Ink is Backstage: “Accidental Dispositions”

the continuing adventures of Ink Catherly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Ink is in a phone booth. Outside there is a gorgosaurus.

It is a talking gorgosaurus.

It is one of the talking gorgosauruses that live in the backstage of Earth, where cardboard cutouts stand in for people and sets for places and time.

Its hands are thin and clumsy. Its teeth are very sharp. And it is given to it, as to all talking gorgosauruses, to appoint and dispense with the things of the mortal Earth.

In accordance to their great design do we have joy and liveliness. In accordance to their whims and errors did gold panning, disco, and communism fall.

From Ink’s Journal

Floor 93-A: I cried to the sky to open me a path to Hell, and a hole in the sky yawned wide; and said to me, “I will let you pass through into the realm beyond; but such pain as you know there is at my sufferance, and of my possession.”

I did not like the condition, but I went through; for it is my mission to explore. And since that time I have seen many of the strange worlds that are beyond Floor 93, but have not yet found Hell.

Ink opens the door of the phone booth. She is very hesitant. She walks out.

“You are less afraid?” the gorgosaurus asks.

The beast looks puzzled.

“Did the fall of communism or of disco somehow reassure you?”

Ink shakes her head.

“It occurred to me, is all,” says Ink, “that you are too cruel to eat me.”

She walks gingerly along the sidewalk. She is stiff with tension.

After a moment’s pause the gorgosaurus lumbers after her. It is trying and failing to catch up to her. It is stepping around the cutouts of people and cars that clog the street, which crowd in such numbers as to severely hamper its course.

“Too cruel?” it asks.

“The world is very hard,” Ink says. “People die in droves. There’s horror and cruelty and hunger and disease. Love dissolves. People fight. And being human means that you can destroy someone’s life without even hardly trying, and nothing you do can ever make up for it. It is very cruel. But it is much crueler if it’s all just some kind of freaky gorgosaurus art.”

The creature works very hard to step over a car without knocking it over, but it fails. That is how Mr. and Mrs. Stevens and their two children die: screaming, terrified, as their control of the car fails and it skews sideways into a telephone pole.

The gorgosaurus looks at its foot and the toppled car with some regret. Then it shrugs and continues its slow pursuit of Ink.

“I have explained,” it says. “It is clumsiness. We do not mean to break these things.”

Ink walks in the black velvet space between two sets, and then along a crowded street dotted with vendors and marked with Arabic-lettered signs.

“You make them,” Ink says.

“Yes,” says the gorgosaurus.

“It’s all some twisted game. What was gold panning really for?

“There is treasure everywhere in the world,” says the gorgosaurus. “We wanted you to know.”

“Disco?”

“It is healthy,” the creature says, “to dance.”

Ink hesitates. She discards several possible questions painfully relevant to her own life.

“Communism, then,” she says. “Communism and capitalism. They split the world in half. One of them’s screwy and the other one never worked and whole generations grew up in fear until some drunk gorgosaurus puttering around in Party HQ knocked over the USSR. Was it some kind of weird gorgosaurus metaphor? ‘Look how deep our political theory is! This side can wear Russia like a condom whose time has come and the other can kill nuns in Nicaragua to keep America safe?'”

The gorgosaurus’ great foot accidentally staves in a vendor’s stall and tips the vendor over. That is how Jalal Hameed dies: in an explosion, ill-placed and ill-timed, that crunches him crown to toe like the falling hammer of God.

“You misestimate us,” the gorgosaurus says. “First, you cannot evade me by traveling between sets; second, if you continue in this manner, I will hunt you down less civilly and eat you to prevent further chaos; and third—“

“What?”

“It’s not the secret conspiracy of backstage gorgosauruses who are the problem,” the dinosaur says. “It’s the humans themselves.”

“You set us up!” Ink protests.

“You’re projecting your own moral failings,” the gorgosaurus says. The dangerous rumble under its voice has reached full volume now. It is moving faster, heedless of the risk that some of the cutouts may fall. “It is the defining human characteristic that you will ignore the lessons we send you and twist their meaning to suit yourselves.”

“What was communism for, then?”

“So that people would remember that the workers were important,” says the gorgosaurus.

“Oh,” says Ink.

There is a rising fury in the dinosaur’s voice, and its pace is far too swift. Cutouts tumble in its wake. Another man dies; a fire hydrant topples; a dog has a stroke; a cloud of insects, hanging in the air, ceases ever to have existed.

Ink staggers into the blackness between sets.

