...And I'm the Star!
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The odd, tiger-colored, water-act-ruining spectacle was helped down into a seat at one end of a table in the Ringmaster's Tent. He twitched a couple of times, trying to find a position that didn't make it painful to sit. He settled on tilting himself to lean heavily on his left elbow. He was wincing and covered in bandages (in many multiple colors). A muscular man entered and sat down opposite him, looking pensively at the sore, sorry sight trying its best to look presentable in tattered attire. Eventually, the helpers had backed off from the altogether unsightly figure and competed over who had picked the most piranha teeth out of the guy.

The muscly man rolled his shoulders and entered an inquisitive, formal stance in his seat. "Any statements you'd like to make before we begin?"

"Two. You look odd."

"I get that a lot."

"I mean, I've seen a lot of weird people — where I come from, weird is normal! Or, no, sorry, where I come from normal is normal, where I went after that weird is normal, and now I'm kind of in a new place where I'm unsure what's weird and not. Still, I've never seen weird like you." The tiger-pallet-toting man attempted to interlock his shaking fingers, but each time he did his whole body jolted and his hands pulled away from each other. Eventually, he let his shaking arms rest on the table, convulsing a couple times before finding a position that didn't make his body stab with pain. "Do you see the whole world upside-down?"

"No."

"That's good to know. That would be disorienting. That would be real unfortunate, but then again, if you've always been like that then how would you know if you saw everything upside-down? It would be your normal. Heh, there's that word again! Normal. I have a weird relationship with normal. It's never really sat well with me. Heh, heheh, okay, I'm sorry, now I'm getting weird. Or, was I already? Still, sorry, I'll shut up about it."

"Okay, now —"

"Wait! You said two state — sorry, you said 'any statements' and I said 'two'. Got confused there. Regardless, I'm sorry, I have a second statement. Can I say it?"

"Go ahead."

"Okay, this one's a bit long. Hi! I'm, uh, okay, I really liked your show! I mean, I didn't really get to see a lot of it, but it sure left it's mark! Ha, heh, heheh, okay, sorry, but really! I saw you guys when I was really little and I never forgot it. I love you guys. I almost didn't know if you were real. Sorry! I landed in your tank! It was — it's just — I forgot to carry a two, and passing through dimensional borders, no matter how 'pocket' they are, is really tough and I haven't had much practice, so I thought I was just going to plop down and make my entrance backstage — ha! Like, that wouldn't work, you can't make an entrance backstage! You enter from backstage, that would've been…

"Stupid, okay, I digress, thank you for saving me! I know you guys don't always… do that. I think, at least, from what I've heard, not like it deterred me! I like you guys… a lot… okay, so, could you please send my apologies to that mermaid lady? She was really pretty, tell her she's pretty for me, could you do that? I'm sure she gets that a lot, uh, maybe don't say that. I might tell her myself. Actually scratch the apology thing too, I'll say sorry when I see her. She'll probably slap me… I think girls slap guys, right? I've seen it happen. On television. Maybe I shouldn't get all my lessons on television. I'm rambling! I tend to do that —

"Oh! Yeah! I. I am… Smarty Marty! Uh, ta-dah! I've been a… a fan of you guys for a very long time — crepe, I don't know how long you guys live, I might have, uh, for me it's a long time, I saw you when I was real little and now I'm… thirty… something. Isn't that weird? I've just, I haven't kept track of birthdays for a long time. I… I don't like them. I digress! Again! I, uh, you must be wondering about me! 'Who is this guy and why is he rambling at me?' Ha! Haha, heheh, heheheh, okay, uh, I'm Smarty Marty Simmons, or just Smarty, or Marty, but you can call me Marty Simmons — other way around… there were three terms, not other way around, but you get it! I worked at Wondertainment, and I didn't like it there, so here I am! I just, uh, I told them sayonara! and took my stuff — er, no I didn't, I just left. Then and there. I was done with their bull, bull, uh, bull honky, and I wanted out, and I didn't know where to go — except I did, and it was the circus, and here I am! I've always loved face paint and theatrics, so I thought I'd… I thought, uh, I'd thought I fit right in, but maybe I'm wrong… I'll…"

He broke from his broken flailing (clearly there was supposed to be more physical emphasis throughout his impromptu speech, but every time he tried his eyes widened and he went back to his previous position) and looked around the room, making sure not to bend his neck in any way that would send him into spasms. "I'll, uh, I'll shut up is what I'll do. I talk a lot. I should stop that."

