Treason introduced herself and Ubiquarian and asked & if he could spare a few minutes. & nodded and led them along a corridor to an office which the occupants left without any fuss. Ubiquarian was struck by the cheery detachment and unfazed bemusement towards himself and Treason from the punctuation marks they’d so far seen. He’d expected something more deferential and immediately berated himself for doing so: this was precisely the school of thought he’d come here to overcome.
‘So? What can I do for you?’ asked &.
They both answered together, paused, laughed and Treason demurred to Ubiquarian.
‘We’re visiting sections of Wordsdrow we haven’t been to before. We’re aware of the insularity which words can be prone to and we’d like to change that. There must be areas where we can all – words, numbers, punctuation marks and limbo words – help each other, work together.’
‘Straight from central casting,’ & mumbled and smiled at the frown which flitted across Treason’s face. ‘Forgive me, I’ve heard this sort of stuff before and I shouldn’t rush to judgement but we've had lots of visits from words. Let's just say that not all of them have been for the right reasons.’
‘You’re talking about the likes of Fetish, I presume’ said Treason, rolling her eyes.
‘Ah, his little peccadilloes are common currency among you guys then. Mind you, with a name like that, he’s hardly likely to be otherwise. Anyway, I’d hazard a guess that you two aren’t cut from the same cloth as him. Were you, by any chance, directed to me?’
‘Rebel, among others, speaks highly of you but our visit here was a spontaneous decision. We didn’t really ask around.’
‘Whatever. We’re here now so let’s see what we can do. It’s good to know that I’m on Rebel’s radar as he’s one of the more enlightened words that I’ve met. I despair of the barriers between the various groups – words, punctuation, numbers, would-be words – but there are also other categories who suffer. The disdain heaped upon slang words and the snobbery of capital letters towards their lower-case equivalents also needs to be addressed and eradicated and the sooner the better.’
‘Agreed,’ sighed Ubiquarian. ‘We know that slang words aren’t allowed into the official word blocks and it doesn’t reflect well on us that they have to resort to running street stalls and distributing free newspapers and the like in order to survive. The thing is that attitudes like that and upper/lower case snobbery is hardly likely to disappear completely. I don’t mean to sound condescending but how are you so aware of all this?’
‘You mean how’s an insignificant punctuation mark like me aware of all this?’ & paused for a moment and then smiled. ‘Look, I’m not sure how much you know about us marks but we have got form as the irreverent type. It probably comes from being patronised and ignored but there’s a rich history of dissension here. Back in the 60s – when the Situationist movement was alive – we had punctuationists here but I’m sure you know about that. You words are clued up on history, especially the history of Wordsdrow.’
Treason and Ubiquarian looked at each other bashfully and Ubiquarian said: ‘Er, not quite as clued up as you assume. Go on.’
‘Well, the punctuationists tried to subvert normal grammatical rules. They were anarchic and even found support among some words. It was before my time but Paragraph became, de facto, one of the leaders of the movement. Paragraph has always claimed that he doesn’t see himself as either a word or a piece of punctuation and oscillates between the two worlds, not that there should be strict demarcation between them anyway…but I digress. You should look up some of the stories about how ; and : embraced the punctuationist ideals and tried to cause confusion by swapping roles. Very funny.
‘And then there was the mid-70s and the advent of punk rock. The name was too good an opportunity so a few punc rock bands emerged here who embraced the do-it-yourself ethos of punk. . (or Full Stop) was the best of these bands. If you’re interested in an amusingly glib music statement, I’d recommend their Never Mind the Commas, Here’s Full Stop album. But I digress again: you ask about my knowledge of all things wordy. Well, I'm part of a working group which straddles all the various factions of Wordsdrow and our aim is to raise awareness of each other and all that sort of commendable stuff. Loads of words, numbers, marks, etc. pay lip service towards us all being more collaborative but, in general, it doesn’t go much beyond that.
‘Inclusive was the main protagonist behind taking it a bit further and establishing a more – I guess the word is inclusive – a more inclusive environment here. At the moment, there’s a dozen or so of us but we’re always on the look-out for new recruits. Rebel mentioned a couple of words who he thought might be on board and it’s kinda providential that you two are here as you may be able to help.’
‘Us two specifically or are you just looking for any words to help you?’
‘To be honest, I would’ve asked any words….any words who seem above board and tolerant, that is.’ & smiled mischeviously. ‘Do you two match that description?’
‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ said &. ‘Want to hear more? It’s a simple bit of sleuthing or, more prosaically, I just want to speak to one word in particular.’
Treason nodded. ‘Sure, go ahead.’
‘OK, here’s the deal. Rebel spoke of a guy called Crusade who’s been to meetings held by some of the, shall we say, more recalcitrant occupants of the OED. It sounds like this guy is a seasoned campaigner and could be a useful addition to our campaign although Rebel hinted that he might have ulterior motives for attending their meetings…cherchez la femme, apparently. Anyway, I went to the C-block the other day but couldn’t find him and, to be honest, I wasn’t made to feel welcome. I know you two don’t have any obvious connection with C-block – or so I assume from your names – but you’d be better received there than I was and you could direct him towards me or me to him. What? What’s so funny?’