“That’s what both communism and capitalism were for,” the gorgosaurus rumbles. “That’s what everything is about. Everything we make. Every creed and every institution and more than half the events, simply and clearly to teach you how meaningful you and your fellow people are And. No. One. Ever. Wants. To. Get. It.”

Ink falls.

The creature’s teeth come down.

Ink screams.

“Egg-eating mammals,” the gorgosaurus says in disgust. It has her arm in its jaws. There is blood running down her forearm and onto her chest.

“Wait,” says Ink. “No. I’ll be good. What do you want?”

The gorgosaurus catches Ink’s leg in one hand and, without quite loosening the grip its teeth have on her arm, it jerks its head.

Floor 93-HG: On this floor bureaucracy made things more efficient, and not less. It was astonishing to see people pulling up at stop signs and filling out paperwork on their travel; to see the painfully precise accounting of time that each worker pursued; to watch the evolving bureaucracy of the birds as they winged overhead in a whirl of self-organizing committees. They laughed at entropy, on floor 93-HG, but I think it haunted them. They died not by slow withering but by obsolescence, when efficiency concerns rendered their physical existence redundant.

The spiderwebs on 93-HG were fractal. You could see each color in the sunrise. And when I stood looking back on everything in that world I realized that I could see the superstructure of its evolution, that I could make out the shapes of its ultimate destiny, that the struts of order already in place would grow stronger and not weaker as time went by. It had a future glorious beyond the dreams of man, and flawed.

I wonder if that is something intrinsic to us?

That even in our completion there are flaws?

The sound is like the tearing of dry cloth.

Intermission 2

11 thoughts on “Ink is Backstage: “Accidental Dispositions”

  1. Quite the ending. Is this to be the end of Ink? Or was the Gorgosaurus merely ripping her sleeve?

    This, I think, is one of those cliffhanger moments where I shall be fretting over Ink’s well-being until we visit her again.

  2. Ouch.

    Gorgosaurus: “simply and clearly to teach you how meaningful you and your fellow people are And. No. One. Ever. Wants. To. Get. It.”

    As with all avatars of the Demiurge, the gorgosaurus’ argument just doesn’t work. You can’t torture someone into finding people meaningful. Torture harms, it doesn’t help. And something that happens all the time isn’t a lesson — having one person die in a society of immortals would be a lesson, but having everyone die is sort of a way of jeering at a general lack of meaningfulness.

    Here is my first ever poem on the subject, written 1999. It’s not really as good as my more modern ones, sorry:

    Banana peels and concrete pies

    One day I decided to track down death.

    Not just any death, mind you, but one specific one,
    lingering cancer and birth defects and
    screwed up disease resistance.
    So, like a kid, I asked
    Where does dioxin come from?

    I thought I’d start at the top.
    Whenever people die, God is the final criminal.
    But who are the accomplices?

    Dioxin comes when you burn chlorine, and chlorine is
    across Du Pont, up with Dow Chemical,
    praying with Monsanto, regal as Uniroyal.

    Bored with chasing the usual suspects,
    I turned to the database,
    reading accidents.
    Bits of reports: “the site is contaminated,
    two have died and two have cancer,
    the orchard was sprayed with dioxin for years,
    the truck turned over and Times Beach dirt was everywhere…
    I need permission to kill the contaminated deer.”

    Then it caught my eye.
    “Tom Furdie kicked the drum and broke it.”, the screen read.
    An emergency cleanup contract has been issued…”

    That’s it? I laughed. Tom Furdie kicks a barrel,
    and there’s another dioxin site? Blame Tom Furdie!

    That’s God for you. Not just death, but humiliation and death,
    like stepping on a banana peel and breaking your neck
    or being hit in the face with a cream pie made of concrete.

    I wrote the usual report,
    about chlorine and plastic and wood preserver and Monsanto.
    Better that than to walk through the cancer ward and tell each oxygen mask:
    We are all Tom Furdie.
    We kicked the barrel and broke it.
    Now some of us get the concrete pie.

    P.S.

    A Traverse City woman is dead after falling into a vat of cherries at Peninsula Fruit Exchange on Old Mission Peninsula. Co-workers found 38 year old [name deleted”>, in a vat where cherries are stored, and called the police at about seven o’clock Tuesday night.

    — July 20, 2005

  3. I think the Gorosaur is saying that the torture, of all the things, isn’t it’s fault — that the Gs have the abilty to add and remove elements to and from the design, but not that to control how they develop. It very much -is- a demiurge — godlike power without true divinity.

