The Extinguishment of Karma (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The sea stretches out forever. On its surface the wind chases itself about. Great bulky clouds pile in the sky. To the west the sun burns yellow. Rahu shivers in Sid’s arms, stinking of blood and sweat.

Sid walks into the tower.

He casts about. He finds a room with a light on. He opens its door. In a room of shining wooden floorboards and creaky old chairs Mr. Schiff pushes back his chair and stands.

“What have you there?” says Mr. Schiff.

“Rahu,” says Sid.

“Set him down,” says Mr. Schiff.

The reflections of the ceiling light skitter away as Sid lays Rahu down upon the floor.

Mr. Schiff walks over. He squats beside Rahu. He studies him.

“It is rare,” says the geology teacher, “to see an evil planet skewered by a siggort spike, much less in pristine condition.”

He peels back one of Rahu’s eyelids, causing Rahu’s head to shift and roll a few inches upon the floor.

“He’s a planet?” Sid asks.

“Rahu is the mystery planet that occludes the sun and moon on the occasion of an eclipse,” says Mr. Schiff. “A thing-that-is-known explaining a certain body of evidence.”

He takes a clipping from one of Rahu’s nails and holds it up to the light.

“Naturally obsolete in the Newtonian model,” clarifies Mr. Schiff.

“He might be dying,” says Sid.

“Not this one,” says Mr. Schiff.

Rahu breathes harshly, eyes rolled back, mouth drooling against the floor.

“No?” Sid asks.

“He’s one of the demons who stole into the house of the sun and drank the elixir of immortality.” He looks up at Sid. “You don’t know that story?”

Sid stares at Mr. Schiff blankly.

Sid’s jaw is turning puffy where Rahu broke it.

Mr. Schiff pats Rahu down, then straightens his body and head out so that Rahu is laying more comfortably on the floor. “I’ll get a cot and a blanket for him,” Mr. Schiff says.

“How can anything be immortal?” Sid asks.

“Well, it can’t, I suppose,” says Mr. Schiff. “Everything arises from karma, and everything dies with the extinguishment of the karma that caused it to exist. But he’s tasted the amrit so he can’t really die to anything less.”

He pauses. He smiles fondly at the fingernail.

“And here I am with a sample of him.”

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Mr. Schiff walks to the door and out, his feet ticking against the floor.

Sid watches Rahu.

The hands of the clock high on the wall turn.

After about fifteen minutes Mr. Schiff returns with a cot and some blankets. He starts to lift Rahu. Sid helps. Together they place Rahu on the cot and cover Rahu’s body with the blanket.

“How can anything be immortal?”

It’s like nothing’s changed in Sid’s head since he asked that question the first time.

Mr. Schiff looks up at him.

Suddenly Mr. Schiff is grinning wider than a geology teacher should grin, and there are shadows shifting everywhere in the room.

“When he drank the amrit, he achieved enlightenment,” says Mr. Schiff. “He became rival to the Buddha. He understood everything that is, was, and will be. But he was not free. He was chained by his karma. He said, ‘Before I claim my rightful place as lord of all things I must answer the suffering of Prajapati and atone for this theft of treasure from the sun.’

“The thundering of years did not dissuade him from this course.

“The severing of demons from the world could not dissuade him.

“He has hunted the sun and devoured it through the days of the Third Kingdom and the Fourth and not anyone who’s tried has ever stopped him in his course.

“He will not stop until such suffering as Prajapati’s is no longer possible, which even the Buddha did not achieve. He will not stop until he has expiated the crime of stealing elixir from the sun, which he cannot do, as that act will forever stain the world. He is immortal because he is not finished with these basic tasks that no creature can attempt.

“That is how Rahu is immortal.”

“Oh,” says Sid.

“But don’t be afraid,” says Mr. Schiff. “It is the nature of all karma to resolve itself given sufficient time in which to work. If it is not this year, then it may be next year; if it is not, then certainly before the passage of another three hundred trillion years.”

Sid shakes himself.

“Will you watch him?” Sid says.

“Why did you bring him here?” Mr. Schiff asks.

“I didn’t know what to do with him,” Sid says. “And I figured Martin would. But you’ll do just as well.”

It is June 1, 2004.

Sid returns to the balcony. He sits on the battlement. He’s quiet.

