General Ling was looking over mission briefings at the Illocutionary Force’s headquarters when a messenger came in: "There is an urgent, coded message from the enclave of Echolalderáan, sir."
"Place it there on the desk, lad." General Ling unrolled the scroll and began to read.
Gnrl Lŋ. Y€4rs 4g0, y¤µ s£rv3d w/ m¥ fΛthr N th€ R3dﮞpl!c4t¡☉n W4rs. N0w h€ b€gs y0µ 2 h€lp µs N ϴµr strµggl£. ! r€gr3t th@t ¡ M n0t 4bl£ 2 pr3s3nt mΨ f4th3r’s r€qµ£st 2 y0Ʋ N p3rs¤n, bµt m¥ 4b!l¡-T 2 c0mmµn¡c8 h4s f4ll-N µndr @ttΛck & ! M 4fr4¡d mΨ m1ss¡☉n 2 p£rs0n4ll¥ brŋ y¤Ʋ 2 €ch¤lΔld£r44n h4s f4¡l3d. Th¡s !s 0µr mϴst d€sp£r8 h¤ﮞr. H€lp m£, Gnrl Lŋ. Y0µ R mΨ 0nl¥ h☉p3.
General Ling summoned C-Commando. "Assemble a team and dispatch yourselves to Echolalderáan forthwith, to determine what has transpired." "Yes, General, sir!"
Just a few minutes later, down in the Illocutionary Force stables, our intrepid heroes had gathered and were preparing to depart for Echolalderáan. C-Commando decided to take charge: "Companions, let us take my new team of invisible unicorns, Big PRO & Co.! They are, uh, here somewhere. I thought I left them tied up right here. Wait, I will locate them."
The Swadeshbuckler piped up, "It would appear that someone has moved your α, C-Commando. Ha-ha! Let us take instead the GOLDmobile! It follows your—"
Proto Baggins interrupted, "—your every magical, ontologically exacting command. We know. The problem, dear friend, is that no one can direct its movements but you. No one else can remember the ontology. Do you recall what happened when we took it to investigate the Lexicanthrope? You were battered about the head and neck with a PIE etymological dictionary, and we were all stranded until you awoke."
Max M. Quality sighed deeply, then said, "I’ll pull the donkey team around. Does anyone remember where we left our maps?"
After an ass-numbing six-hour ride (poor donkeys!), the team arrived in Echolalderáan. ("It would have been only five and a half hours had Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq a bit of bladder control," Sir ApropOH reminded everyone, bitterly, again, as they dismounted the donkeys.)
Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq ignored Sir ApropOH and charged ahead. "General Ling said the message originated at the Ministry of Phonics, so let us go there immediately and discover who has sent it. I spy the Great Obelisk of Vowels!"
The team headed out in the direction of the Great Obelisk, which rises majestically above the enclave of Echolalderáan. After realizing that there was no direct route to the Ministry of Phonics, the team spied a posh noblewoman getting into her carriage. Proto Baggins approached her and asked for directions.
"O g’deh seer! Yees, Ah cahn hehlp yoo." She continued to give Proto Baggins directions in her unusual accent. Intrigued by what he was hearing, Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq consulted the portable Spectr-O-Graph built into his sextant. He shook his head in bewilderment.
Shocked by what he found, he called over the rest of the team. "This woman seems to be using only vowels from a variety of European languages, and with almost no off-glides! Also, her speech exhibits an unusual amount of syncope," Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq exclaimed.
The kindly noblewoman overheard and replied directly to Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq, "Yees, seer. Ah yoos ohnlee th’ fahneest vohls eempohrt’d frohm Cohntneentl Yoo-rohpe! Ahnd Ah doont wehst theem!" At that point she opened her mouth to speak and a clicky sound came out before she could say anything. She snapped her mouth closed, abashed.
"M’lady," said Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq, "I think you may need to change vowel merchants. Your supply seems to have been contaminated with clicks and click by-products."
With the help of the noblewoman’s directions, the team quickly found the Ministry of Phonics. As they approached, the front door swung open, and a young maiden beckoned them to enter quickly. "¡ 4m Pr!nc€ss L£x¡€. D¡d Gnrl Lŋ s£nd y¤µ?" she enunciated carefully and vowellessly, though no one could quite make out what she was saying. Superior Whorf quickly pulled out his Dialect Decoder Ring, and began coaxing the magical ring to focus its translatory power on her unusual idiolect. She started again, with Superior Whorf’s Dialect Decoder Ring interpreting: "I am Princess Lexie. Did General Ling send you?"
