Having started on a fanfic kick, I suddenly thought of an actual crossover story. Well, sort of...
Inside Ruby (and Out)
Ruby-Disgust did not like the current situation. She couldn’t exactly be angry or sad, because those jobs belonged to Ruby-Anger and Ruby-Sadness, but she … did not believe that events on the Outside were being handled correctly. After all, if Ruby failed to respond to disgusting things correctly, she would be in grave danger.
Right now, Ruby-Joy was in control, standing at the console, calling up skills. Through the big picture windows, Ruby-Disgust could see Business Island pulsing with power, still visibly expanding; Education Island, once a neat, closed, tidy place, had become an open box, spilling energy into the system. Ruby-Joy was smiling dreamily as she worked; worse, Ruby-Anger and Ruby-Fear both seemed to be cool with this, standing on either side of Ruby-Joy at the console. Occasionally, Ruby-Fear would speak up to restrain Ruby-Joy from pursuing an over-ambitious scheme, or Ruby-Anger would growl as Ruby was obliged to wade through some boring heap of business regulations, but really, they were… They were enabling this nonsense!
Ruby Disgust stepped forward, peering over Ruby-Joy’s shoulder at the viewscreen. What she saw made her wince. “So this is what it’s come to,” she said. “Ruby is making money from pornography! She should be ashamed of herself. I can see to that, if you like.”
“Oh, don’t be a prude.” Ruby-Joy barely spared Ruby-Disgust a glance. “It’s not pornography, it’s erotica. We’ve talked about this.”
“Yes. It’s all quite … quite respectable, really.” Ruby-Fear interjected. She sounded nervous, and Ruby-Disgust wondered if she might be persuaded to change sides. But Ruby-Fear had always been about uncertainty. That had made her strong, once, but now it made her a poor ally.
Ruby-Disgust glared at Ruby-Joy. You think you’ve won,” she thought, you with the designer jeans and iPad business apps. But I remember you when you were a skinny thing who knew her place and only spoke when we let you.
But Ruby-Disgust gave up for the moment, and turned away to watch Ruby-Sadness at work, sorting through old memories, even adding a touch of colour to one or two of them. You used to be strong! Ruby-Disgust raged silently. I used to respect you!
In fact, Ruby-Sadness had once seemed like the really dangerous member of the team. There had been a period of a few weeks, seven years ago, when she had run the show. Ruby’s world had nearly collapsed, and Ruby-Sadness had taken charge – and Ruby-Disgust had played a part in setting that up. But it had become obvious to everyone on the team that the arrangement wasn’t working. Ruby could have been destroyed entirely if her Sadness tried to run everything. The Manual actually had warnings about that, if you checked. Sadness could be strong, but she couldn’t motivate Ruby to do anything useful.
So the big three had stepped up and taken over. They’d made Ruby’s life work perfectly. Ruby’s Train of Thought had always run on time, Education Island had become a huge, strong, crystalline structure, and Family Island … well, most of that had been fine, with the Swamp of Amber mostly walled off in one corner and left to rot.
And it wasn’t like the big three had been unfair, or left anyone out! Ruby-Disgust and Ruby-Anger had managed Ruby’s relationships with most other people just fine, and Ruby-Fear had kept Ruby on the straight and narrow, giving her plenty of time for what was important and not disgusting. But the other two had been given their own jobs. Ruby-Sadness had been allowed to tend to her full share of memories, and even to run the console for a few minutes now and then, while Ruby-Joy, thin and pale and quiet, sometimes took charge for hours at a time, when Ruby was in the library, or receiving top marks for an essay, or just at home around her parents. Just so long as she didn’t get ideas above her station…
Ruby-Disgust crouched next to Ruby-Sadness. “Hi,” she said.
“Oh – hi,” Ruby-Sadness said, glancing up at her through her triple-size, triple-thickness glasses. The team all looked a lot like Ruby – it was something about Ruby’s high Honesty parameter, apparently – but Ruby-Sadness was a short, flabby, dumpy version, in shades of blue, and the glasses covered most of her face.
