Cain sulks in his Caincave.
“Why was I born, ” he says, “into a world full of sorrow?”
Clarence attempts to console him. “So much would be different,” he says, “if you’d never been born. There wouldn’t be any leavened bread. Angels would speak Japanese. Great white sharks would be captured, belled, and released. People would generally be a lot less apologetic about murder. It would be madness.”
“Ha,” Cain says. “I’d like to see that.”
The next day, the angel Clarence shows him.
Frogs rain down. Newts rain up. But only axlotl rain sideways. That’s their special gift, given only to them and to nobody else.
The greatest shark ever captured was Menace, a horror weighing more than thirty thousand pounds. He slew more than twenty ichthyologists during his capture, but it is the character of scientists to forgive; so he was belled and released, never to trouble the beaches of humanity again. At times, he tried, but the ringing of his bell drove the swimmers out of the water before he could taste of their flesh. He found himself forced to subsist on fish, and so he swam deeper and deeper into the ocean, growing great on grouper and halibut, and ever as he swam came the tolling of his bell.
Today, Menace is a great bulk that one might easily confuse for Atlantis. He sits in the deep, tolling, tolling, ringing, and chiming, like a great angel-winging machine. That’s the problem, after all. He’s giving wings to too many angels. They’re breeding as fast as they can, which is arguably “not at all,” but they’re still running out of the wingless kind.
It’s not just because Cain was never born. This problem has been looming for centuries—ever since a meddling gang of theologians and their talking dog discovered that angels exist in finite numbers. A finite number of angels means a finite number of wings. A finite number of wings means a finite number of rings. Sooner or later, despite the best efforts of the Unringers that dwell under Northumber Abbey, they’re going to run out.
“Jinkies!” declares Thomas Aquinas. “What’ll the angels do when they’ve all got wings and bells are still ringing? It’s a mystery!”
“A rifftery!” agrees their talking dog. “Uh-huh!”
“Surely,” argues Teilhard, “that occasion will mark the completion of the world’s evolution towards God.”
“Revolution towards rod!”
“Rod is dead,” snarls Scrappy Nietzsche. Standing on two legs, he punches at the air. Without the art of leavening, humanity cannot make Scrappy Snacks, and the younger dog has grown up cold, hard, and philosophical.
Some have hypothesized that, once all the angels are winged, ringing will convert directly into luxury goods—every time a bell rings, an angel will get a Lamborghini. Others have theorized that this occasion will mark the Singularity, when the terrible chiming of bells will fill the air above Earth and humans will grow wings as one. But the angel Clarence knows the truth. Every time a bell rings, in this terrible alternate reality, an angel will get their gills.
The endless ringing of Menace’s bell begins to draw them there, gilled angels in groups of one or two. They bring presents before him—grace, and wishes, and power.
Then one bleeds.
“Why was I born into a world full of sorrow?” Menace asks Monstro.
A swift school of carp dart by.
“It is not sorrow,” Monstro says. He breathes the deeps. A puppetmaker, somewhere inside him, screams. “It is simply existence.”
“But is there not good and evil?” asks Menace. “Are we not creatures that should strive for something higher than the savage ocean of Hobbesfish’s anarchy?”
“Good is a beam of tachyons,” Monstro says, meditatively. “To create pure evil, reverse its polarity. To create pure good, revert it to base values. Yet a society bombarded by tachyons cannot survive. Remember this, Menace: the fish of mind must make his own path. Were you not born, the world would still be every bit as cruel.”
“I am sorry,” says Menace, sincerely, to the angels. “But I am entering the blood frenzy now.”
“Hai, wakarimasu,” Clarence says.
“Wow,” realizes Cain. “It really was a wonderful murder, after all.”