintings. The curtained pedestal still stands at the back of the stage.
SERAGLIO: We should have stayed. I was about to force the information from them.
ENGINEER #1: You were just standing there!
SERAGLIO: My stealth movements are like a windshield, invisible to the untrained eye.
A high-domed cage lowers slowly from the ceiling, unbeknownst to the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO. From its bottom edge dangle dozens of mechanical half-pincers. Simultaneously, TOYS begin to creep in from all angles, also unseen.
ENGINEER #108: Are we going the right way? I’m not sure I remember everything they said.
ENGINEER #57: It doesn’t matter. We just needed to get out of there.
ENGINEER #108: You mean we aren’t going to the office?
ENGINEER #57: Of course not. We’re going to find Mr. Commission.
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO notice the lowering dome and turn to escape, only to come face-to-faceplate with the encroaching TOYS. The pincers lock onto a barred circle on the floor and the assembled oubliette rises just above the swatting TOYS. The curtain on the pedestal flips open, unveiling MR. COMMISSION in the flesh. As in the statue, he holds a deformed kitten; however, this too appears to be flesh, or to once have been so before an overzealous taxidermist stretched its features in impossible ways. Several long hooks attached to its collar assure that it holds its shape.
MR. COMMISSION: I am afraid that you’re in rapidly increasing danger of doing both. Among other things.
MR. COMMISSION steps down from the pedestal and blows a silver whistle, producing an unbearable screech at which the TOYS flee.
SERAGLIO: Aha! I have found the man we seek, with only the use of my eyes to aid me!
MR. COMMISSION: Captain Hippopotamus, I presume.
MR. COMMISSION leans in, squints, and does a double-take.
MR. COMMISSION: My God, you’re beautiful. And these must be your rag-along tag-along friends..
ENGINEER #57: But…nobody ever sees Mr. Commission in person.
MR. COMMISSION: Actually, many do. But only when I choose to let them. And by that point you can basically consider them among the non-existent.
ENGINEER #108: But we found you, of our own free will.
MR. COMMISSION: Do you really think you do anything of your own free will here? This entire factory is animatronic. With the turn of a knob, I can change the world you inhabit. You call yourselves engineers, but really, your entire lives are engineered.
ENGINEER #1: Why did you bring us here, then?
MR. COMMISSION: I needed somebody to play-test my little springlings.
ENGINEER #57: Are you saying that you meant for them to be released?
MR. COMMISSION: You don’t listen very well for somebody who came looking for information. I can’t abide those who don’t listen. You’re all caught up in my plans. Literally, as you can see. There are no accidents.
SERAGLIO: Do you hear? There are no accidents! The error, he was not mine!
ENGINEER #1: Does it really matter right now?
SERAGLIO: Do not ask me. He brought the subject up.
MR. COMMISSION: Speaking of play-testing, who would like to be the first to try my newest accessory?
MR. COMMISSION flips a hidden switch among the diagrams and a section of the wall folds out, housing an elaborately painted double-headed tazer with a sickle-blade attached to the back end.
MR. COMMISSION: For an added level of interaction with your Kit-N-Ex: self-defense. I’d like to know if I should guarantee hours of fun, or only seconds. Who would like to try?
ENGINEER #108: I would.
ENGINEER #57: Number one-oh-eight, don’t. You’ll be slaughtered.
ENGINEER #108: I don’t care.
MR. COMMISSION: Delightful. What a patently unchecked mind, utterly empty of second, third, or even first thoughts, all things which tend to get in the way of a good time. Now.
MR. COMMISSION flips another disguised switch and a trio of overhead spotlights converge upon the cage. With another flick, the cage lowers, and its door swings open.
MR. COMMISSION: Oh, one other thing. There are some very nasty surprises in these walls, and if anybody were to exit the office without permission, you’d all get to find out what they are. Take your weapon.
