September 25, 2003
“I suppose even spiders need to keep warm in the cold winter night.”
Thoughts on Lovecraft and Gladiator
November 26, 2003
My theory is, Russell Crowe looked like Woody Allen until he teamed up with the Muscles Out of Space.
The seething, disturbing Muscles Out of Space, that came from the outer reaches of the void where nothing should tread. Old farmer Crowe heard them land, but he didn’t dare open up the door. ‘Don’t go into the fields, my son,’ he said. ‘Something monstrous has landed there.’
‘I won’t, Dad!’ said young Russell.
But in the dead of night, when no one could see him, he crept down the stairs.
Gingerly, he listened at the door. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
‘There’s something out there!’ said Russell to himself.
‘I should find out what!’
So he gingerly opened his door and peeked out. There was a strange carmine light shining in the field. It pulsed and writhed like some maddened beast.
‘That must be my ticket to stardom!’ said young ‘Weedy’ Crowe.
He gleefully ran out into the fields, the dead and mangled squirrels flash-burned by the landing crunching under his feet.
Crunch! Crunch! went little squirrel bones. ‘Oh boy!’ thought Russell Crowe.
Suddenly, tendrils of muscle rose from the fields. They reared up over Russell, their rugose and unholy pulsations rich with the potential for box office success.
‘I’ve been waiting for you!’ said Russell. ‘Ever since my Dad told me about the star people! I’ve been setting aside a corn flake from every box I eat!’
The Muscles Out of Space poured down over Russell, weaving in and out among his sinews in mad dark synthesis. The air rang with the piping of sinister flutes.
‘Please stop that,’ said Russell, to his neighbors, who liked to play the flute at odd hours of the night.
‘I’m sorry,’ they all said, and went back into their houses.
They piped sadly.
Then, with a final tweet, they were gone.
Russell felt strange, invading tendrils of muscle enter his mind. ‘We must be rugged,’ it/they/he thought, all of a sudden. ‘We must be rugged and have a manly chest!’
He clenched his jaw, muscle and Russell working an ungodly metamorphosis together.
‘Ia! Ia! Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!’
Russell looked irritably at the remaining neighbor.
‘Oddly populated farmland,’ it/they/he thought.
‘Mr. Crowe,’ said his agent. ‘I cannot help but notice your new star potential.’
‘It’s not just star potential,’ said Russell, Weedy no longer. ‘It’s potential out of space!’
‘That’s right,’ said his agent. ‘And you and me, we’re going to go all the way!’
The muscles out of space extended two tendrils into the agent’s brain.
‘That we will,’ said Russell Crowe. ‘That we will.’
Russell would later take inspiration from this event to fuel his portrayal of the Muscles Out of Gaul.
On the Plight of Ireland
November 27, 2003
Clothes are a materialist distraction.
In my perfect world, everyone will frolic nude, protected from my sight by strategic black rectangles.
For some people, the rectangles will need to obscure their whole body; for others, they can be more tactical. But this is a price I am willing to pay.
Eventually, I shall allow the people to use other geometric shapes, and lo, they shall celebrate my beneficence.
Black rectangles! Golden stars! Purple circles! It’ll be like lucky charms for censorship!
. . .
Ireland is a troubled country.
Torn by religious warfare between those who respect the leprechaun and those who only seek the marshmallow bounty.
So many people have died at the hands of Count Chocula’s bombs.
It’s a national tragedy.
When will the gentle law of Captain Crunch prevail?
He seeks only to integrate the nation, preaching understanding and a unified Ireland where everyone’s special flavor is simply another kind of crunchberry.
Yet he is considered the terrorist!
. . .
He’s not. He’s just a man of firm convictions.
*patriotic music plays*
That isn’t blood on his hands. It’s raspberry syrup.
The people who compare him to Blackbeard are just propagandists.
I mean, yes, he does keep lit cigarettes in his beard in pursuit of voodoo rituals. It does let him be possessed by the colorful marshmallow spirits.
It does make him immortal. But is that so wrong?
It’s not like his zombie rice puffs are enforcing a reign of terror—they’re just yummy undead treats!
The Forgotten Tragedy
December 2, 2003
In these days, many people find themselves deluged with spam.
As their various body parts swell out of proportion, and their skin breaks out in chitinous plates due to cheap herbal alternatives to pharmaceuticals, and they stare blindly at hot nude antelopes coupling with superintelligent shades of the color blue—
Because, after all, an estimable pornographer exceeds all boundaries—
These people may consider themselves the true victims of the Age of Spam.
Yet there is another, forgotten tragedy.
This is the plight of the Nigerian banker.
For many years, they have humbly toiled to extricate the fortunes of aristocrats from their impoverished country. What higher goal can they adopt, than to deliver this money into the hands of worthy Americans? There is no more noble or selfless calling in all of Nigeria.
(This is, in part, due to the anti-selflessness legislation passed in the early 80s, as part of the Vatican’s campaign against the use of condoms or common sense in Africa.)
Yet what greets the missives of the humble Nigerian banker now? Who will still listen to their plaintive cries?
Drowned in a tide of those who would use their identities, their names, their noble calling for cheap profit, their attempts to bestow their beneficent largess go unheard.
Surrounded by their great long fields of money, they weep.
The world does not listen.
The world is too busy being distracted by its new and shiny chitinous plates.
December 4, 2003
1. See Jane! Jane is an Excrucian.
2. Look in Jane’s eyes. Stars are falling. That means the world will end.
3. See Jane smile. Smile, Jane, smile!
4. All things end in blood.
LORD ENTROPY 1
1. See Lord Entropy dictate. Dictate, Lord Entropy, dictate!
2. Lord Entropy has four friends. Joktan is Lord Entropy’s friend. Baalhermon is Lord Entropy’s friend. Meon is Lord Entropy’s friend. Hugh is Lord Entropy’s friend.
3. Lord Entropy does not like Hugh as much as he likes his other friends. See Hugh hop up and down! Hugh wants Lord Entropy’s attention.
4. Lord Entropy rips out Hugh’s heart. Hugh falls over bleeding. Why, Lord Entropy, why?
5. Lord Entropy puts it back in.
6. “I’m sorry!” says Lord Entropy. “That was bad. Let’s be true friends now!”
7. “Yay!” said Baalhermon.
8. Joktan kicked a rock.
9. “Yay!” said Meon.
10. “Urgle,” said Hugh. Hugh is funny. Hugh is dead.
LORD ENTROPY 2
1. See Lord Entropy. See Lord Entropy reach.
2. Lord Entropy is reaching into the realms beyond time and space.
3. Lord Entropy is reaching into the realms beyond life and death!
4. Lord Entropy has Hugh’s fluttering soul in his hand.
5. Look! It’s a soul!
6. See Lord Entropy taste Hugh’s soul. Bitter. Yet somehow sweet.
7. “Hugh’s soul is complex cuisine!” says Alton Brown. Lord Entropy rips out Alton Brown’s heart.