Manny glowered at the ambitious young soul, waiting patiently to make sure he was definitely entirely completely done with his speech. Once that was clear, he straightened up and breathed deep to prepare for his speech.

"Wait!"

All Manny could do was look at him.

"Uh, you said statements, not questions — I'll make it short. Look, do you guys have a stress ball anywhere? I just, I think better when I have a stress ball in one hand, and uh, well it relieves stress, you know? Haha, okay, yeah. That would be nice, if you could." He cleared his throat, and looked to see that no one was going anywhere to fetch him any sort of anything. "Okay, okay yeah, I'm uh, I'm done. Please, talk away."

Manny took his second deep breath, held it for just a second to make absolutely, positively, one hundred percent sure that Marty wasn't going to talk again… and then he spoke. "From Wondertainment, you say? Anything you worked on?"

"Um… no… I, no, unfortunately. I grew up in Wonder World! Tee emm and my momma supported me so I was admittedly a lazy bum and never figured out why I should get a job until she, uh…" The man shook a little harder for just a second or two. "She passed. She was beautiful. Best mom I or anyone else could have ever hoped for. Raised me right! Heh, for the most part. I might have been the teensiest bit spoiled…

"But anyways! She died and I couldn't couch surf for long before people got tired of me mooching off of them, so I looked up at that big tower and thought 'Alright Marty! You're gonna go in there and get a gosh darn job!' And uh, I did. I had a pretty plentiful portfolio and they couldn't not accept me. So I got in as a Toy Tinker — er, that is to say that I got into the Toy Creation Department." His breath got a bit more staggered now, and his right hand squeezed into fists in and out. "What made me leave was… on our first — my first, sorry. On my first, at? At my first toy idea presentation thingy I was accused of stealing somebody else's idea… it was this big dude, uh, big name in the department."

The fellow sat up, visibly paining at the motion but unwilling to back away from his more serious stance. "This guy was my idol. He was what made me want to be in Wondertainment's arms in the first place. My everything. My… my star. I mean, I took my nickname from him — his name was Brainy. Brainy Brian." He pursed his lips and squeezed his eyes as if the name was difficult to say out loud. It was something akin to somebody mourning over the loss of an ex-lover, or a child realizing he would never be able to attain his dream of being an astronaut. "Brainy Brian Harding. I thought he was perfect. But he sat up, he sat up at the end of my presentation and said I was a phony. Said that I had blatantly stolen his idea, and I…

"I had gotten a standing ovation for mine! I was clearly working, I was working my way into this world and this amazing community of friends and fellows and he just stands up and calls my, pardon if I sound like I'm bragging, but my spectacular first toy… the Grow-N-Know Piano Plant. He calls it a piracy. And he's… been around them so long that they couldn't… they all believed him! They didn't reprimand him at all, I saw him with his smug smiles that he hid behind their backs in his sideways glances at me and, and, and I couldn't take it! They punished me and sent him away on paid vacation due to an outbreak he had in the meeting… paid vacation. Paid vacation while I got dirt and a stern talking to. I wasn't having it. I, uh… Oh jeez, this sounds bad. I'm not usually a quitter! But I quit. Heh, I'm not usually a starter either, but I started, so that's a… start…