ENGINEER #1: Even if you can take one down, they’ll just keep coming. You have no chance of survival.
ENGINEER #108: Then I’ll wreck as many as I can.
ENGINEER #108 proceeds to the back wall and hefts the tazer from its rack while the cage ascends once more. He narrows his eyes at MR. COMMISSION.
MR. COMMISSION: If you so much as scratch me, you and your friends will discover how laughably ironic is the phrase “Time heals all wounds.”
ENGINEER #108: That’s okay. You’re not the one I’m after.
MR. COMMISSION climbs atop the pedestal and pushes a hidden button. A circle of wall flips around to become an oversized digital stopwatch.
MR. COMMISSION: On your mark.
ENGINEER #108: I was ready long ago.
MR. COMMISSION: Very well. Come out to play, my springlings!
MR. COMMISSION pushes the button again, starting the timer. The spotlights swing around to follow ENGINEER #108, who struts to center-stage and waits. A TOY scampers in and pounces, but meets the sickle-blade and is flipped mid-air. ENGINEER #108 grinds the tazer into her chest as she writhes helplessly on the floor.
ENGINEER #108: You killed number twenty-four. That was wrong. Bastards.
The TOY has a final spasm and is still. Another TOY slinks silently in behind ENGINEER #108’s back. As she pounces, however, ENGINEER #108 ducks and rolls sideways. The TOY clatters clumsily to the floor. As she rises to her knees, ENGINEER #108 pushes her back down to the ground with a sharp tazer jab.
ENGINEER #108: Scented fuck-worms!
Two more TOYS rush ENGINEER #108, one on each side. He hooks the sickle-end of the tazer onto the hanging cage and hoists himself up, then swings up and around until he’s hanging upside-down by his legs. Then, he jams the tazer under the two TOYS’ chins and dangles them until they stop thrashing.
ENGINEER #108: Exquisite moose-buggery!
By that point, five more TOYS have arrived on the scene. ENGINEER #108 hooks his tazer on the cage once more and, swinging his legs down, spreads them into a tremendous splits/scissor-kick, his boots ending up behind the necks of two approaching TOYS. He then brings his legs together and forward, gymnast-style, thereby slamming the heads of the TOYS together, dazing them temporarily.
ENGINEER #108: Honey-crusted ass-balls!
As yet more TOYS approach, ENGINEER #108 drops to the floor and, crouching, hooks a TOY by its knees, bringing it down. However, he’s soon the center of an enormous kitty-style doggy-pile of TOYS, all yowling and scratching. The TOY on top begins to quake and scream, at which the other TOYS take a few steps back. ENGINEER #108, badly battered, slowly rises to one knee, with the paroxyzing toy skewered on the end of the tazer.
ENGINEER #108: Mulch-licking shit-fisted gangrenous lint buildup!
ENGINEER #108 collapses once again, and the TOYS pile on. When it’s clear that ENGINEER #108 is down for the count, MR. COMMISSION stops the timer and blows his whistle, and the surviving TOYS clear the battlefield.
MR. COMMISSION: Oh, good. It looks like it will be minutes, barely. Wasn’t that lucky?
ENGINEER #1: How could you just watch him die like that?
MR. COMMISSION: I could very well ask you the same question.
ENGINEER #1: We didn’t have a choice.
MR. COMMISSION: There you go on about choice again. You know, wires or nerves, we’re all just doing what we’re programmed to do.
SERAGLIO: A true man would have done something.
MR. COMMISSION: I gave him a weapon, didn’t I? If you look around you, you’ll see that it was a more than fair fight.
SERAGLIO: You are of a sharp and frigid heart.
MR. COMMISSION nods.
MR. COMMISSION: Speaking of entertainment, however, I believe I’ve finally finished the jingle. Would you like to hear it? I won’t take no for an answer.
MR. COMMISSION flips another hidden switch, and a grand piano folds out of the wall. He sets his kitten down on the lid, sits down and begins to play.