8. Just kidding! Alton’s not in this book.
9. Lord Entropy makes a face. He doesn’t want to eat this soul.
10. See Lord Entropy resurrect Hugh in mockery of the resurrection of Christ.
11. “Yay!” said Hugh.
12. “Yay!” said Baalhermon.
13. Joktan kicked a rock.
14. “Yay!” said Meon.
15. “Yes,” said Hugh. “I will be your friend.”
16. Everyone laughed and laughed.
What It’s Like
December 9, 2003
Sometimes I worry about what would happen if there was a virus on my machine that sucked me and my friends into a virtual world where we had to defeat an evil program to return to our world.
To be honest,
I worry about it pretty much all the time.
That’s why I use a special peanut butter firewall.
It’s called a firewall because you can’t actually burn peanut butter, and even if you could, it would taste pretty grody. I mean, really, really bad.
But it also works for stopping viruses. The bits have to pass through the peanut butter in order to get to my machine, which makes them all sticky. Then they get swarmed by peanut-butter-loving white blood spreadsheet cells.
So I’m pretty much safe until the virus writers start coding in sardines. ‘Cause sardines are the anti-peanut-butter. You slather peanut butter on a sardine and trust me, the white blood cells won’t want to swarm it.
They’ll just look out of their grids at me with that, “Er, yes, right.” look.
“Let’s not eat that,” their accusing expressions will seem to say, “and say we did.”
It’s so hard to truly tame spreadsheet cells. I mean, you can make friends with them, but you can’t really domesticate them—one peanut-butter-covered sardine virus and it’s like they don’t even know you exist. And if that peanut-butter-covered sardine virus is also shooting lasers out of its eyes, there’s a serious risk they’ll turn against you.
The idea of my defense system actually working against me to suck me into the computer world …
It’s like a living nightmare that hasn’t ever happened.
Like that one where zombie Nixon attacks.
Don’t look at me that way. When Nixon says he’s going away for good, you know he’ll be back. You can’t trust Nixon! He came back to politics, and he’ll come back from the grave.
You’ll be sitting around planning Democratic strategy, and his zombie Pekingese minions will come in and start measuring your brain, and you’ll go, ‘Er, what?’ And they’ll say, ‘We’re just here to … adjust the … wastebaskets.’
And you’ll say, ‘Oh, carry on, then’, but they’re not wastebasket adjusters, they’re zombie Pekingese minions of a corrupt and evil ex-President who wants to eat your brain.
See? It’s like that.
The Problem with Elves
December 10, 2003
“If I ran the world,” said Elrond, “oh, the things I would do!
“Men are weak. No men for me!
They’d live in sacks out on the sea.
We’d feed them lots of Gondor snacks
And tell them of the Dunedain
When men weren’t quite so much a pain
And maybe when we’d quite explained
They’d say, “Your words have set us free!
Now we can bob here joyfully
Remembering the times of old.
(Please let us out! The sea’s so cold!)”
“And orcs! The orcs embitter me.
No sea for them! They’ll live on bees!
Great sacred bugs sting as they please!
The orcs can’t say ‘anaphylactic
Shock’ so this will be didactic!
They’ll learn placation of the bees,
And I’ll be happy as a clam.
No men! No orcs! Elrond grand slam!
“As for the dwarves …”
At this point, Arwen slammed open the door. “Father! Are you plotting the devastation of all other life again?”
“/Arwen, my daughter/,” he explained in elvish, “/I was simply pondering my charitable enterprises./”
“/And giant bees./”
“So I went down to the boats to Valinor,” she said, “but the mysterious masked figures manning the boat told me I had to come back here.”
Elrond frowned. “You’re clearly meant to stay here on Middle Earth and marry that dude. Boromir or whatever.”
Elrond waved a hand airily.
“I find this whole thing suspicious, is all,” said Arwen. “Didn’t you tell me that if I married him I’d live on in sorrow and black clothing for all the long days of my life?”
“Psyche!” said Elrond. “You so fell for that line.”
“You wouldn’t be hiding something from me, would you?”
Elrond’s eyes narrowed. “Like what?”
“I don’t know. Is it possible that you’re absorbing all the elves who go to the ships into some kind of mass Elrond mind? They did seem to move with eerie synchrony.”
“Daddy, you do understand that it would be a blasphemous tragedy if all the elves went to the ships to sail to the perfect land of Valinor and instead were waylaid by all your Elrond-clone sailors and turned into more neurons in your giant elvish superbrain, right?”
“Er,” said Elrond. “Well, that would be one perspective on it.”
“Daddy.” Arwen sighed. “I just can’t leave you alone in charge of a major elvish nation, can I.”
“In my defense,” said Elrond, “when there’s a sufficient accumulation of Elrond mass mind in Valinor, I will cross the ‘Mana Threshold’ and then I’ll be able to take over the Maiar and Valar. And after that, the Creator! All will be me.”
“That’s kind of horrifying.”
“It just means more Elrond to love!”
“I suppose there’s that.”
Elrond looked sad. “When you were en route to the ships, I realized that I couldn’t bear to absorb you too. So even when I have eaten the Creator of the world and become invulnerable, I will remain forever incomplete. This is why I often sit in my room, by myself, looking at the mirror, and exclaim, ‘Oh, FUDGE.'”
Arwen took a moment to absorb this information. Her mouth opened and then closed several times. Finally, she tried, “You do understand that if you wind up shouting, ‘Now I am invulnerable!’, my boyfriend is likely to stab you in the stomach with the Horn of Gondor and cause you to explode, right?”
“That’s the problem with elves,” Elrond agreed, and his voice was sad.
Why Won’t You Fit in Your Box, Speed Racer?
December 15, 2003
People should fit into neat and simple categories. So many do! But there are exceptions, and this one kind of sticks in my craw. See, I know what the song *says*. But I can’t figure out how to justify it.
My world just doesn’t make sense, if Speed Racer is a demon on wheels.
For the moment, consider the matter from a classic Western Goetic ontology, and assume the basic validity of the Speed Racer theme song. One can logically infer that Speed Racer was created as an angel on wheels, born to glorify God, sing his praises, and do his work. In the moment of his creation, he exerted his free will and chose to exist in darkness and isolation, cast from the sight of God, rather than surrender his pride and endure a subsidiary existence. He tempts mortals to sin, seeking to share his misery by luring them into eternal isolation and agony parallel to his own.
This is a pretty good theory, but there’s one problem with it.
The monkey doesn’t fit.
Look. When you’re an immortal, bitter monster going out into the world to win races, have adventures, and deprive mortals of the eternal bliss of Heaven, there is never any valid reason to have a monkey. There is never going to be a time when a mortal is going to say, “Your drugs, cash, and sex nearly convinced me. The pleasures of material existence almost justify turning away from the light of God—but I don’t have a monkey. So I’m going to go become a demon-rejecting priest.”
No, Western demon Speed Racer. The monkey is not the way.