“Could you help me a moment?” Ruby-Disgust asked. “I want to pull up a set of memories.”
“Some stuff about Dillon. The early interactions.”
“Oh, sure. That’s easy. Though I haven’t done much with those myself.” Ruby-Sadness waved at a control, and within seconds, a whole set of memory orbs came rattling down the chute. Ruby-Disgust contemplated the oldest of all. She’d been so strong then! She and the other two of the big three had managed this horrible, stupid move to Montreal perfectly, she thought! And those ghastly men had given her a perfect opportunity to take charge – hadn’t they?
Ruby-Disgust looked at the memory orb, hoping to discover what had gone wrong. But… No, that wasn’t right. She’d coloured that whole experience; the orb should have positively glowed green. Instead…
“Joy!” Ruby-Disgust yelled, “Come here!”
Ruby-Joy glanced around, saw that Ruby-Disgust was beckoning furiously, and locked Ruby onto autopilot. Then she came scurrying across the control room, beaming her aggravating smile. “What is it?” she asked politely.
“This orb!” Ruby-Disgust held the offending memory up. “Have you been viewing it?”
“Oh, Dillon and Jerzy – The First Time? Uh, yes.” Ruby-Joy at least had the grace to blush. “I took a look at it the other day while Ruby was daydreaming on the bus. What about it?”
“What about it? You left your sticky fingerprints all over it!” Ruby-Disgust held the orb resting on her fingertips, glaring at the smudges of bright yellow all over its surface.
“Oh. Sorry.” Ruby-Joy gave a more conciliatory smile this time. “But you have to admit, thinking back, they do have rather cute…”
“They’re not cute!” Ruby-Disgust yelled.
“Gluteus maximus!” Ruby-Fear squawked on reflex at almost the same moment.
“Gluteus maximus,” Ruby-Joy agreed, her smile becoming dreamy.
“That’s disgusting,” Ruby-Disgust snapped. “You’re disgusting.”
“You really must learn to prioritise,” said Ruby-Joy cheerfully, turning back to the console. “It’s something we’re well set up for here, after all. It’s one of Ruby’s skills. Talking of which…” She touched a switch on the console, and Ruby dropped out of her spreadsheet fugue and began shutting her laptop down. “…That’s enough work for the day. Ruby has a date in…”
“Half an hour!” squawked Ruby-Fear. “She’ll be late! Andy will be annoyed!”
“Especially with the evening traffic,” Ruby-Anger snarled.
“That’s another thing,” said Ruby-Disgust. “Since when did we care what Andy thought?”
“Ruby mustn’t upset people,” said Ruby-Fear in a flat monotone.
“They won’t like her,” agreed Ruby-Sadness in the same tone. It was an old routine, going back to Ruby’s childhood, but Ruby-Disgust had never found it annoying before – not before Montreal, anyway.
Actually, Andy wasn’t annoyed, or at least he didn’t show it, even though Ruby was almost a full five minutes late to the restaurant, and Ruby-Joy had to spend several minutes talking Ruby-Fear out of a blind panic. This gave Ruby-Disgust a chance to step in and take charge of ordering Ruby’s food, so she went for the blandest and most economical thing she could find on the menu – but then Ruby-Joy came back, changed the order, asked for a glass of quite expensive wine, and snapped Ruby back onto autopilot while Andy talked about his job. The team weren’t sure if that was rude, but they’d agreed that it was safer than trying to run things actively until they’d got the hang of small talk between them. It wasn’t a skill that Ruby had ever had to learn before.
Ruby-Joy took control again when Andy asked about her work, though, and kept Ruby talking about her yaoi club for fifteen minutes solidly, despite Ruby-Fear telling her that she was boring him and Ruby-Disgust alleging that he was looking at Ruby’s breasts. Then Ruby-Joy became momentarily distracted by Ruby-Fear slumping to the floor at her feet, whimpering, and Ruby-Disgust and Ruby-Anger leapt in and took over the controls.