The team quickly learned that Mayor White had begun impounding vowels, claiming a severe budget crisis that had resulted in a severe poverty of the stimulus. Princess Lexie’s father, Buccal Speechorgana, had been imprisoned by the Mayor for speaking up against the practice. That had been back when speaking up, out, to, or for was still relatively easy. Now the vowel crisis had gotten to the point that the locals were reduced to using a pidgin of the Dark H4x0r Wizards' "L33T SP34K", and carrier-pigeon–style abbreviations and acronyms. Those over the age of forty were having particular trouble communicating in this way.
Some of the wealthier locals had been importing vowels from foreign languages, and dropping unstressed vowels left and right. The Mayor had threatened to tax the imports, and so a black market had sprung up, offering foreign vowels of dubious quality, as the noblewoman the team had encountered earlier demonstrated. The resulting Funny Accent Syndrome had further eroded communication, and had made Echolalderáan the laughingstock of the region.
"Sadly," Princess Lexie relayed through Superior Whorf’s Dialect Decoder Ring, "some people have even debased themselves to the point of trying to learn Welsh!"
"Well," said C-Commando, wiping the trace of a tear from his cheek, "there is but one honorable thing to do: confront the Mayor. Let us proceed!" And so they set off, Princess Lexie in tow.
"Stp! Y cn’t g n thr!" shouted the Mayor’s aide unclearly. She clearly wasn’t being paid enough to afford even cheap knock-off vowels.
"Stand aside, miss! Justice shall be served!" replied C-Commando, barging into the Mayor’s office dramatically. The rest of the team followed him in, humoring his delusions of being in charge, as they always had.
"What, pray tell, is the meaning of this?" cried the Mayor.
Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq looked at his Spectr-O-Graph and then nodded to himself. "His vowels are quite normal," he said to the team. Then to the Mayor, "It must be nice to be part of the 1% of the population of Echolalderáan who can afford the luxury of native vowels. Or do you use taxpayer’s money to buy them? Or do you just steal them from your citizens?"
"Sirrah, I do not know who you think you are, but I need those vowels to carry out my ‘necessary duties’ as Mayor."
Suddenly, Semantique’s eyes began to glow and she gasped. "I am detecting fluctuations in the Mayor’s context change potential field." A look of concentration crossed her face and she elaborated, "His denotata are verging on the metaphorical!"
Mayor White looked confused, and Princess Lexie asked, through the Dialect Decoder Ring, "What on earth could that mean?"
Max M. Quality answered her, "It may mean that he is prevaricating. Let me investigate." With those words, his powerful Gricean Aura expanded, enveloping the Mayor. "Forsooth, he speaks not the whole truth."
"How do we get him to tell the truth‽" Princess Lexie asked and/or cried out.
"Leave that to me!" said The Swadeshbuckler, stepping forward and aiming his Pointy Blade of Elicitation right at the Mayor’s throat, pinning him to his seat. "Sirrah! Do you have a story or two you’d like to let us collect for our Corpus of Justice?" The Mayor nodded vigorously, and began to divulge his secrets.
In short order, Mayor White confessed that he had been faking a budget crisis to impose the vowel-impound ordinance on the people of Echolalderáan. His wife, V’Anna, worked as a hostess for a local type of entertainment known as a "Gaimsh O", and had been hoarding unused vowels for years. Mayor White had been selling them to the Dökkálfar Conlang Mafia, who needed more and more vowels all the time and didn’t ask where any particular supply came from. In the last few months, the supply had dried up, but those Old Norse-speaking dark elves weren’t the kind of beings that would take nei for an answer, so he had to get more.
"I have heard rumors that a sorceress called the Scarlet WHich has been manipulating linguistic markets and is ultimately behind all the recent vowel movements," confessed the Mayor, as The Swadeshbuckler captured everything on his trusty DAT recorder, to be transcribed (with interlineal glosses), and eventually turned over to the authorities.
As the Echolalderáanian Grammar Police hauled Mayor White and V’Anna off to jail, the Mayor looked at C-Commando and the rest of the team, and declaimed, "Argh! And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling linguists!"
Within hours, Buccal Speechorgana was released and reunited with Princess Lexie, the Mayor’s Vowel Stockpile was opened to the people of Echolalderáan, and their speech began to return to normal. In no time, the Illocutionary Force was back on their donkeys, heading back to headquarters, wondering when they might run into the Scarlet WHich again.
Unfortunately, Prof. P!γαʂɮɜq got a "Bladder Buster" 256-ounce flask of softdrink/coke/pop/soda/fizzy drink from Echolalderáan's only Ye Olde Stoppe’n’Shoppe right before they left, so it was a long, long ride home.
It sounds as though the Scarlet WHich's exhaustive domination must be stopped. But what will her role be in this story?
Will our heroes try to defeat her indirectly by foiling her dastardly schemes?
— Or —
Will they face her head-on at her home in the Bounding Node?