"But hey, I put my foot down, and I quit and stormed out and I laid my foot down — I already said that, but that just speaks volumes to the amount of confidence I did it with! I really put my foot down. That I did. Anyways, uh, I walked out and cried my little heart out and then I opened a portal, trying to go back to somewhere I knew and start over. It was a bit impulsive, but uh, I heard you guys like impulse here. Impulse and gut feelings. I didn't make the most flattering entrance, but I know you'll love me! I've always wanted to perform, I always wanted to be on stage and see the audience dance and wave and hoot and holler and yell and scream and… and… love me. Love me like no one person can, but exactly like a whole crowd could. In my emotional state I made a miscalculation, but that doesn't happen often with me. I'm, uh, I'm a math geek, I'm pretty good with it."

Manny looked questioningly at Smarty Marty, scanning him up and down for any signs of wavering, feeling the internals and externals. Something felt fuzzy and unclear, like an object in his peripheral vision. The entire explanation looked like it had physically taxed the man, but to be fair just sitting up at that moment looked physically taxing. Still, Manny noted a hint of wet in Marty's eyes. Marty would have wiped it off if only he had the ability to effectively raise either of his arms.

"And you want to perform?"

"Yeah! Yes! Yes I do! I would love to, I wanna see the bright stage lights and dance and sing and amaze and —"

Manny raised his hand to try and silence Smarty Marty, who stopped in his tracks and sunk slightly in embarrassment.

"So you want to perform. Do you have any abilities?"

"Yeah, I'm uh, I can make things — I'm a fast wit, I'm uh, I'm a social guy, I'm… good with kids. I am! I really am."

"You're not a Freak, are you?"

"A what? Well I would certainly hope not! I'm normal, I'm — no, I'm not, I, oh we've already had this talk. I'm absolutely positively not a freak, jeezums! What would… what would give you that impression? Oh gosh, do I really come off like a freak? Oh I'm so —"

"Oh, stop it with that. We're talking about Freaks, capital F. When we're looking for acts, we're looking for Freaks. We've got magicians, mermaids, conjoined twins with a comedy routine, an armless guy that juggles, we've got Clowns galore with all types of horrific and amazing features. You seem like an average Joe. We don't look for average Joes around here."

"An average —? Clearly I am versed in the odd and the — okay first I'm so sorry for misinterpreting freak, that was my bad, but come now! I broke a dimensional barrier, I've made toys for Wondertainment. Or, sorry, no, I tried to. Still, I was a Toy Tinker for a month there… I'm not an 'average Joe' I assure you! I can be amazing, audacious, Wondrous with a capital W, I swear it! I swear it with all my heart and might that I'm no… no… I'm no Joe six-pack I swear!"

Marty shook even more than he was before, wincing at the stinging his muscle tension caused. Manny looked disapprovingly at him. Marty wasn't a freak in any sense of the word, other than being unable to clearly and concisely communicate anything. However, one thing was clear and concisely communicated about him: he was extraordinarily motivated, and the circus adored "extraordinary". Marty looked desperately for a response from Manny, breathing in a way to suggest that he was about to speak but stopping himself each time.

"You have three options. By the time you come out of intensive care, have an act idea ready. If the Ringmaster and I like it, you have another week to practice it and then show it off to us. If we like it then, you'll have a place on stage. If at either point you disappoint us, we send you back."

"Second option?"

"I'm not one to refuse an eager worker. If you want to be here that bad, I'll give you an in. You do the dirty work. Cleaning up, unclogging the toilets, milking the Clowns, you name it. All the menial labor, I'll keep you around as long as you do it. That's your second option. Your third one is to leave now, go back to Wonder World and —"

"Wonder World! Tee emm, you mean."

"— you can keep doing the things you were doing there. Bumming around and getting a job and whatever."

"Four options."

"Hmm?"

"There are four options. You missed one."

"Oh did I."

"You did. Let me propose a fourth option. I do your menial labor, sure. I can do that. I'm a motivated worker, most of the time, and I don't mind getting my hands dirty. Anymore, anyways. So I do that, I'll do it for free even, but I bet that I have a talent you're in need of."