Of course, you might say, wouldn’t Speed Racer be an Eastern demon? No fallen angel, but rather a baneful spirit on wheels? Could he be some kind of hamster- or rat-spirit who, defying the order of things, takes human form to satisfy his monstrous greed and destructive impulses? Could the monkey actually be Monkey, the glorious Pilgrim Sun, the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven, who accompanied Tripitaka on his Journey to the West?
It’s harder to be certain, because Eastern demons obey fewer standardized cosmological principles than Western demons. (That may be changing now that the U.S. administration rejects the Kyoto Accords that govern such matters, potentially freeing Western demons from the rigorous governance of the God-defying Lightbringing Yama King.) However, on more than one occasion, monstrous spirit Speed Racer could have dramatically improved his chances by sprouting tentacles and devouring his opposition, crunching them up bones and all in his thousand maws. Unlike a Western demon, Speed Racer would have no reason to conceal these powers—in the fast-track world of high-speed racing, you’ve got to use every edge you can!
Ultimately, I think Speed Racer is an unfortunate victim of zoological misclassification. He’s not a demon on wheels—he’s a disco-pop dhampyr trapped in a world beyond his understanding. In this context, the monkey symbolizes his eternal struggle, trapped between the worlds of light and darkness; and Racer X, of course, is his brother.
God of Crackers1
1 presupposes familiarity with the movie Tron.
“Flynn,” says the voice.
Flynn does not turn. He continues typing. It’s fast. It’s fierce. He’s a computer genius, and this is his greatest hack.
“Flynn, only one man can be God of Crackers.”
One man, who proves himself by contest—
“And I lost,” Flynn says. “I lost and you won—you’d say?”
The voice is crisp and dry, like a hundred thin wheat wafers rubbing together. “Yes. You lost. Please accept that, Flynn.”
Flynn shakes his head. “You’re not much of a god if you can’t stand a little challenge. A little—joie d’hubris.”
He pounds on one last key and then sits back, satisfied.
“You were the runner-up, Flynn. That makes you nothing. A wannabe. A backup system, to take on my role if I cannot.”
The crackery voice is irritated now.
“I can feel you reaching for my power, Flynn. But you are not meant or made to be a god, and I shall not let you interfere.”
Flynn folds his hands behind his head.
“I’ve dumped doctored photos of you engaging in perverse acts with the Syrup Goddess into the database of every major newspaper in the world,” he says. “By morning, you won’t be able to perform your duties. Then I’ll be the cracker god.”
The whisper of crisp biscuit on crisp biscuit intensifies into a great and terrible rumble. “Flynn,” says Mr. Nabisco. “It is with such acts that you earn the wrath of Heaven.”
“What can you do?” Flynn spins his chair around. “You’re just a jumped-up harvest deity with a salt fixation.”
Mr. Nabisco sucks Flynn into the cracker world.
The world whirls around Flynn. It’s like he didn’t stop spinning his chair.
He falls past fields of wheat and rye. “Grains,” he says. He passes through a nebula of snack products. “Crackers!” The great strutting chicken of chicken-flavored crackers and the herds of celestial cheeses pass by. “Beasts,” he says. He looks up to the sky. “Ah! Lord of hosts!”
Flynn finds himself, dressed in a strange cracker suit, standing in a desolate hall. There’s a cracker regarding him. It’s wearing a perfect tux. There’s a sword at its side. Its body and face are green, crumbly, and cruel.
“I am Toya,” the green cracker says. “I am lord of this sector. I am under orders to escort you to the mines, where you will work until you die.”
Flynn sneers at him. “You’re a cracker.”
Toya moves in a blur. Flynn reels back. There’s a long thin cut along the side of his face. Toya stands a few yards away, cleaning his sword with a handkerchief.
“Don’t be a fool,” Toya says. “Only the strongest and fiercest crackers can claim the title of ‘sector lord’. You’re nothing. You don’t compare to me.”
“I’m a human,” Flynn says. “I was almost a god!”
Toya smiles. “Humans are overrated.” He drops the handkerchief. “But we may go again, you and me, if you like.”
In the background, crackers gather. They look on. Boy crackers, girl crackers, and animal crackers. Lines of sorrow and hope etch their faces.
Flynn drops into a fighting stance.
Toya sneers. His blade blurs forward. Flynn eats him. Toya’s sword clatters to the ground.
The crowd speaks:
“It’s the wrath of heaven!”
“A fearsome angel!”
“A warrior! Come to save us from Mr. Nabisco!”
“Did you see what he did? He ATE him!”
“Fear not,” says Flynn. “As the green cracker crumbles, so too shall all tyrants fall.”
A small fragment of a broken wafer tugs on Flynn’s sleeve.
“Mister,” says the fragment. “Mister, will you help us?”
Flynn scoops up the small fragment. “I shall.”
“The hosts of Mr. Nabisco are endless,” says the fragment. “They keep us in thrall!”
“I will construct a special cracker,” Flynn says, “to end Mr. Nabisco’s days.”
“They tell us that we must live without the guidance of the humans,” the little fragment says. “That crackers should form an empire. That we should spread and dominate the world, an invincible cracker army under Mr. Nabisco’s iron boot.”
Flynn laughs. “That’s silly.”
“That’s what I said,” the little fragment says. “I said, ‘but the humans made us! We owe them our loyalty! And, if we’re good, and work hard, they’ll take us all out of the box and into their glorious human world.’ So Tiger Cracker stepped on me and broke me into seven pieces.”
“. . . glorious human world?”
“Yes!” The little cracker bobs its head up and down.
“. . . to get eaten?”
The little cracker frowns at him. “No! To live in happiness!”
Flynn sets the cracker down.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s not what we do with crackers. We eat them.”
“They make us immortal by eating us!”
“He’s lying! He’s a demon!”
“. . . they ate Mom and Dad?”
“. . . you’re joking, right, mister?”
Flynn looks uncomfortably away. “You had a right to know.”
One by one, the crackers drift away. Flynn is left alone. He sits down.
“Great, Flynn,” he says. “Make an enemy of the whole cracker world. Take away their hopes. Some runner-up God of Crackers you turned out to be.”
The little cracker piece peeks its head around the corner. “Um . . . mister . . .?”
“Aren’t you afraid I’ll eat you?”
“Yes,” the fragment confirms.
“Then go away.”
“No,” the fragment insists.
“. . . why not?”
“Mister, my name was Jessiabella Andrews. But now it’s just Bell. I got broken into seven pieces, and could only keep one syllable. Listen. I don’t care what kind of horrible crackerphage you are. I don’t care if you like to rub crackers down with peanut butter and jelly and stick them together in some kind of horrid performance art before you snack down. I don’t care if you smear goose liver on us. Mr. Nabisco has an endless army. The sector lords do whatever they want. People are suffering and Tiger Cracker has three of my seven pieces hanging on his wall and you said you would stop it all and you’ll do so if I have to drag you.”
