What Lies Behind the Veil of the World?

“They’re coming,” says Meredith.

Steven hunches his shoulders. He tries not to listen. It’s not his fault that his cubicle is right near the water cooler.

“Hm?” asks Sid.

“They’re coming,” says Meredith again. “They’re not content to be chained on the Street any more. They’re breaking free into the rest of the world.”

“That’s too bad,” Sid says.

Steven concentrates on his work. It’s important. There’s a milestone coming up, and his code’s still full of bugs.

He is lost in his work for hours.

Voices are tense and serious. “They’re detaining ordinary puppet-Americans,” Sid says. “I don’t know if that’s right.”

“They’re not animate, Sid.”

“They’re not?”

“No,” Meredith points out. “That’s the fundamental difference between ordinary puppets and them.”

“The article I read suggested that you could make a case both ways.”

“No,” says Meredith. “No, you can’t.”

Steven goes home. He sleeps. His sleep is troubled. He wakes up. It is Saturday. Steven watches a Saturday Afternoon Special. It encourages kids to floss but also to accept those who do not. He finds it heavy-handed, stops halfway through, and drives in to work. He is not alone.

“Hey,” he says to Sid and Meredith, as he passes them. “So, how about that floss, huh?”

Meredith waves a hand in his general direction, as if to silence him. He goes into his cubicle. He sits.

“Do you think they’ll come here?” Meredith asks Sid.

“It’s inevitable,” Sid says. “They’ve got most of the rest of the city.”

Steven reflects that traffic had been worse than he’d expected. And there had been the great yellow bird—

“I’ve got Kryptonite,” Meredith says. “So we’re okay, if it’s Kermit.”

Sid just looks at her.

“Kryptonite won’t work on Kermit,” he says. “You’re thinking of Superman.”

There are a number of four-letter words that Meredith leaves off the end of her sentence.

“Oh,” Meredith replies.

“I—I hit a bird,” Steven says. “On my way in. It nearly wrecked my car.”

“What’s that?” Sid asks.

Steven rolls his chair backwards to the entrance of the cubicle. “It was really tall. I hit a bird.”

“It’s not dead,” says Meredith. “You have to cut out the midget living in its chest to really kill it.”

“It was scary,” Steven says. “There were feathers everywhere.”

“Is it safe to be around him?” Sid asks. “I mean, considering?”

“He’s probably marked,” Meredith says, judiciously. “But . . . you can’t fault a man for fighting for his country.”

“I didn’t mean to hit it,” Steven says. “It was just suddenly there.

“It’s okay,” Meredith says.

There’s a silence.

“I always thought,” Steven says. “That it must be terrible for them. To be our friends. Our companions. In childhood. Yet never allowed to visit. To come to our schools. Never allowed to touch us. Or know us as adults.”

Sid’s nostrils flare.

“It just,” Steven says. “It did seem wrong.”

“It’s through dreams like yours that they got back in,” Sid says. And he picks up the water cooler, his arms straining, and he moves it away.

What Sid and Meredith discuss then, Steven does not hear.

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