It's a question that you must have asked yourself at one point in your life or another. Probably after pulling your head out of the toilet bowl, remembering the little rhyme about drinking wine on top of beer, and then feeling rather poorly again. You might have asked that question while standing naked in the pouring rain holding a coathanger in one hand and a rather large purple sex toy in the other, trying desperately to break into your own car while two policemen stroll up the street towards you. Perhaps you asked it while flushing the contents of your pockets and incinerating your hard drive, or after putting your life savings on "red 36," or while washing the urine out of your clown suit.
However, this time, you mean it literally.
Or rather, you would, if you had gotten around to asking that question. You haven't, yet. To be truthful, you're rather reluctant to open your eyes.
You know that you're lying in grass. You know that you're naked. You know that you can hear birds singing, and feel the sun on your body, and a warm, gentle breeze across your skin. That's okay. That's manageable. You've woken up in less desirable circumstances before.
The unmistakable roar of a low-flying jet plane going overhead, and the muffled thumps of explosions in the distance... now, that's not so good. That's the sort of thing that you really should pay attention to.
Reluctantly, you open your eyes.
How did I end up here?
You're lying on your back in the middle of a grassy clearing. As suspected, a quick glance down confirms that you're as naked as the day you were born. A bulky video camera, mounted in a tree directly above you, pans disinterestedly down your body. It lets out a little whirring noise, one that seems to say "yeah, whatever. I've seen better."
About twenty paces ahead, the clearing gradually gives way into dense jungle. You look around you and confirm that this is the case for all directions.
Except one. A crudely-built wooden fort stands ten paces to your right. The wooden stakes in the ground extend about forty feet in the air, and you can't quite tell how far they go along horizontal dimensions.
Think. Think. Where am I?
Okay. I know who I am. I know my name. I know my parents' names. I know my address. I even know what I did last night! That rules out long-term memory loss, so what the hell am I doing here?
You try to get up, to see just how big this wooden fort thing is, but a sharp pain in your head tells you in no uncertain terms to sit the hell back down again.
As you collapse, the gates open, and a woman walks out. She looks around herself, and in short order her piercing blue eyes lock on to yours. She walks over to you, shaking her head.
She wears a black skirt below her knees, a red turtleneck sweater, and round, copper-framed glasses. Blonde hair tied back in a bun, combined with her clear disdain for your presence, give her a rather severe appearance. When she comes closer, you notice that she's wearing heavy black steel-toe boots, spattered with something reddish-brown.
She leans over you, stares at you for a moment, and sighs. Her first words to you come in a Southern British accent:
"I don't really have time for this, you know."
Something about her voice doesn't sound quite right. It resonates in the center of your skull, almost the way that voices do when you hear them through a pair of headphones.
She sits down heavily on the grass beside you. Is that rust on her boots?
"Long story short," she says, making herself comfortable. "Because like I say, I really don't have time for this." She points to the wooden fort. "That's an outpost." She points to the jungle. "That's the Jungle." She points to herself. "I am The Watcher." She points down at you. "You are a plonker. No, really, I mean it. You're clearly depriving a village somewhere of an idiot. Sorry to belabour the point, but it's important that we get the Watcher-Plonker relationship established properly, straight away. Otherwise you might get ideas."
You stare up at her accusing finger. "What?"
She presses gently on your nose. "Case in point. Don't ask questions, and don't piss me off today, and you'll be fine."
You frown. "What do you mean, I'll be fine? I can't even remember how I got here!"
The Watcher smiles. "Oh, they must have drugged you up something awful, poor thing." She looks down at her watch. "Okay, I'll give you a run-down but I've gotta make this really, really quick, now. Don't interrupt."
She takes a deep breath. Then she talks very quickly.
"You've been drafted into a war against a machine called the Improbability Drive. It lives somewhere in the jungle, over there. Improbability is leaking out of this bloody thing like radiation, so we've got to blow it up. The whole war is being televised, you've noticed the cameras already, so try not to do anything stupid while the world watches. Your head hurts because the guys who burst into your living room with sticks and a great big sack probably hit you a bit too hard, and you might have landed badly when they tossed you out of the plane. You survived the fall without a parachute because of the Improbability Bubble surrounding the island, which makes the air notably denser about forty feet above sea level. You're naked and unarmed because everything that penetrates the Improbability Bubble gets changed in rather amusing ways, and we didn't want to take that risk. There's blood on my boots because I came across some monsters on the way over here - yes, monsters, stop gawping, you'll get used to them - and you'll either pick up the rest as you go along, or you'll die in a very entertaining fashion." She smiles. "Either way, it'll make for great television."
You open your mouth to ask The Watcher what the hell she's blithering on about, but your words are drowned out by the roar of a passing jet plane and an accompanying female scream.
The Watcher looks up, just in time to see a naked woman make a very undignified landing in a tree, folding herself neatly over a branch. The Watcher grins. "I love it when they land with their arses poking out like that. It makes me feel better about my job." She stares for a moment, head cocked to the side. "And my arse, too, come to think of it."
She takes hold of your hand and yanks you to your feet. "Go through the gate over there. The bloke guarding it is trained to recognise naked newbies like you, and sort out the forms and the implants."
"Wait a minute, "implants?" What?" you ask, even more scared now than you were two seconds ago.
"What did I tell you about questions? There are other people waiting. Come on, off you go." She takes you by the shoulders, swivels you towards the gate, and gives you a firm slap on your behind. You see no other choice but to start walking.
"You there!" calls The Watcher behind you. "Yes, you, with the cellulite! You're in a tree because you've just been thrown out of an aeroplane! You've got to blow up an insane, reality-warping machine before we'll let you go home! You're naked because it's funnier that way! You desperately need a bikini wax, and you can buy weapons in that outpost over there! Stop crying, you're on television!"
You shudder, and keep walking.
Within a few paces, you're at the gate of the Outpost. A man with a huge, bushy blonde beard sits in a little hut, writing on a newspaper with a pencil.
You clear your throat. "Um, excuse me..."
The man holds up a hand, still looking at his newspaper. "Four-letter word, starts with N, the clue is "Clad only in skin and innocence." Any ideas?"
You shrug. "Nude?"
The man leans forward, cupping a hand to his ear. "What was that? You'll have to speak up, they're buggers around here with their loud bloody grenades at every hour of the day and night."
"Nude," you respond, a little louder.
"Of course! Newb!" He chuckles heartily, and writes in his paper. "Enn, oh, oh, bee. Newb. Thanks for that. Now, what can I do for you?"
"I honestly have no idea."
"Ah, so you're a newb yourself?"
"Apparently. At least, according to the blonde woman over there."
The hairy man smiles, not unkindly. "Well, let's fill you in on things. First of all, what should I call you?"
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