Manny raised (or lowered) his eyebrows at the sudden bold gesture from this altogether frail and pitiful try-hard. Staring into Marty's eyes, he gestured to prompt a continuation. This was an interesting move, he might not fully realize just how little power he held at this moment.

"Alright, so, sure, I was in a lot of pain, but being carried out gave me a good view of your circus, and I'm just noticing something. You're a circus, and you don't, uh, you don't have a lot of rides. I mean, okay, you have some. They're kind of… Oh please forgive me if this sounds like an insult to your ride… designers, but they're uh, they're bland! Have you noticed that? I mean, think about it. You're at the forefront of entertainment, but acts are one-time things. You can only do them so many times, rides sit there and are ready for use whenever. You have to prepare for acts. And yet, you're all odd and crazy and you have such normal… such normal rides! You might expect them at your local fair! Like a, like a, like you just… bought…

"Okay I'm getting carried away, I don't want to insult you, but I can make you rides. Heheh, heheheh, I can make you rides! I can make you rides that will have your MC&D, or your SCP, or heck, your GOC lining up for fancy free fun. Rides that tower and yet are portable. Rides that send you on trips through the whole circus, or the multiverse, or your own friggin' head. I can make people switch bodies, even! I'm a, I'm a, or I will be a ride-making machine! I'd do menial labor in the meantime and spend late nights designing and building rides. I'll make rides. I can make you them. How's that sound?"

Manny considered. In just the last week (only based on their clocks, days in the circus were variable) they had been forced to decommission a sky-high drop tower. It shot patrons up into the stratosphere, but it was ever so slightly inaccurate and they were forced to build a giant trampoline for it. It was quite the attraction. People weren't told that they were going to be blown off course and the extra thrill was exhilarating for first-time patrons. However, the trampoline was just one of those things that worked forever until it decided not to, and at that point they had a very disquieting trampoline-shaped mess to clean up. Ever since they lost Charley, the ride market they had was very low quality. The best they had was the Fun-lovers' Funhouse, but their domain wasn't quite a ride. At the very least it was a different experience. Shifting his attention back, the two each made eye contact and Smarty Marty gave a weak yet eager smile.

"Ten days. You have ten days to make a schematic of a ride, and if it's not transportable, efficient, or most importantly fun, then you don't get to ask again. In the meantime, you're our janitor." Manny extended his right hand. "Deal?"

Marty frowned. "I'd shake your hand if I could, but I'm uh, it's hard. But yes, deal! Deal definitely deal. For certain. I won't disappoint you, I swear it! Just uh, just pretend like I shook your hand. We'll shake on it properly later. Deal?"

Manny retracted his hand, and smirked. He was getting the hang of this rascal's personality, and suddenly he found him lightly charming. Lightening up, he leaned back in his chair, and nodded at Smarty.

"Deal."

"Yay! Yes, yes, yes ow, ow ow, ouch oh gods, too excited. Too excited! If there is such a thing! Heheh, okay, sorry, uh, can I have, can I get… I'm in need of more than some band-aids, I, can I, uh, an infirmary? 'Intensive care', I think you said? I need that. Can I go there? Please?"

Manny looked over at the stage hands, one of whom was begrudgingly handing over some scrip to the other due to a lack of piranha teeth, and whistled. They looked up, and came over to Smarty, picking up the stretcher they had put down earlier. They helped him onto it as he made grunts and moans of pain and grumbled out some strained gratitude. Icky sauntered into the tent, glaring at Smarty who flinched at her accusatory gaze (or maybe it was a stray tooth that they missed and was poking into his back). Manny went back to his professional demeanor, or at least became more solidly grounded in it, and prepared to explain the situation to an understandably angry Ringmaster, but first…

"Marty? I forgot one thing."

"Oh?"

"Lose the Smartie part. We have too many people named after candy."



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