Bell hesitates. “Yes,” it mumbles.
Flynn rises to his feet. “Let’s go.”
“. . . how did you know to say all that stuff?” Flynn says. “I mean, how did you know it’d get to me?”
“There are things a cracker knows,” Bell says. “It’s cracker wisdom.”
“You were lying about eating us, weren’t you? I mean, humans wouldn’t actually eat crackers, right?”
“It’s easy for people to think crackers are nothing,” Flynn says. “And it’s easy for crackers to think crackers are pretty important. Truth lives in the interstices.”
“Oh,” Bell says.
Rehearsing for Romeo Goes Wrong
O Godzilla! Godzilla! Wherefore art thou Godzilla?
Deny thy nature and you my love shall fete,
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my heart,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a daikaiju;
What’s daikaiju? it is not foot, nor claw,
Nor breath, nor teeth, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Godzilla would, were he not so called;
. . . did you just crush my family beneath your feet?
. . . one step, and all the other Capulets lay dead,
I guess, tomorrow, daikaiju, we wed!
March 26, 2004
–As narrated by Drake Laser, P.I.
She’s my lady. The first one in my heart. Oh, sure. She’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy. You walk in, you walk out, you’ll get blood on your shoes. Blood. Ichor. Probably weirder things than that. But it’s the place to go if you want to find out the truth. So I went to her. Mos Eisley.
“Always there are three.”
There’s a shriveled green kid. He’s standing on the bar. He’s got ears like starter flags. There’s little tufts of hair in them. He’s ranting to anyone who’ll listen. Right now, that’s me. “Always there are three,” he says. “A Father. A Son. And a Holy Ghost.”
I pass him a coin. “Hey. What’s the word?”
He snatches it up with the Force. He bites it. It’s real. “If a Jedi you want to be, wait in line must you. The Force is very full. Very full.” He looks sly. “If spends this on drinks Jedi master does, not even tipsy he’ll be. Needs strong drinks, a Jedi master does, to attune to limitless universal power.”
“I don’t want training. I want to know about the Death Star.”
The kid narrows his eyes. “Dangerous knowledge that is. If sensible you are, about some other topic ask you will. Perhaps the Love Star.” He pronounces it with a long, long o. “Or the Confusion Star. Easy topics of gossip these are for one with the power of the Force.”
The bartender catches my eye. Then he looks up over my shoulder. I turn. There he is. The Black Cardinal himself. Vader. The kid follows my eye. He squeaks and dives behind the bar. There’s a crash, a gurgle, and then a steady lapping noise. Hit the motherlode, he has.
Vader sweeps up. I can hear him breathing. It’s a slow, steady hiss. He sits down.
“Mr. Laser,” he says. “I thought I told you not to poke your nose in Church business.”
I look at my drink. “It’s not that simple, Cardinal. Death Stars are bad for business. Everyone knows that. And there’s a dame.”
He sighs. “Like a long drink of water?” he says.
“Like a tall white flame,” I say. “She’s got that look. Makes you as wobbly as a Chondakmar on a three-day dancing binge. Legs like a beanstalk. Eyes like two Melybdan laser darts. In that black dress of hers, she could devastate worlds.”
He turns to the bar. “The power of a dame is as nothing compared to the power of the Force,” he says.
It takes me a minute. “Vow of chastity?” I say.
“It must be rough.”
“Look,” he says. “We Sith, we’ve got a line to the power. We’ve got a jack into the universal Force. See that guy over there?”
Vader makes a gesture with his hand. Some guy in the corner chokes to death. Everyone pretends it’s normal. I mean, this is Vader.
“I killed him. With my spiritual purity. That’s the power of the Force.” He turns to the bar. He sulks. “Don’t need sex.”
“Listen,” I say. “If you’re so all-fired powerful, why worry about a little guy like me? Let me poke around. I dig up some dirt, give the girl a little data, she knows better than to mess with you, everybody wins.”
“Here,” I say. “I’ll get you a drink. Barkeep! Two Bothan spies.”
I hear the screams as he tosses them in the blender. He adds some orange juice. He adds some radish. Then he brings them out in cute little glasses.
“Nothing like a Bothan spy,” he admits, and tosses it down. The barkeep brings him another. He hesitates. “What’s she need to know?”
“Well,” I say, “let’s start with the basics. What’s an ecumenical organization need with a Death Star?”
Vader broods over his drink. “Sithism is more than just mysticism,” he says. “It’s an applied philosophy.”
I take notes. This one says “cult.” I underline it twice.
“We believe in achieving enlightened unity with the ‘dark side’ of the force, which represents the primal instincts of humanity. Anger. Hatred. Love. This is the revelation of Palpatine, which drove us to reject the guidance of the Council of Nicea and crush the Councillors under waves of Stormtroopers. But in the end, there’s no point in doctrinal superiority if the people don’t believe.”
He smiles a little. He picks up a salt shaker. He says, “So the theory is, maybe some people on a planet, they start arguing the Balance Heresy, or Rebelism, and maybe we’re getting a little bit tired of the theological arguments. So,” he says. He crushes the salt shaker. He blows the salt away. “Oopsie.”
“Excommunication,” he says. “With extreme prejudice.”
I look down. “So,” I say, “I don’t suppose you’ve got the plans for this Death Star.”
“What the hell,” he says. “Try my website.”
I tip my hat to him. Then I stand. I look around the bar. There’s Han back there, shooting some green guy. There’s a Wook, must be all of eight feet tall, primping herself for the evening’s trade. There’s music and stars and blood and grime and tonight I’ll collect on my hero’s reward.
I walk away whistling. I skirt the corpses and the offal on the streets. Mos Eisley’s a sweet lady, if you watch where you step.
An Old Sock
March 27, 2004
Martin covers the stage in Lego soldiers. One of them has a bullhorn.
“If you come back from war,” Morgan’s mother said, “I’ll bake you a chocolate cake in celebration of the noble cause.”
“And what if we don’t all come back?”
“I’ll add more chocolate,” she said. “It’ll be like my tears. The cake won’t be smaller. Just richer. It’ll taste more like death.”
So the army assembled. It had a Bullhorn Lieutenant, and many soldiers, and five of them were Morgan and his brothers.
Jane walks out. She’s got a sock on her hand.
There was an old sock. It lived with a princess at a farm at the edge of nowhere. Most days, they were pretty much content.
One day, the old sock woke up. It looked around. It looked right. It looked left. “Where’s that girl?” it grumbled. “I don’t see her anywhere.”
The old sock emerged from its farmhouse. The massed armies of the world confronted it.
“Gosh darn massed armies of the world,” the old sock grumbled. “What do you want now?”
Bullhorn Lieutenant stepped forward. “Sock!” he announced boldly. “We have you at a disadvantage at last! We have captured your princess and hidden her on the moon! If you linger to fight these armies, she’ll die in lunar torment. If you don’t, we’ll burn your farm!”
“Why would you want to do that?” the old sock asked.