ENGINEER #57: Did you bring us here just to watch you be evil and sing songs? That’s ubermegalomaniacal.
MR. COMMISSION: Shh! That’s it, now I have to start over.
ENGINEER #57: Why?
MR. COMMISSION: You weren’t listening. You missed the glissendo at the end of the lead-in. That’s my favorite part.
MR. COMMISSION begins to play again, but in stops and starts as he fumbles at the keys in his frustration. Finally, he slams the cover down over the keys and stands.
MR. COMMISSION: Why has nobody fixed this piano yet? Never mind, I’ll have the orchestra play it. You know the tune, boys.
The orchestra kicks in with a jazzier rendition of the melody, aptly titled “Jingle Jingle.”MR. COMMISSION begins to strut about the stage and sing, occasionally stepping over dead bodies.
MR. COMMISSION: Boys and girls, it’s time to cheer
Here’s the answer to your fears
The joy to end all joys is here
So scream and shout
They never mess, they never miss
And they won’t make you reek of piss
Now that’s what I call blissfullness
No need to pout
They’re ten times stronger than a pug
So they can give ten times the hug
They’re cuter than a giant bug
A fact to flout
MR. COMMISSION picks up his stuffed kitten and waltzes with it across the stage. He dips it and kisses it passionately, then places it back onto the piano.
MR. COMMISSION: There’s a bell, so I’ve been told
Inside the ribcage of your soul
Just waiting to be bounced and rolled
Or split in two
Kit-N-Ex will ring that bell
Stronger than the sparks of hell
Such a deep and doleful knell
A grim snaffoo
So when you hear that ding-ding-dong
Don’t think it’s someone else’s song
You knew the answer all along
It tolls for you
A chorus line of ENGINEERS enter as the orchestra spins into a big-band slowdown.
MR. COMMISSION: So…if you long for heaven fair
Do not cry, please don’t despair
Kit-N-Ex will take you there
In seconds flat
And if you’d rather live a while
They can still slice you a smile
And if you’d like to run a mile
They’ll match you pat
Yes, it’s more fun than cyber-sex
More thrilling than a huge T-Rex
The one, the only Kit-N-Ex
Your new best cat
As the song comes to a close, the uncaged ENGINEERS dance off-stage and MR. COMMISSION finds himself once again atop the pedestal, this time with his arms raised to the heavens in a simultaneously powerful and supplicating manner. He drops his arms and looks expectantly at the cage.
MR. COMMISSION: Well? I want to hear your honest opinions, as long as they’re good.
ENGINEER #1: What if they’re bad?
MR. COMMISSION: Then every adjective will cost you a finger. A thumb for adverbs.
A heavy silence fills the stage.
MR. COMMISSION: Ah, the heavy silence of approval. Excellent. Well, I think you’ve just about lived out your usefulness.
ENGINEER #1: What are you going to do with us?
MR. COMMISSION: Life’s not nearly as fun when you know your own fate. Trust me. Minimally Invasive Toys: we make Tomorrow obsolete.
MR. COMMISSION pulls a long tube out from the side of the pedestal and speaks into it.
MR. COMMISSION: Clank! Scuffle! I have a job for you! Hello?
Realizing that there will be no response, MR. COMMISSION releases the tube, which whips back from whence it came.
MR. COMMISSION: Very well. I’ll dispose of you myself. My, it’s been a long time since I’ve done this.
SERAGLIO: Do not worry. It will come back to you, like a bicycle.
ENGINEER #57: Before you kill us, may I ask just one thing?
MR. COMMISSION: Very well. But just one thing.
ENGINEER #57: Why are you so concerned with building kitty deathbots? I mean, what’s in it for you.
MR. COMMISSION: Is that all? It’s a secret.
ENGINEER #1: But you said you’d tell us!
