[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]
It is the peculiar character of the kingdoms in the crust of the world that the creepy crawly things evolve.
Worms, and rats, and even fish:
In the darkness, nurtured in its womb, they grow.
It is the opinion of Mung, in his classic Symmetric Ontology, that this represents one half of a cycle in continuous equilibrium. Reasons Mung, “For centuries we scholars have doubted our own existence on the grounds of its statistical improbability. Why should we be present at the historical accident of transition? One by one the lesser creatures shall grow great. Yet so many of these crawling things remain! The chances of our existence in this defining age of fervent growth seem unworthy of consideration: yet here we are.
“I suggest,” writes Mung, “that all things that exist are necessary, or at least highly probable. The universe must be such that the chances of our standing here today are meaningfully great. Thus I propose a harmony of purpose between the surface and the crust.
“Here, in the womb of time, the worms and rats and stickbugs will grow great. We will begin as filthy things. We will become as people, then as saints, then finally as God.
“Rising to the surface, we will cry, ‘Here am I!’
“‘Here am I, the lord of all this earth!’
“The sun’s rays will fall upon us. They will give us Vitamin D but they will destroy us. On the surface of the world things will grow corrupt. Things will devolve. God will become as a saint, then as a person, then as a filthy thing. From Heaven we will wriggle our way back down into the earth, into the womb of time, wherein once more we may begin to grow.”
Hail to the scholar! In the arms of such advice we may proceed with certainty in all the matters of the world.
Into the cavern of Minister Jof there comes a girl.
She is ill-favored, in the eyes of Minister Jof, but still remarkable for all the things she has achieved. Two hands, with fingers. Legs and feet. Hair. A cantankerous tendency towards being wrong, the most definite indicator of humanity, and grubby blue overalls designed by Sears.
“Can you tell me how to get to the surface?” she asks.
And Minister Jof snorts.
Kindly, he says, “It is too soon.”
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.
Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.
It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.
The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”
The Island of the Centipede
The girl squats down. She holds out a finger for the worms to sniff, forgetting, as many people do, that worms have no sense of smell.
One of the worms bumps her with its head.
“It’s too soon?”
There is a strange and squelchy feeling in Minister Jof’s heart. His dharma, that has been stiff and dry like left-out bread, begins to move.
“You have come quite far,” he says.
It is her presence, he thinks, that works this change in him. His first success. His first real witness of the power of the world to bring forth change.
To begin as a worm and gain the attributes of humanity: so marvelous! So profound!
Evolution is the first miracle and the last.
So he is kind.
“You have come quite far,” he says. “But consider this. On the surface, there is the sun. It is a giant ball of fire. In its presence you would catch fire and burn. Your hair would ignite like ten thousand torches. Your clothes would flame. Your eyes would look up at the sun and they would melt and boil and run down your cheeks like lava. Thereupon you would cry, ‘If only I had listened to Minister Jof! Truly, he was my friend.’
“And there is more,” adds the Minister. “On the surface, you would devolve. We have that with certainty from Mung. Your fragile humanity, beset by the corruption of that place, would fade. You would turn into a corpse, at best, and at worst ten thousand worms, and wriggle blindly back into the earth.”
“I hadn’t considered that,” says the girl.
“Here is my advice,” says Minister Jof. “If you must test the surface, first nurture yourself here until you have at least twice as many limbs and twice the brain capacity. Then it is reasonable to ascend, and look upon the surface for a time.”
“But I already have twice as many limbs,” says the girl. “If I doubled them again, I’d have eight!”
“We are people of the soil,” ripostes Minister Jof. “The surface has nothing to offer us but death.”
“And vitamin D.”
“Death,” says Minister Jof, “and vitamin D.”
The girl looks down.
“Still,” says Minister Jof. “I must congratulate you that you have come this far.”
The girl smiles a little.
“Pick a worm,” says Minister Jof. “Any worm. I will crush it in celebration of your victory.”
The girl looks up. Her eyes are round.
“I can crush worms on my own,” protests the girl. “Also, I don’t want to crush a worm that could become a person!”
“‘Two competing arguments strangle one another,'” quotes Minister Jof.
The girl runs her hand through her hair.
“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “But everybody calls me the imago—“
Minister Jof has set his eye on a worm. He points.
It’s a worm with a little bit of an arm growing out of it.
“Look at how small and deformed its arm is,” says Minister Jof.
Ink focuses her eyes. She sees its arm. Her jaw drops.
“Wow,” Ink says.
“Exactly,” says Minister Jof.
“A prime example,” says Minister Jof, “of a failure to grow.“
“It mocks me,” says Minister Jof, “with that stunted, withered limb.”
Ink utters a clipped word:
But his foot descends.
- The ten refinements of Minister Jof! The man named ‘No Longer an Idiot!’ Ink remains dressed, and Cronos dons clothes of brass! Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
DOOM COMES TO US ALL. (or whatever it winds up getting called.)
- And here’s a special bonus! Some notes on the geography of Hitherby Dragons may be found here.