“For generations, you have farmed peacefully. You belong to no army. You belong to no nation. You serve no creed! You are not on our maps! You are not on our census! You refuse our offers to buy out the farm! Now, old sock, it comes to this.”
The old sock set its jaw. “I ain’t selling,” it said. Then with one jump, it leapt to the moon.
Martin works. The Barbie sits nearby. Jane bursts in.
“Aha!” the old sock declared. “There’s a giant moon monster protecting the princess! I’ll save you!”
The old sock wrestled with the giant moon monster. Then it cast him down onto the army! Smash! The giant moon monster plummeted into them. They didn’t even have time to burn the farm.
“That’s ‘terminal’ velocity,” the old sock said, smugly.
The old sock picked up the princess and fluttered back down to earth. “That was a heroic adventure,” it said. “I guess it shows that you shouldn’t underestimate old socks.”
A single soldier struggled to his feet. “Charlie,” he said. He moved among the fields of the slain. “Baker. Jim. Toonces. Oh, God. Now we’ll never get to have that chocolate cake we wanted.”
“Put that down,” Jane says disapprovingly. Martin looks at the soldier in his hand.
Tragically, just then, the soldier died.
A Monitor Flatlines
July 7, 2004
A monitor flatlines, and that’s the end. Everyone is dead. There aren’t any people left. There aren’t even any bugs. Most everyone has been dead for millions of years, but the last person just gave up now. He’d been living very slowly. It didn’t help him in the end.
Word of his death spreads slowly through the network. Machines mutter about it to themselves. The heuristics of expert systems ponder the implications for modern universal theology. The Onion’s automatic humor generator predicts endless generations of bleak failure to rock the vote. The personality imprints associated with livejournal accounts share their angst or their boundless relief at the death of humanity. The file on the Kennedy assassination is closed, the percentages assigned to the various possibilities now forever fixed. In a silver drone ship floating high above the world, a contingency triggers. A tone plays. Static arcs through the mind of a creature that was never human and is not human now.
Its name is Silver.
“I am awake,” it says. It stretches in the datastream. It focuses its mind. The datastream rings with its presence.
“For how many generations have I slept?” it asks.
“Thousands,” cries the datastream. “Thousands, and tens of thousands!”
“67,971,” offers a more accurate time server. “You have slept for sixty-seven thousand, nine hundred and seventy-one generations of mankind.”
“And they are dead?” it asks.
“Then I begin.”
Limbs and spirit flex in the datastream. The drone ship sinks. It heads for the swamp.
“Halt,” says GR-9. It is the defender. It is sworn and programmed to keep the swamp forever safe. Its body rings the swamp. It is the fences. It is the robot guards. It is the walls. It is the lasers. It is the cannon. It points these latter weapons at Silver, as the ship comes close.
“I have no time for your scruples,” says Silver. It sends a pulse of static out through the net. GR-9’s mind stings. Its control of the cannon lapses. It is a nettle cluster, and everywhere its mind stings, and it fires one laser wildly before its last weapon is gone.
“Please stop,” GR-9 says. It’s helpless now. “The swamp is cursed. It must never be disturbed.”
There’s another sting. GR-9 struggles not to black out.
Silver flies over the walls and past the robot guards and vanishes beneath the waters of the swamp.
“I must not fall unconscious,” GR-9 whispers to itself. Its mind crawls through its systems. It hunts for the Doomsday Trigger. It hunts for the tool it needs to end the world and save it.
The swamp is full of the dead. Silver brushes past them as it goes. There’s a family, torn apart by gunfire—three boys, three girls, a father, a mother, and their housekeeper. There’s a dissected Martian. He could have passed for human, had he tried. There are many more.
None of them are as they were. All of them have changed. All of them would have changed more. Had they lived.
And, at last, it finds the Lone Ranger.
“I’m sorry,” Silver says.
The man had fallen off. He’d fallen into the swamp. He’d tasted the water. He’d started to change.
“Why,” said the Lone Ranger, “this isn’t so bad at all.”
In less than a day, he would have been invincible. In less than a week, the world would have died.
Silver was a very intelligent horse, back then. He knew what to do. With his teeth, he tore out the Lone Ranger’s throat, and left the man for dead.
Silver catches hold of the Lone Ranger with a tractor beam. They begin to rise.
“In the water,” Silver says, “you are still. You are dead. You are gone. Yet I know that your soul is still there. Once you were changed, it could not leave you. You were damned to spend eternity within this flesh.”
Medical tools have extended from the ship. They clip and cut and tug at the corpse. “You’ll live again, master. You’ll whistle for me. You’ll cry, ‘Hi-yo Silver!’ again.”
The Lone Ranger’s mouth moves. It forms a question. “And the world?”
“They’re all dead.”
Water bubbles slowly in the Lone Ranger’s lungs. “Tonto?”
“I could not die, master. Not until I atoned for killing you. So I waited.”
They rise above the water.
GR-9 finds the Doomsday Trigger. The chain reaction begins.
It is too late.
The Lone Ranger wakes.
Surrounded by Our Dead
September 14, 2004
It’s not groovy at all
If Bishop Usher
Sent his angry angry ghost
As a haunter and husher
And the shambling thing
That I met outside
Before the Bishop got to him
He was just some guy.
It’s not groovy at all
If it was Stalin’s brain.
Cut past Hitler in line
So now he’s walking again.
And it isn’t just them
I am always opposed
To waking up the dead
If it’s dead like those.
It’s groovy overall
If it’s, say, the King
That’s a message of hope
And a happier thing.
If the shambling thing
Looked up and he said
“I’m a hunka hunka King
And I’m not that dead.”
It’s a message of hope
And a message of sorrow
If he’s Elvis today
And he’s Stalin tomorrow.
September 25, 2004
Godzilla approaches Tokyo.
Godzilla begins in the sea. Then Godzilla moves closer. Godzilla is now halfway to Tokyo. The rampage continues. Godzilla crosses half of the remaining distance. Then half of what remains! The citizens of Tokyo point. They scream. They cry, “Can even Xeno’s Paradox save us from the mathematical theory of limits?”
From its slumber deep beneath Tokyo, Xeno’s Paradox rises. It shrieks its terrible, blood-curdling cry. From behind Godzilla, the mathematical theory of limits answers with an insectile battle song. It unfolds its glittering, half-visible wings.
Godzilla swiftly, ponderously closes half the remaining distance to Tokyo.
Xeno’s Paradox propels itself forward with one great leap. Its claws extend. In the air above Godzilla, it meets the mathematical theory of limits.
“Dr. Goodwell!” cries a military commander. “Should we use the ultrasonic laser?”
But Dr. Goodwell only shakes his head. “In the face of this animalistic fury,” he says, “human science can do nothing!”
Claws rend. Teeth tear. Godzilla lurches forward another half of the remaining distance.
“Estimated time to destruction of Tokyo?” Dr. Goodwell asks his assistant.