“Wow,” said Andy, “it sounds like your work is going really well.”
“The club is going fine,” Ruby replied. “But that’s not really my job, I’m afraid. At least, it’s not making money yet. My job is being PA to Dillon and … and Amber.”
“That must be really interesting,” Andy said.
“Dillon’s fine. But Amber… Oh, she’s hopeless!”
“What’s the problem?” Andy asked.
Ruby took a deep breath and a sip of wine. “She’s hopeless!” she repeated. “I know that looking after her is my job – well, half my job – but I don’t know how she ever managed without me. I have to micromanage her diary!”
“More than Dillon’s?” Andy asked artlessly.
“Uh… Yes! It’s not just her work and her hair appointments! I have to keep track of her dates with… With Ray. Bad enough that she spends all her free time with him – oh, the racket they make, too! – but I have to run her diary, which means keeping track of his too, and he… he…”
Andy frowned. “You don’t think he’s right for her?” he ventured.
“What? No, that’s not what I mean! He’s okay, really. He could certainly do better than Amber. I know for a fact that he could!”
The team were all clustered around the console now, watching Andy on the viewscreen. “I don’t think he understands,” said Ruby-Sadness. “He looks sad.”
“No, he never understands,” Ruby-Anger agreed.
“No judgement,” sneered Ruby-Disgust. “He’s clueless. Remind me again why we bother with him?”
The team all looked at each other, frowning. “At the start, it would have been embarrassing to turn him down,” said Ruby-Fear, crossing her arms and shivering. “People don’t like people who are rude.”
“But why do we still bother with him?” Ruby-Disgust asked. “We could have talked Ruby’s way out of this by now.”
The other four all stared at Ruby-Joy, who grinned nervously. “Well,” she said, “he is sort of cute…”
“Oh, good grief,” Ruby-Disgust said, throwing her hands up. “Just because he has a nice gluteus maximus, we not only have to put up with all this nonsense – we have a whole new island growing out there!” She waved at the picture windows. “Romance Island!” she sneered. “It’ll soon be bigger than Family Island at this rate! And after we spent years keeping that nonsense under control.”
“And I’m not sure it’s actually Romance Island,” said Ruby-Fear. “It looks kind of wild and, and primitive. And it’s right next to Yaoi Island…”
“Which was bad enough!” interjected Ruby-Disgust. “The way it suddenly… sprang up! Disgusting! I can’t bear to look at it!”
“I think there may even be a bridge forming between them,” Ruby-Fear said. “We didn’t think that Ruby could be very interested in romance, did we? So what’s changed?”
“Actually, Ruby had some dreams about romance once,” Ruby-Sadness offered. “I used to watch them. The studios did a good job.”
“Yes, but they weren’t like that place,” said Ruby-Fear. “I think Ruby is changing.” Suddenly she choked and her next words came in a rush. “I think that things may get scary soon!”
Ruby-Joy put an arm round her shoulder. Suddenly, Ruby-Disgust realised that Ruby-Joy had grown recently. At one time, she’d been noticeably shorter than Ruby-Fear; now, they were more or less equal. “It’s okay,” said Ruby-Joy gently, “we knew that the move to Montreal meant changes. Most of them have been good, haven’t they?”
“No,” muttered Ruby-Disgust – but Ruby-Sadness and Ruby-Anger had started talking to each other about the other changes and what they meant.
Then Ruby-Joy suddenly looked at the viewscreen. “Andy’s talking again!” she cried, and jumped for the controls before anyone could stop her. Ruby-Anger was just behind her, but not close enough to intervene.
“…tried talking to her?” said Andy.