    And holy cliffhangers…I could easily see this being the death of Ink even if it isn’t her end…after all, she is the Inferno character. (though I’m curious as to whether Hitherby will eventually have her complete the parallel and start in on Paradisio)

  4. Gorgosaurus: “simply and clearly to teach you how meaningful you and your fellow people are And. No. One. Ever. Wants. To. Get. It.”

    As with all avatars of the Demiurge, the gorgosaurus’ argument just doesn’t work. You can’t torture someone into finding people meaningful. Torture harms, it doesn’t help. And something that happens all the time isn’t a lesson — having one person die in a society of immortals would be a lesson, but having everyone die is sort of a way of jeering at a general lack of meaningfulness.

    There have been other Legends about stuff like this: see Hard-Nosed Messianic Acts for one. Just because we fail to see the meaning of the message doesn’t make it invalid.

    On the other hand, the Gorgosaurus definitely falls into the same issue as Martin: Suffering should make us better, and doesn’t. The Gorgosaurus repeats the lesson. Martin, on the other hand, seems to have decided to change the nature of suffering.

  5. I assume the shocking abruptness of events in Ink’s world is reflective of the conflict outside the theater.

    Whatever happens, I’m excited to see Plot again.

  6. mneme, many versions of Gnosticism don’t really blame the demiurge for mistakes that it can’t help but make. (There is another theological offshoot, called maltheism I believe, that assumes that the creator of the world is singular and malevolent). But note that in this story, the Gorgosaur doesn’t look sorry that it can’t do any better:

    The gorgosaurus does not look penitent. It looks like it been rehearsing this speech in its head for some time, in case it should ever have to justify itself to a human.

    The bit about how all the problems of the world are supposed to teach us something seems like a lame excuse. There was a person in the U.S. Army in Iraq who wanted to catch a particular Baathist, so he captured the man’s wife and daughter and left the man a note: “If you want your family to be released, turn yourself in”. So he did. (The link is to more poetry; I’ve already quoted enough of that here.) But that is a form of torture, and it only works on people whose basic humanity is already there. The people who already value other people are the only ones affected.

    Anyways, I have to resist writing anything that seems like a defense of Gnosticism; I don’t recommend it. I agree that Martin’s approach, insofar as I understand it so far, seems to avoid some of these problems.

  7. But the problems of the world do teach us quite a lot. Heroes can only exist if there are problems in the world. Humanity cannot achieve it’s greatest potential without suffering, for the true grit of the human spirit only comes out in the face of adversity.

    That, I think, is the logic which the gorgorosaurs are operating on. In order for humanity to realize its true value, there has to be pain and suffering.

  8. The bit about how all the problems of the world are supposed to teach us something seems like a lame excuse.

    Be careful. Not every argument made by a talking gorgosaurus follows the classic form. ^_^

    Rebecca

  9. Yes, that’s right. It wasn’t really saying that the purpose of bad things happening was to teach us something (I was thinking of Hard-Nosed Messianic Acts, which bv728 linked to). It said that the gorgosaurs created institutions and events — not necessarily bad ones — that were intended to teach us how meaningful people are, and that we twisted their lessons. And that when bad things did happen at random, it was due to clumsiness, and not intended as a teachable moment. Presumably, for their justification to work, the problems of (to take the most serious things that Ink allowed herself to bring up) communism and capitalism were due to our twisting of what the gorgosaurs made, and not to how they made them in the first place.

    Well, after that correction, I think that’s as far as I should go. :)

    I do see that Ink’s problems with the gorgosaur were in part seemingly due to the way in which she kept running away. It wasn’t willing to just knock over the phone booth to get her, and it didn’t immediately try to bite her when she came out. It said that if she kept running, it would hunt her down “less civilly” (implying that it was planning to be civil before?) and eat her to prevent further chaos. By assuming that it thought of itself as cruel, she thought that it would be too cruel to eat her, but since it didn’t think of itself as cruel, it was willing to eat her to keep her from causing problems. Her misinterpretation in some ways parallels the one that I just made.

    Well, Ink has been in deadly situations before, and has been saved by her curse.

    “Then you shall rot,” the fiend says, and turns his power on her; but Ink Catherly does not rot, for her pain is spoken for, and she is not one of those permitted to know Hell.

    That dry tearing sound does sound bad, though.

  10. Gorgo seems tense. Perhaps he should have a bit of a lie down. I understand, frustrating job and all, but I’m just saying, sounds like somebody needs a nap.

    Also, perhaps the Great Gorgosaur Conspiracy should consider working in a scale more appropriate to their size. Or maybe hire some mice to help with the smaller bits.

  11. Pingback: Hitherby Dragons » Ink in Emptiness: The Mirror Cracks

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