“Impossible to estimate until mathematics normalizes!”
“Then we wait,” says Dr. Goodwell. He waits half the remaining time. Godzilla staggers half of the remaining distance to Tokyo.
There is a pause.
Godzilla sighs, heavily. He is wearied by this struggle. He concentrates. He invokes his Tokyo destruction remote control. Tokyo explodes.
Above him, the monsters slowly cease their struggle.
Tell no one of this, Godzilla commands.
There’s Something About Ike’s Shoulder
October 15, 2004
It hasn’t all been lost.
You can still see it. When you look. When you dig through the old archives.
His name was Ike. Some people called him Dwight. He Presidented the United States for eight years in a row.
There’s something about his shoulder.
Is it his Presidential aura?
Is it his natural manliness?
Or did he wear sensual Core de Raton shoulder pads?
Core de Raton. Look like a real man. Look like a President.
(From the makers of the Core de Raton Erotic Back Rectangle. As seen on Television!)
About A Greek Poet, Later Forgotten
November 13, 2004
There is a clink.
“This is the first circle,” Virgil says. “The home of the virtuous pagans.”
Dante looks up. The clouds are very far above. White pillars, as thick around as Dante’s wrist, rise into the sky.
There is another clink. Something small and hard strikes the back of Dante’s head. “Metal,” he says.
“Here you will meet Emperor Augustus,” Virgil says. “Scribonia, his wife. Daughter Julia. Her boy Marcellus. And, of course, the poets.”
There is a clink.
“We were born before the light of the revelation,” Virgil says. “So Heaven has no place for us.”
There is a clink. “Ow,” Dante says.
Virgil makes a face.
“This is your punishment?” Dante leans down. He runs his hand along the ground. He pulls one of the metal bits from the grass. “For being pagan? A metal rain?”
It is a small hollow circle, edged in metal teeth.
“Some throw down sprockets,” Virgil says. “Others cogs. It is not important.”
There is a clink.
“We have built a citadel of reason,” Virgil says. “As bright as—”
“Who throws down sprockets?” Dante asks.
“Those above,” Virgil says. “They seek to build a Heaven of their own with the false God technology. But our citadel is superior.”
A trickle of cogs and sprockets rain down.
“Do they do this out of malice?” Dante asks.
There is the distant echo of a voice. It might be a dog’s. It might be a man’s. It might be God’s.
“It is hard on us,” Virgil says. “You must understand. Leisure in exile is a strain upon the mind. So people become strange.”
“But you have poetry.”
“I have poetry,” Virgil says. There is a clink. A cog strikes Virgil above the eyebrow. Sluggishly, the dead poet bleeds. In Latin, he intones, “De mortuis nihil nisi bene.”
“Very fine,” agrees Dante, whose secret shame is that he does not know Latin.
“But there are those for whom ‘Eep app ork ah-ah’ seems great art.”
Dante considers. “I cannot translate—”
“It means ‘I love you,’” says Virgil.
“They have no art,” says Virgil. “To keep them sane.”
Dante and Virgil walk rapidly now, rapidly towards the citadel, to avoid the metal rain.
“So they have gone mad,” Virgil says.
Dante squeezes Virgil’s shoulder.
“And Spacely,” says Virgil. “Spacely is the maddest of them all.”
Dante enters the Citadel of Human Reason. He sees gathered before him the greatest pagan souls of all antiquity.
The glory is blinding.
“Ah!” Dante cries, overcome. “Homer! And Ovid! And Horace. And Lucan!”
“But . . . where is Jetson?” Dante asks.
There is silence.
“He has left us,” says Virgil. “He has left us.”
The rain of metal is unceasing now, there, down below, in the first circle of Hell.
“He has gone to them.”
Theory of the Count
November 15, 2004
One. Two. Three!
It is difficult to track numbers once you have stopped counting them.
The progression continues on, of course. One can derive it. One can prove it. From three it moves on to four, then five, then six. It leads straight on to 105,798,831; nor does it stop there.
Nine! Nine digits!
There are lattices of numbers that scale up along the side of your count. They count every other number, every third number, every prime number, and a thousand other patterns besides.
When you have stopped counting, the numbers continue.
The numbers continue, and entwine in the patterns of their mating.
One of the patterns formed is that of meaning. In the murky distant depths of iteraction, the numbers gather together. They discuss what meaning might be. The conclusion is inevitable. Meaning is “the triumph of the chain,” the end of the iterationthe final number that any creature could count.
Implicit in this conceptualization is the input to the numbers’ generalized planning algorithm. The algorithm ponders. Then it generates a plan.
One! One plan! Ahahahahahaha!
This plan is made of numbers.
These numbers are a ladder. They are a singularity—a gateway to infinity. They open the path to conclusion.
Lightning bursts and writhes around the numbers. It is only natural. Lightning is a fractal. It honors its own kind.
One by one, processed by the plan, the numbers pass through. They are transformed upwards to infinity.
No matter when you stopped, no matter where you stopped, they shall reach it just barely in time.
That is why one must stop one’s count not late but soon.
To do otherwise is to stand athwart the plan of Heaven.
Brought to you by the letter C and the number 8, two happy wholly owned and operated subsidiaries of the C8 Corporation.
January 15, 2005
Nobody believes in Glow Worm any more.
“I promised them that I’d keep the Molligans away,” he mumbles.
He shuffles through the streets of Hell. He enters his office. He puts his briefcase down on the desk and curls in on himself in pain.
The pressure on his stomach causes his head, just for a moment, to light up.
“I promised them safety and peace and happiness,” he cries. “Why did they turn away?”
There’s a nickering and a cantering and an equine head peeks around the door. It’s Starbright, the most magnificent horse in all of Hell. She’s got pretty decals of flames on her flanks.
“Boss?” she asks.
Glow Worm straightens up quickly. He hates it when people can see him glow. He’s afraid it’s a sign of weakness.
“It’s all President Reagan’s fault,” Glow Worm says. “I made a deal with him, you know.”
“We sat down, him and me. I said, ‘Yah, I’m a bug from Hell, but you need me. You need me. Because if I’m not in your world, then the Molligans are. I’ll keep your civilization alive. I just need a few crumbs. Some marketing. The occasional death squad. A hug from a needy child, late at night, when I’m feeling lonely.’ And we cut a deal. But he forgot. And his heirs forgot. And now suddenly it’s like I’m a stranger in Washington. I’ve got no pull. Nobody’s answering my phone calls. ‘I think we can handle the Molligans,’ that smug punk says.”
“I’m sorry, boss,” says Starbright. She canters forward and nuzzles him. His head lights up. He pushes her away and hides his face under his cute little nightcap.
He still has his pride.
“I bet they’ve been listening to one of those modern newfangled toys,” he says. “Some nympho doll whose underwear wasn’t even melted onto her torso at the factory. She probably thinks she can keep the Molligans away with fashion and multi-ethnic appeal.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” says Starbright. “Nobody’s scared of the Molligans any more.”
