Tigers in their Cages (2 of 2)

The core of Central is hollow, like a warehouse. The ceiling is netting, and above that is darkness. There are things that move on the netting, and people too.

In the core, Central’s not a very nice-looking place. There’s a laminated harpoon attached to one wall, or there used to be. There’s sacks of open grain, gnawed on by rats and bugs. There’s fire and red and things always watching.

Below that, there are the cages.

“How many?” the hero asks.

“Seventeen,” the monster says.

Seventeen?

“Nine here. Four with building passes. Four in special environments,” the monster says.

The cages aren’t like dog cages. Some of them are very nice and have pillows and books. Others are small and cramped and made of wire with rotting feathers in the mesh.

“Most of them aren’t like Jane,” the monster says. “That’s rare. Most of them aren’t even really djinn. Just . . . kin. Distant relatives. The unsuccessful byblows of our kind.”

The hero goes from one cage to the next. He looks in. He looks kind of helpless. “I don’t know which to let out first.”

The monster smiles brightly.

“Start at the front,” he says, “and move back.”

So the hero lets out a young boy named Brian. Brian stares at him.

“It’s over,” the hero says. He reaches into the cage. Brian scuttles back.

“It’s funny,” the monster says, “how unequipped the hero actually is for rescuing people.”

The hero glares at him.

“Well, it is,” the monster says. “Somewhere along the way you people got the idea that heroics was about killing evil and not so much about saving people, and I’m sure that’s why the world is in the mess it’s in today.”

This is technically incorrect, but it’s a solid rhetorical point.

“What do I do?” the hero asks.

“Come on, Brian,” the monster says. He grins. “It’s time for one of the good times. You know. When it doesn’t hurt so much.”

So Brian inches out of the cage. He stands. He waits.

The hero goes to the next cage. It has a girl. Her name—she doesn’t even remember her name. It might be Iris. He lets her out. He holds out his hand.

“No,” she says.

The hero stares at her.

“No,” she says, louder. “Don’t want to.”

“Iris,” the monster says. His voice is oozing. But the hero looks at him in horror.

“You can’t . . . you can’t threaten her into coming out—”

“Oh,” says the monster. He looks happy. “I didn’t know.”

“Come on, Iris,” says the hero. He holds out his hand again.

“I live here,” she says. “I make gods for them. Every day, Leonard comes. We play. He closes the cage. He checks the lock. He smiles at me. I like him.”

The hero frowns. He looks at the monster.

“Leonard’s still alive,” the monster says. “You didn’t kill him when you were burying yourself in the corpses of your enemies. He recanted, absolving himself of that whole abusing-children thing.”

“Ah,” the hero says. He looks at Iris. There’s something messed-up in his eyes. Then he shrugs. “Okay,” he says.

He opens the other cages. Some of the kids come out. Some of them don’t.

Then he and the monster go down the stairs, to where they keep the gods, and Iris can’t see them any more.

That night, Leonard comes, and they don’t play—they just make some funny faces at one another—and Leonard closes the cage, and locks it up, and smiles at Iris, and she sleeps.

It’s strange, she thinks, that some people leave.

7 thoughts on “Tigers in their Cages (2 of 2)

  1. So…Iris is not in Hell.

    Is the acceptance of pain necessary to the creation of gods, or anathema to it, or simply irrelevant? That’s what I want to know right now.

  2. I think it’s irrelevant, honestly. I think it’s a quick and dirty way to provoke the creation of little stories the djinn tell themselves, and give them the impetus to externalize them. From what I can tell, by the time a god is created, the djinn already knows them quite well. I’m not convinced Daniel and Alan ever quite made it into the real world.

    So why pain? Well, pain /is/ a quick and dirty (that phrase again) way to create a deep intimacy with somebody. And the demons of acceptance are just another (very useful) way of coping with that pain.

    I suspect that intimacy has something to do with the monsters’ control over the gods they pull out.

    *sigh* Bob’s story always makes me so sad.

  3. There are allusions, here, to Mylitta’s story.

    The temple at Harran holds no one prisoner, and many of Nabonidus’ victims have fled. Many others have chosen to stay. They are as caged tigers, who, freed into the wild, still pace out the length of their prison cages. There is a bond between monster and victim that is difficult to break.

    In that time, Mylitta had gotten her monster, Nabonidus, to agree to free the nephilim that he had caged in the temple of the moon god. Also, the gods that he had produced from them were freed.

    Then, part of the arrangement was that later, he would use her to make more gods to replace the ones he had lost. One hopes that this part of the deal is not reflected in the present. Last time, Mylitta’s approach didn’t work. It would be regrettable if Jane were to again tread this path and uselessly doom herself. Of course, unlike Mylitta, Jane has Martin, and she has the benefit of a knowledge of history.

    Partly, this ties into my theories about Mei Ming. It may be that Jane intends to fix, not the current monster, but the next one, and so break the chain. We shall see.

    -Eric

  4. I’m not convinced Daniel and Alan ever quite made it into the real world.

    We’ve got the whole story leading up to Alan’s birth. And the moment of his birth is when the monster and the girl are in the building.

    The girl turns her head. She sees him in the window. She mouths, “Alan.”

    She hopes he’s going to come, and break down the wall, and stop what’s about to happen. But as the monster points out, it’s stupid to expect help from evil. So, Alan ultimately can’t help the girl. Or himself.

    I don’t know what the lesson is for Daniel.

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