MR. COMMISSION: No, I said you could ask. And this isn’t just any secret. This is my deepest, darkest secret. However, since you are letting me kill you, I suppose I could do this one thing in return. The truth…
SERAGLIO: Your secret bores me.
MR. COMMISSION: The truth is, I myself was built by kitty deathbots.
ENGINEER #1: But…that would make you…
MR. COMMISSION: A paradox? Yes, I realize.
ENGINEER #1: I was going to say an android.
MR. COMMISSION: Oh, yes, that too. I am everything that they created me to be.
ENGINEER #57: Still, what will you gain by unleashing them on the world?
MR. COMMISSION: Only my entertainment. You may not realize, as beings born with all your senses. But I know exactly how much time and effort went into my creation, and therefore I relish all sights and sounds, especially the sound of my own voice. I am literally fascinated by the complexities of my fascination.
ENGINEER #1: That doesn’t explain why you’re so sadistic.
MR. COMMISSION: No, you’re right. It doesn’t. Fascinating!
ENGINEER #57: Now that we’ve regained your interest, are you still planning to kill us?
MR. COMMISSION: Kill you? Oh, yes, kill you. Of course. One moment.
MR. COMMISSION flicks his wrist, and a half-foot needle flashes out from under his sleeve. He then flips the switch to lower the cage, and stands waiting by the door.
MR. COMMISSION: I’m ready when you are.
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger at the far end of the cage.
MR. COMMISSION: If you don’t come out here, I can’t pierce your larynxes.
ENGINEER #1: You come in here.
MR. COMMISSION: No.
ENGINEER #57: Then I guess you can’t kill us.
MR. COMMISSION: Yes I can. Come out here.
ENGINEER #1: We won’t.
MR. COMMISSION: You will.
ENGINEER #1: We won’t.
MR. COMMISSION: You will.
SERAGLIO: Enough! If your argufication is to be my life, I choose to die.
MR. COMMISSION: Thank you. At least one of you is being reasonable.
SERAGLIO exits the cage.
SERAGLIO: However, before you pop the balloon of my existence, there is one thing you must know. And that is this: you have a spot on your shirt.
MR. COMMISSION: What?
When MR. COMMISSION glances down to check, SERAGLIO takes the opportunity to retrieve the tazer from ENGINEER #108’s fallen form. He holds it under MR. COMMISSION’s neck.
SERAGLIO: Recognize my cunning! Un payaso divertido!
The ENGINEERS rush out of the cage and surround MR. COMMISSION, to assure that he won’t escape.
MR. COMMISSION: Ah, so. The time has come. I knew that you would be the end of me, Captain Hippopotamus. Ironic, isn’t it, to have been gifted with such a dazzling life, but to always carry the schematics of your own death. No mystery me. It all seems so…anticlimactic, somehow. To end in the middle, with everything still uncertain, that’s the way to do things.
SERAGLIO: Now, you will tell us, in a less tiresome fashion, how we may end this feline scourge!
MR. COMMISSION: You want to destroy the Kit-N-Ex? Impossible. They do not exist as you do, with only one life.
ENGINEER #1: Then we’ll kill them nine times, if that’s what it takes!
MR. COMMISSION: No, you don’t understand. They are infinite. An individual may be destroyed, but the hive lives on…and they’re always being scrapped anyway, to build better models…no matter how powerful your adversary is at the moment, in no time she’ll be as dated as Monday. They’re basically just extremely complex laptop computers, after all. Minimally Invasive Toys: improving on the future of cat.
ENGINEER #1: But if we kill you, production will cease, right?
MR. COMMISSION: Wrong. I’ll just be rebuilt. I built them because I owed them my life, and they will do the same for me. You would have to destroy the Queen…
ENGINEER #57: How?
MR. COMMISSION: If I knew that, I would have done it long ago. She is to blame for…everything. Please, kill me now, while I’m still in the washes of numbing melancholy.