“Oh, I’m sure that I can do something if I have to,” Ruby said with a sudden nervous smile. “But let’s not talk about this. It’s just my job – I can handle it. I shouldn’t go complaining to you about it.” She shrugged. “Let’s change the subject. Isn’t this pilaf delicious?”
And so their conversation meandered through cookery – on which, neither of them were experts, but they agreed that it might be good to learn more – and books and TV shows, which gave Ruby an opportunity to talk about the details of the film business which she had learned while working for Dillon and Amber. There were a number of silent moments, but neither of them seemed to mind, and at the end of the evening, Andy courteously escorted Ruby home, briefly kissed her goodnight on her doorstep, and went on his way.
“Well, that went well enough,” Ruby-Joy commented.
“Huh,” said Ruby-Disgust. She had previously tried grumbling about Andy’s kisses, but somehow that never got anywhere.
“I hope that he’s warm enough walking home,” said Ruby-Sadness. “It’s a cold evening.”
The other four looked at her. “What?” she said. “It is!”
Ruby had made her way up to her room, and was soon getting ready for bed. “You know,” Ruby-Joy said as Ruby combed her hair methodically, “we might even think about doing more with Andy. Perhaps it’s even time to create a new core memory.”
The other four stared at her. “Ohhhh….” Ruby-Fear moaned.
“You’re being disgusting!” said Ruby-Disgust. “You know what that would mean, don’t you? Getting naked! With another person!”
“Naked Andy…” Ruby-Joy murmured abstractedly.
There was a clank as a memory orb popped out of the recall chute unprompted. Ruby-Sadness glanced at it and stepped back briskly. “The swimming pool,” she muttered, “Andy in swimming trunks…”
“Disgusting!” Ruby-Disgust repeated. “We’d become as bad as Amber!”
That was usually an argument-stopping line. The team stood staring at each other for a moment, and then suddenly Ruby-Anger broke the silence. “That’s not right!” she barked, her redder-than-Ruby’s hair suddenly swirling and shedding sparks.
“I’m glad you agree…” Ruby-Disgust began.
“Why on Earth should the Witch decide how anyone else lives?” Ruby-Anger continued, her voice rising as her hair transformed into a flame. “Doing something in private, with one man, would be nobody else’s business! It wouldn’t mean turning into a porn actress!”
Ruby-Disgust was struck dumb. Even if Ruby-Anger had become a poor ally lately, this was a whole new level of betrayal.
“But – sex is scary!” Ruby-Fear said.
“Never doing anything seems a bit sad…” Ruby-Sadness muttered.
“What’s going wrong with you?” Ruby-Disgust spat, glaring alternately at each of the three who seemed to be turning against her.
The team fell silent for a moment. Then Ruby-Joy spoke up softly. “The lights are going down,” she said. “Ruby is tired. Let’s leave this for now. Maybe we should consider for a day or two.”
But the next day, none of them seemed to want to bring the subject up again. Indeed, they avoided it for several days, simply carrying on as before. Then, one afternoon, Andy surprised them all with a comment about taking things to “the next level”, and Ruby-Fear spent several hours hunched over the console, not letting any of the others even make suggestions – until Dillon and Ramona gave Ruby-Joy a chance to regain partial control.
“Let’s make a deal,” she said. “We’ll have joint control on Saturday. I think it’ll be fine, but if not – well, you can have your say. And you can call Anger in, too, if we need her.”
“And what about us?” Ruby-Disgust demanded, as Ruby-Sadness hid behind her.
“I’m sure that you’ll be providing a running commentary, Disgust dear,” Ruby-Joy said tartly. “And with any luck, the rest of us will have enough to think about… afterwards, so Sadness can take over then. Actually, the Manual says that’s traditional.”
“Wonderful,” Ruby-Disgust sighed. “Just don’t blame me when everything goes south.”
“Actually,” Ruby-Joy murmured, “if we trust Dillon and Ramona, going south is exactly what we should plan for…”
TO BE CONTINUED, ONE DAY?
Spidrift"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.