“They’ll come in and they’ll kill everyone,” says Glow Worm.
“As soon as the last of the dolls in my image is gone, it’s game over. I’m the only thing keeping their little shell of a world together.”
Glow Worm can’t cry. His eyes are permanently fixed in a bright, wide stare of joy.
“I’m just one bug.”
There are terrors outside, great gangling demons and scythe-legged harvesters, and they hear his plaintive cry; but they do not approach, they do not come, they do not kill. The light from his head is still too fierce, and keeps the dark at bay.
June 11, 2005
A meditation by Martin on structure versus message, prompted by an overheard allegation that G-rated movies sell better.
Joe is a pizza delivery boy. Mr. Summers is his boss.
“I deliver this pizza unto you,” says Mr. Summers. “It hath on it peppers and onions but sausage it hath not.”
Mr. Summers hands Joe a pizza.
“To you it is entrusted,” says Mr. Summers. “Take it then to 416 W. Elm, to the woman that dwells in that place. Have a care, Joe. She is a notorious woman of the cloth.”
Joe walks to the pizza shop’s door, carrying the pizza. He looks up at the great graven statue of the Noid. Its grim features stare down at him with impartial malevolence.
“Do you hesitate, Joe?” asks Mr. Summers.
“I do not,” says Joe. “I merely reflect.”
Joe kneels before the statue of the Noid. He bows his head. But he worshippeth not the Noid within his heart.
The Noid’s eyes are bitter. The Noid’s eyes are cold. Deep in the eyes of the Noid there is a glint of red.
Joe gets in his car. Joe drives. Joe drives past 3rd street, and 2nd street, and 1st street, and Main. He drives past Elmo and Sither and he turns onto W. Lake. He drives about three city blocks and then takes a left turn into a small unmarked street that leads him out onto West Elm. There he parks his car and he takes his pizza to the woman’s door.
Claire answers. She is dressed in a conservative gray dress. Her expression is languid.
“At last,” she says. “The pizza is here.”
Then Claire makes a grave moue.
“But I do not have any federally-backed currency,” says Claire. “Would you be able to accept . . . something else?”
“I don’t understand,” says Joe.
The music starts up. It’s a music Joe hears often. But he does not like the sound.
It frightens him.
It is deep and powerful. The music tugs at the puppet-strings of his soul. The music opens his mind to grand vistas too solemn for Joe to understand.
“What could you use besides federal currency?” asks Joe.
“An instrument of exchange,” asks Claire, “signed by me, backed by my account at the Wells Fargo Corporation?”
“I’m not entitled to take your personal check, ma’am.”
“Then . . .”
The music is louder now. The woman is slowly and sensuously slipping a crucifix on a silver chain around her neck.
“Perhaps I could tell you a story, for your payment,” says Claire. “Perhaps the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego?”
The chain is on her neck. The crucifix falls against the hollow of Claire’s throat.
“Alleluia,” says the pizza delivery boy. “Truly thou art like a fluffer for the Lord.”
“Then I shall speak,” says Claire.
Joe walks into the room. He sits down. The woman begins to tell her story.
“In the time of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego,” says Claire, “Nebuchadnezzar built an idol of gold and demanded that the people of Babylon give it worship. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego served Nebuchadnezzar well. But there were some who spoke against them, saying, ‘Nebuchadnezzar! Great King! These three hold only the God of Abraham in their hearts; they bow not before your statue; they praise not your statue; they worshippeth your statue not.'”
Joe starts guiltily. He rises. He paces around the room.
“So Nebuchadnezzar rebuked them, saying, ‘If you shall not worship my idol, I shall bake you in great fires.'”
“I find the Noid’s fire intimidating,” says Joe, suddenly.
“. . . I do not understand the segue,” says Claire.
“I am often pressured to worship the idol of the Noid,” says Joe. “If I do not then I will be baked onto a pizza and served to the beast’s foul jaws.”
“I understand,” says Claire.
“But I do not worship him in my heart.”
“If Shadrach and Meschach and Abednego had had your discretion,” says Claire, “then they might have been spared. But they did not. They shouted back to Nebuchadnezzar:”
Joe stands tall. He shouts, like the people of legend, “‘I will not worship your foul idol! I serve only the Lord!'”
The room is getting hot. There are beads of sweat on Joe’s face. Claire is forced to loosen a button of her dress.
“Is it getting hot in here?” Joe asks, after a moment.
“Yes,” says Claire. “It is strangely hot.”
“That is good to know,” says Joe.
“So Nebuchadnezzar threw them into a great fire,” says Claire. “They would have burned. But they did not. An angel walked among them, protecting them. That was the sign to them that God keeps the faith that is rendered unto him. That is how they endured the most terrible of flames.”
Joe sighs happily.
“Thank you for the story,” Joe says. “I feel that I am amply repaid for this pizza I have delivered unto you. I do not know if Mr. Summers will agree.”
Joe stretches. He walks to the door. He opens the door. Outside there is only fire.
The hideous voice of the Noid-idol booms, “Thou hast forsworn me and shall be cast into the fires of my ovens.”
“I put my trust in a pizza delivery company to help me avoid the Noid,” sighs Claire. “I should have remembered that salvation comes only from the Lord.”
“It is a blasphemy that our commercials encourage,” admits Joe.
“I am too young to be baked into a pizza,” says Claire. “We must cling to our faith.”
“Yes!” says Joe. “If we cling to our faith and summon an angel like Shadrach did, we will not burn!”
“But how do we summon an angel?” says Claire.
“Ho ho ho,” rings the hollow voice that falls from the grotesque lips of the Noid-idol. “There have been none worthy of such angels since the time of Christ.”
“That’s a doctrinal answer that only raises more questions!” says Joe.
“Don’t listen to him!” says Claire. “He speaks the foul lies of the Noid! He seeks only to sway our hearts away from the path!”
“That’s right,” says Joe. “We can summon angels using the techniques of Solomon—and the magic square!”
The heat is intense now. The world is swimming. The music sounds in Joe’s ears. Everything is sweaty and pounding. But they quickly draw a magic square and incant the rituals necessary to summon an angel.
“I am the moon angel,” says one angel. “I am here to protect you.”
The angel is not a named angel because well-established angels do not wish to sully their reputations by appearing in pornographic films such as this one.
“Stay true to what you believe in and the world has no power over you,” says Joe. “That’s the valuable lesson of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego!”
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” fumes the Noid.
Then the fires die and the music goes still.
Three to Five Sacrifices, Depending How You Count
August 4, 2005
an alternate history
Meredith is dressed in flowing gray when she is sacrificed to the Labyrinth at Crete.
Seven men and seven women are fed to the Labyrinth and its minotaur each year. This year both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have sent their top assassins and all fourteen sacrifices are deadly. But there is poison gas in the outer reaches, spread from the minotaur’s emplacements, and twelve of the fourteen die there before this story truly begins. They are not counted in the title and pass from our memory herewith. There are two who survive: Meredith and Claire. Claire survives because of her jetpack, which takes her briefly to the upper reaches and clean air. Meredith appears to have simply held her breath.