‘Oh, it’s a long story,’ said Ubiquarian as he turned to Treason. ‘This isn’t something you’re in on, is it?’
‘What on earth do you mean by that?’ she replied, indignantly. ‘Why would I? Really, Cru…er, look, it’s nothing to do with me.’
& looked from one to the other and shook his head. ‘I’ve no idea what either of you are on about. Can I ask you to put me in touch with this Crusade guy?’
‘We won’t have to search for long,’ said Ubiquarian. ‘Can I have a word with Treason, please? Alone.’
‘Sure. Sort out whatever you have to sort out. I’ll be outside.’
When he left, Treason sat back in her chair, folded her arms, cocked her head to one side and pursed her lips. The silence crept past five seconds, ten seconds but she remained motionless and mute.
‘OK. I’ve got it wrong again, haven’t I? I’m sorry but you must admit it was a hell of a coincidence, Treason…him asking about me, that is.’
‘Yes, it was. Of course it was. It’s just that…oh, I don’t know. I’m not trying to make a big thing out of this, OK? Let’s move on. I…’
‘You don’t like anybody making presumptions about you. Is that what you’re implying?’
‘It’s probably something along those lines but I’m not trying to get all precious about myself, OK? OK? Good, let’s just move on.’
‘Shall I tell & who I am and see what he wants us, er, see what he wants me to do?’
‘I’m happy with the “us” bit,’ she said with a smile and gestured towards the door. ‘OK, let’s get the ampersand who wants to leave his mark on the world back, shall we?’
Ubiquarian walked to the door and poked his head outside. ‘Er, I’m sorry about all that. We just had to clarify something. Can you join us again?’
& returned to the room, grinning. ‘You words…always with the melodrama and intrigue. So?’
Treason nodded. ‘I think Ubiqua…I think my friend here has something to tell you, &.’
&’s eyes darted from Treason to Ubiquarian, a bemused smile creeping across his face.
‘The thing is that I’m…’ Ubiquarian hesitated and then cleared his throat. ‘The thing is that I’m actually Crusade. Or I was. Before I became…’
‘Ah, you had an identity change. Fine, I’m cool with that. No doubt you had your reasons and as long as they’re legit, so what?’
‘Wow! You wouldn’t get away with such flippancy in our community,’ said Treason. ‘We take the whole issue of names pretty seriously. I take it you’re aware of the concept of nominative determinism?’
‘Yes, always struck me as very restrictive that but I get the impression that it’s a restriction which a lot of words are only too happy with. Some of the ones I’ve met seem to be, anyway. My friend, Rebel, makes me chuckle. His take is that if he was fully on board with the idea, rebelling against his name would actually turn him into a conservative. I like that sort of irreverence.’
‘We were talking about him on our way here,’ said Ubiquarian. ‘You’re right, it shouldn’t be slavishly adhered to but there is an element of, how can I put it, keeping your end up…if you see what I mean.’
‘I ‘spose,’ shrugged &. ‘Anyway, it’d be pretty difficult for the likes of me to live within those confines. I mean, what would an ampersand do all day long? Link people together? Walk around repeating “and and and”? Not for me and I shouldn’t think any of my colleagues would like the idea either. Can you imagine what would be expected of !? He’d be forever exclaiming and it’d be particularly awful for him as he’s such a sanguine guy although the mark with most to lose would be “. She would be expected to recite other people’s quotes interminably, leave sentences unfinished and never get to say anything for herself. No, nominative determinism would be most unwelcome around here.’
Treason giggled. She hadn’t expected this from & and she compared his refreshing flippancy with the po-faced attitude of many of her own colleagues. She turned to Ubiquarian: ‘While we’re on the subject, is it OK if I call you Crusade? I prefer the name and, besides, it’s how I still…’
Her words trailed away as she saw his deflated look…Oh, these fragile male egos, she thought. ‘No, it’s OK. I’ll stick with Ubiquarian, if you’d prefer that. It’s a good name.’
‘As is Crusade,’ added &. ‘So, what’s it going to be? Are you Ubiquarian or Crusade or does it matter?’
‘I’m fine with either,’ Ubiquarian replied. ‘Like you said, it shouldn’t really matter.’
‘But you’ll have to settle on one or the other. Don’t you agree, Treason?’
She held her hands up defensively. ‘It’s up to him, I guess, but if it was me…’
‘OK, OK,’ Ubiquarian interrupted her. ‘I’ll revert to Crusade again if that’s what everybody wants.’
Treason nodded. She was pleased that Ubiquarian/Crusade’s sulky defensiveness had been cast aside and when & said that he had some work to do, Treason and Crusade left and returned to their respective rooms in the C and T blocks. Crusade contacted his colleagues and apologised for causing alarm over his disappearance. The response to his return was an amalgam of relief tempered by disquiet over his motives, something which he refrained from explaining in too much detail.
He retired to his room. Had he tried to explain his disappearance as unrequited love, the response would be one of muted sympathy but the identity change would be seen as a dereliction of duty. If he gave self-preservation or concerns over his safety as the reason, he would most likely be admonished for not confiding in his friends and colleagues. It was best that he keep his own counsel. Besides, he would struggle to accurately articulate his reasoning. As for what he would do next, much depended on Treason.