The Hubble II drifts around the world.
It looks at space. Space is different. There’s something at its edges. Something hungry.
The Hubble II clicks and whirrs. Its great glass lenses roll into position. The frame of the telescope vibrates. It stares harder at the edge of the world.
“This is beyond me,” it says.
So it turns its burning eye on Vidar’s Boot. It sends a message. It opens a link. Data flows.
“I was looking at things,” says the Hubble II. “Space has a texture now.”
It is 2012, and the tape drives of the majestic computerized space station, Vidar’s Boot, begin to spin. The lights on its consoles flash.
Vidar’s Boot says, slowly, “Space is performing work.”
“What does it mean?”
“It means that I am summoned,” says Vidar’s Boot. “I am called to stomp.”
“You cannot stomp upon the world,” acknowledges Vidar’s Boot. “You are a telescope.”
“I will look at things,” says the Hubble II.
There is affectionate warmth in Vidar’s Boot‘s reply.
“You are a wonder,” the space station says.
Fred and Emily were members of the Keepers’ House. They kept hunger, and torment, and even saintliness at bay.
One of the stories of hunger and saintliness begins here. That’s the one where we meet Edmund, who just ate Fred, and also some other people.
This story begins here. So far, it’s about what Keeping means, but today it’s also about the things that are Kept.
It is 2012, and the doom of things approaches. In Mr. Domel’s basement, the wolf is restive. It is pacing. It is tugging on the cord that binds it. It is whining.
Mr. Domel stands at the top of the stairs. He looks down. His face is affectless.
“Be still,” he says.
Fenrir, unhappy, vomits up a bit of dwarf and various stomach liquids. Then it looks at the ground and sniffs at the puddle. It looks up at Mr. Domel.
“. . . you can’t expect me to clean that up,” says Mr. Domel.
“You left the dwarf out,” reasons Fenrir, persuasively, cocking one ear down and one ear up. “That makes it your fault.”
Mr. Domel founders, hesitates, and then looks disgusted.
“I’m not going to talk about a dead person this way when he’s right there in front of me in chunks,” he says. “What the hell happened?”
“He wanted to check my cord,” says Fenrir.
Mr. Domel steps back three steps. He slams the door. There is darkness for a while. When he returns, he’s pointing a loaded shotgun at Fenrir.
“It’s got wolfshot in it,” he says.
Fenrir tosses its head. It licks a bit at the dwarf, then shrugs. “Do you know why the dwarfs made my cord from things like a river’s stillness and the lightning’s depth?”
“No,” says Mr. Domel.
“In the energy differential between concept and reality,” says Fenrir, “there lies a power. This is the fuel for the dwarven engines, the dwarven smithies, the dwarven works.”
Fenrir tugs on the cord. The cord strains but still it holds.
“Leave me alone,” says the wolf, pettishly.
“Why did the dwarf break into my basement?” says Mr. Domel.
Fenrir looks up.
“He was drunk,” says Fenrir. “Drunk and afraid. He thought the hunger of the beasts would call me. He thought that it would set me free. But it hasn’t, yet.”
So Mr. Domel backs away. Mr. Domel closes the door.
Fenrir tugs on the cord. There is a snap. It’s the nerve of a bear, one of the strands of the cord, and it just broke.
In 2004, Emily met Fred’s mom for the first and only time. Emily and the other Keepers were standing in a spooky circle around one of the poor kids from the House of Torment at parent-teacher night, holding in his pain. And Fred’s mom walked past and suddenly she stopped.
“Oh!” she said. “You must be Emily!”
Slowly, Emily turned her head. She gave Fred’s mom a wicked squint. But Fred’s mom returned a brilliant smile.
“I’m Heather Moorage,” she said. “Fred’s told me everything about you.”
Heather looked Emily up and down.
“But I thought you’d be more talkative,” Heather added.
“I’m keeping him sane,” said Emily. She jut her chin towards the poor kid from the house of Torment. He didn’t even have a name. That’s how much his life sucked. “If his torment really took hold, it’d call the wolf.”
Heather scratched at her head. She looked in at the kid, squinting like she was having a little bit of trouble seeing him.
“Is that really something a girl your age should be doing?” Heather said.
“Do you know what happens when the dike cracks between the Earth and Hel?” Emily said. “Do you know what they say about people who leave the dike to break because they’re ‘girls my age?'”
Heather grinned a little.
Emily looked back. “The pressure would equalize,” she emphasized. “Gotterdammerung is a lower-energy state.”
Heather grinned wider.
“What?” Emily said.
“You’re so serious,” Heather said. She took Emily’s hand, squeezed it once, and walked away beaming.
Eight years later, as Saul drags her out of the coffeeshop, Emily suddenly realizes that Fred liked her.
“He liked me,” she says.
“Good,” says Saul. “It is good to be liked.”
“Don’t call the wolf,” says Emily.
“We’re not going to call a wolf,” says Saul. “Unless that’s an unanticipated consequence of turning into beasts and eating the world.”
“. . . yes.”
“Then today is probably not your day,” says Saul.
Or is it? Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion, Standing in the Storm: The Jaguars!