“Aren’t you a sight,” says Max.

Sid shrugs.

Sid looks about.

“Iphigenia?”

“She’s with Jane,” says Max.

“Did she see the spike?”

“I told her not to watch the fight. I said, you’d win, but not by any way that’s good for children to see. And then you did.”

Sid sighs.

“You okay?” says Max.

“No,” says Sid.

“No?”

“We go ’round and ’round,” says Sid, “and nothing ever changes.”

“Yeah,” acknowledges Max.

“You don’t have to be here,” Sid says.

His voice is taut. His throat is sore. It hurts to talk.

But Max ignores him.

“Didn’t ask you if I did,” Max says.

“You don’t even like it here.”

Max sighs.

“Just— let it go, Sid.”

It’s getting darker now. It’s moving on towards evening. Shadows swell across the sky.

“You weren’t worth it,” says Sid.

Max’s lips tighten.

“Don’t you get it? I waited, I waited, and you’re just some damn stupid— just—“

“Just?”

And suddenly Sid is empty and the air is cold and he says, limply, “I wasted my dreams on you.”

Max looks up.

He grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“You wanna go?” he says.

It’s not an invitation to leave.

It’s an invitation to fight.

And for a long moment it seems as if Sid doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And then for a long moment like Sid will hold back.

Then the siggort is off the battlement and his wheel of knives is spinning and his fist comes forward and it strikes Max’s head, thok.

16 thoughts on “The Extinguishment of Karma (IV/IV)

  1. We know they don’t kill each other, yet this doesn’t really remove much of the suspense!

  2. They’re both referred to in the present tense in canon stories, don’t we? Plus, of course, it would be difficult for Max to play at the Tower if he’s dead.

  3. Hmm. I was thinking of this as the present, but the entry is in Roman numerals, isn’t it?

  4. The odd thing is that the piece with Martin and Sukaynah is also set during the day of June 1 2004, and it uses Arabic numerals.

    (Of course, I’m wondering what happened on May 28 2004 at the Elm Hill facility, and how it connects to this…)

  5. Ooh, good catch. We may be approaching the point where a “history” is just “moments ago”…

  6. This day in Hitherby time, June 1, 2004, may well be one of those moments like when the wind changed.

    I just re-skimmed all of the stories (the canon entries with Arabic numerals). The earliest one with a date (that I saw) was “Sunday”. It was dated, in Hitherby, as being April 18, 2004. It was posted on Sunday, April 16, 2004 in real time.

    (The earliest dated event that is still recent, from the timeline at the end of Chapter 1, was Martin’s letter reaching the monster on April 3, 2004. But that doesn’t count in the same way, I think, because it wasn’t dated within an entry.)

    Since “Sunday”, real time and current-Hitherby-time have diverged. “The Chorus of Definition” is Hitherby-dated April 25, 2004, and was posted August 31, 2004. “The Old Man and the Sea” is Hitherby-dated April 20, 2004 and was posted Feb 2005. It’s a bit odd that time went backwards between these two, but maybe that’s just the order in which the stories were told. After that is “The Fable of the Lamb”, Hitherby-dated April 23, 2004.

    Then there’s a jump forwards in the current Hitherby-time. “Jacob, His Runt [etc.]” May 12, 2004, “The Army” May 13, “The Water” May 24, “The Growing God” May 28, 2004.

    Then there’s this series. It must be poised on the brink of the current moment turning into history, because the earlier parts of it, like “Newton’s First Law”, are stories and are dated June 1, 2004, and this entry is a history and also dated June 1, 2004.

    — Rich P., being pedantic so you don’t have to

  7. Aha, so that’s why I was thinking of this as present time. Always nice to have confirmation that I’m not going out of my mind.

  8. Aliasi: I originally thought it was just a numbering mistake, but you’re right, if Sid and Max are just behind Martin it makes sense.

    This series has made me realize my image of the Tower was too small – it has to be big enough for 100+ “people” (however they’re defined), and for Martin to be far enough away from Sid and Max to not hear what’s going on.

  9. Hmm, now I’m confused about time. “What Is Hitherby Dragons” (which no longer goes by that name outwardly, it’s now a masked vigilante called “The Abstract”) says that Jane & Co put on a show every night, more or less, and that there were about 250 per year. It also says that histories or stories are things that happened or *will* happen, and that “Arabic numerals mean that it’s happening right now”.