SERAGLIO pushes the tazer up into MR. COMMISSION’s ribs. MR. COMMISSION shakes terrifically, and falls to his knees just as the tazer explodes in a burst of sparks.
MR. COMMISSION: No…mystery…me…
MR. COMMISSION falls forward onto his face. SERAGLIO pokes him a few times with the now powerless tazer, then tosses it away.
ENGINEER #1: So now we have to kill the Queen?
ENGINEER #57: So it seems.
ENGINEER #1: How are we supposed to find her? So far we’ve killed everybody who was supposed to give us directions.
SERAGLIO: There is one I remember who seemed to command the rest. Pandora. A name that sits heavy and bitter on the tongue, like asphalt.
ENGINEER #1: You ate asphalt?
SERAGLIO: I have tasted more things than man dares dream.
ENGINEER #1: You know, it’s a shame Mr. Commission had to die. He got a lot more interesting toward the end.
ENGINEER #57: Yeah, he wasn’t so bad once you got to know him.
SERAGLIO: Silence! We must obliterate the Queen before this automized epidemic can claim any more victims.
ENGINEER #1: Well, aren’t we an Adventure Ranger?
SERAGLIO: You may mock me, if you wish, but first, let us attend to the obliteration.
ENGINEER #57: Okay, so where would this Pandora be?
SERAGLIO: If she is truly their Queen, then we will find her where these fatal contraptions are thickest.
ENGINEER #1: So you’re suggesting that we just hack our way back and forth until we find her.
ENGINEER #1: With what? We only had one weapon, and you broke it.
MR. COMMISSION, still lying face-down, extends his arm and gropes for SERAGLIO’s attention.
MR. COMMISSION: A room with a blue door. Down the hall…to the left. Limited edition accessories are there…intended for promotional cereal-box giveaway…
SERAGLIO: I thank you. You have been an incredibly helpful opponent.
MR. COMMISSION: You are going to face the Queen? I know nothing beyond my life, but…you will fail. The Queen’s fate lies in creation, not destruction. They are unstoppable. Minimally Invasive Toys: built to endure…beyond the next playtime.
MR. COMMISSION collapses again, this time for good.
ENGINEER #57: Shall we go, then?
ENGINEER #1: Yeah. This is starting to sound fun. But…as the late great Number Twenty-Four would say, everybody be on your “toes,” alright?
ENGINEER #1 taps his nose meaningfully, and the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO rush offstage. The orchestra adds several layers of flourish as other ENGINEERS carry a large, sinister-looking device onto the stage. A white sheet unrolls from the top, transforming it into a movie screen, spanning nearly the entire set from left to right. As the orchestra oozes out a chime-heavy instrumental rendition of “Of Blue Skies And Birdsong,” a hypnotic hand-animated cartoon begins projecting onto the screen. It begins with a ticking clock, the numbers on which randomly change position every frame. As the “camera” zooms out, the second hand retains its size relative to the screen, until the original clock is contained within the trunk of the second hand. Next to the clock, a pumping heart can be seen. The second hand casts a long shadow that seems to splice the heart in half, and the pumping grows faster with each tick. Finally, the looming second hand comes down on the heart and squashes it. A pool of blood spreads from the burst heart, but then is sucked back inward. The “camera” zooms out again to show the figure of a female Atlas, the continents visible through the thin, veined skin of her belly. She stands, sipping coffee from a mug decorated with an “I,” then a heart icon, then the word “Mug.” A rock flies out from the other side of the screen, who knows why, and hits her in the back of the head, causing her to drop to her knees, where she transforms into a locked box. The second hand rises into the air, dripping blood, and, morphing into a key, unlocks the box. A jack-in-the-box with a cat’s head pops out and lunges for the “camera.” As it comes nearer, its eye becomes apparent as a clock with changing numbers, which soon fills the screen, starting the loop again. The film loops through several times as TOYS, including PANDORA, file in and watch, each adding her voice to the song with quiet ooh’s.