    The problem is that there isn’t room between “Sunday” (April 16) and the stories now (June 1) for all of those legends. Not unless there is actually more than one shown at a Tower play, even though there is only one posted per day. But somehow I never envisioned that.

    Maybe the things “happening right now” are really in the future, compared to when the legend-plays are told? They’re stories because they’re stories of what will happen, rather than stories of what did happen — prophecies.

    Can anyone with a better memory than me at this moment remind me of any legends that clearly seem to be about the events in a story, and therefore show that a story must have already occured?

  10. Jane & Co put on a show every night, more or less, and that there were about 250 per year.

    That was before Rebecca changed her update shedule. Now that there are less posted they may fit in. (Perhaps?)

  11. [Held up in moderation, probably due to links. I’m going to approve it even though it’s been reposted, both for convenience of links and for training spam-checker. -Rebecca]

    I don’t think so, Dryn — there isn’t room for the legends already written, without considering those yet to be written.

    OK, correcting some errors and typoes in what I wrote before, the first Arabic-numeralled story with an internal date (i.e., when something like “It’s Sunday, the 18th of April, 2004.” is written into the story) is Sunday (2 of 2), which was dated on April 18 and actually posted Friday, April 16, 2004. So April 18, 2004 was, at that point, a day in the future on which the Hitherby current time would be the same as real time. (The story from two days before, “Saturday (1 of 2)”, happens from context on the preceeding day.)

    The last Arabic-numeralled story with an internal date so far is Feeding Dangerous Things (2 of 4) which happens June 1, 2004 (and from context and repeated reminders, the other events in this series do as well), and was posted June 10, 2006.

    Between April 18 2004 and June 1 2004 there’s only a month-and-a-half or so worth of days. I don’t want to count how many legends appeared in between “Sunday” and the current canon arc (there’s a limit to how pedantic even I’m willing to be), but there’s a lot more than the number of days.

    Now, I know that the entries jump around in time — you expect histories to do that. And I assumed that each legend was one day’s play. What I don’t understnad now is the relation of the “happening now” story-moment to when the legends happen. Maybe there isn’t any straightforward relation.

  12. it has to be big enough for 100+ “people” (however they’re defined)

    Thought experiment: every regular Hitherby commenter is “in the Tower”. They must be, in order to view the plays day after day.

  13. I don’t think so, Dryn — there isn’t room for the legends already written, without considering those yet to be written.

    OK, correcting some errors and typoes in what I wrote before, the first Arabic-numeralled story with an internal date (i.e., when something like “It’s Sunday, the 18th of April, 2004.” is written into the story) is “Sunday (2 of 2)”, which was dated on April 18 and actually posted Friday, April 16, 2004. So April 18, 2004 was, at that point, a day in the future on which the Hitherby current time would be the same as real time. (The story from two days before, “Saturday (1 of 2)”, happens from context on the preceeding day.)

    The last Arabic-numeralled story with an internal date so far is “Feeding Dangerous Things (2 of 4)” which happens June 1, 2004 (and from context and repeated reminders, the other events in this series do as well), and was posted June 10, 2006.

    Between April 18 2004 and June 1 2004 there’s only a month-and-a-half or so worth of days. I don’t want to count how many legends appeared in between “Sunday” and the current canon arc (there’s a limit to how pedantic even I’m willing to be), but there’s a lot more than the number of days.

    Now, I know that the histories jump around in time — you expect histories to do that. And I assumed that each legend was one day’s play. What I don’t understand now is the relation of the “happening now” story-moment to when the legends happen. Maybe there isn’t any straightforward relation.

    [Trying to post this again, didn’t work first time.]

  14. Can anyone with a better memory than me at this moment remind me of any legends that clearly seem to be about the events in a story, and therefore show that a story must have already occured?

    Well, Legend of Dr. T clearly seems to follow on from A Raw Deal for Creepy Handwriting Girl (2 of 2).

    I think it’s also notable that in The Show (II / IV) a legend is performed that is clearly A Reasonable Explanation…which was originally posted much earlier. They might have been doing an encore, I suppose.

  15. Pingback: Hitherby Dragons » Max Sets Forth to Kill God (1 of 4)

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