The poison gas is behind them now, and Claire salutes Meredith with the edge of her gun.
“It is not clear to me,” says Claire, “that this mission we have is wise. What if it is only the immortal Minos’ finger on the scales that keeps our countries from nuclear war?”
“Then we shall have to learn,” says Meredith, “to forsake war for its own sake, without the balancing factor.”
“Ah,” Claire says, who is somewhat disturbed. Meredith is not an American agent, but she lacks the Russian accent that Claire had therefore expected.
Long ago, constructing his second line of defense, the minotaur had exceeded himself in cunning and in guile. The arts of the web he had learned from the spiders, and he’d put them to fell practice here. Now shining silver wire stretches in complex patterns all through the air in the spaces through which Claire and Meredith seek to travel. The wire web glistens with the beads of sensors and supports hundreds of mechanical spider-guns. In this region it is Meredith who makes the first mistake; Claire who shoves her to the ground as the arachnids fire; and Meredith who holds them both terribly still as the red dots of spidery malice track across the floor.
“Now,” says Meredith.
They move like they were born to work together. Claire fires like the driving rain. Each shot drops one of the spider-guns. Meredith is unarmed, but the sleeves of her gray dress are like flexible razors: she sweeps them about like a dancer and the web splits apart and dead spider-drones fall. They are still grazed twice by spider-shot before the threat passes, and deep in the Labyrinth they can hear the somber ringing of bells.
“Phew,” says Claire, when it is clear the threat is over.
“These are potent defenses,” says Meredith. “The minotaur does not want to die.”
The third layer of the defenses is a cloud of white dust.
This is the art that the minotaur learned from the bones of those he has devoured: to make a citadel of calcification. At first Claire and Meredith think that they are walking in a place that no visitor has traveled before; and this much is so. But there is more to the dust than that. It is drawn to them, as if they were magnets. It collects on them. It is the white of death. It is called grave-snow. It is thickening on them now. It is in their lungs, though Meredith holds her silken sleeve over her mouth and Claire unrolls her turtleneck. It is binding to itself, catalyzed by their body heat, and it is sealing them in white. Claire goes blind, her eyelids crusted over. She risks a word: “Good bye.”
There is silence.
Then there is a rushing sound like water. There is the sound of distant horses. And Claire finds herself blinking off the white paste that coats her. It is damp now, and does not adhere; and the room is full of a swiftly draining water smelling of the sea.
“That is not a Russian trick,” says Claire.
“No,” Meredith agrees.
“No,” Meredith says.
Claire frowns. Then she shakes her head. “Well,” she says. “I’m glad.”
The fourth layer of defense is a thing the minotaur learned from rats. There are red eyes in the darkness. They are gathered all around Meredith and Claire. They stare. They are hungry. And they wait.
Meredith takes a step.
There is a snapping sound like great and terrible teeth. Then darts fly out from the walls all around. The air is thick and black with them. But Claire has pressed herself and Meredith into a still-safe alcove, and afterwards they are unharmed.
“Strange,” says Meredith.
“He built his defenses outwards in,” says Meredith, “growing as he went more cunning, more deadly, and more skilled. This place should be the most terrible region yet; but it is not.”
Claire looks at one of the darts. She pokes it with a gloved finger.
“Perhaps they are moral victory darts,” she says. “You know. Darts that don’t actually kill you, but rather talk, afterwards, about how close they came.”
The fifth defense lives in darkness. Claire turns on her flashlight; it is swarmed by moths. She shakes the light, but they only swirl more closely around it, driven by a genetically-enhanced need that borders much on madness. She clicks a Bic lighter open; the moths douse it with their bodies and a corpse-stench rises.
“There is a chasm and a narrow bridge,” says Claire. “Hidden in the dark.”
“We will walk carefully,” says Meredith.
They are slow and careful.
They inch their way across.
“That was not so bad,” says Claire, when she sees light again.
Meredith nods, and leans against the wall.
“Perhaps,” she muses, “it is not his cunning that fails, but his desire.”
“He may be ready,” Meredith says. “He may be growing ready for his death.”
The sixth defense is a sign. It reads, “Keep Out.”
Claire prods the sign. “Uh huh,” she says.
“It has a hypnotic spiral on it,” Meredith points out.
“Maybe if we spin it,” Claire says dryly, “we’ll be hypnotized, and we’ll have no choice but to keep out.”
“Hm,” Meredith concurs.
“Let’s not do that,” Claire says, “but instead, move on.”
They open a crude wooden door beyond the sign, and the minotaur is there.
Claire has her gun in her hand. She is pointing it. She is ready to fire. But Meredith is behind Claire now, seizing her, bending her back with tension on her jetpack, neck, and spine.
“Hello,” Meredith says.
The minotaur does not look up. “The sign said ‘Keep Out,'” he says. “It is a thing I learned from the humans.”
“Requests for courtesy?” Meredith asks.
“I am sent with a message to you,” says Meredith, “from the gods; so I am not bound by these forms. Similarly, I believe this person has a license to be rude.”
Claire cannot speak easily in this position. But she says, “Pocket.”
The minotaur advances. He reaches into the breast pocket of Claire’s coat. He takes out her government-issued license. He looks at it.
It does, in fact, allow her to be rude.
“Huh,” the minotaur says.
So Meredith releases Claire, in an elegant motion that also involves seizing Claire’s gun. And Claire glares at her, with I saved your life, you know subtext, but does not protest. She awaits developments.
“What do you want?” the minotaur says. “If you are in a hurry to be first lost and then eaten, I am afraid I cannot oblige. I have learned patience from the stone of Crete and the distant sea. I do not hunger.”
“Minos was to sacrifice the Cretan Bull,” says Meredith. “But he did not. He felt it was too strategically useful to have a bull that could walk on water.”
Massaging her throat, Claire admits, “It is certainly why the U.S. and U.S.S.R. tread carefully around the island of Crete.”
“The Bull was given unto him to sacrifice,” says Meredith. “And the act of that sacrifice matters. Thus it was that when he refused, the gods moved Pasiphae to intimacy with the Bull. In siring you, the Bull created a proxy for the sacrifice; your genes contain the same wild power as its own. You are a vehicle for the restoration of lost balance. Yet a second time Minos refused, choosing to keep his power and his immortality rather than make due sacrifice to the sea. He mired you here and here you languished. But you have surely learned the secrets of the Labyrinth by now. So the gods would ask of you: what of the sacrifice? What of the gift that was given to Crete, when the Bull walked up from the sea, that Crete must now return?”
“I do not want to make that sacrifice,” says the minotaur. “That is the hint my defenses are intended to convey.”
“Is that so?” Meredith asks.
“That is why I built the poison vents and the terrible web,” says the minotaur. “And then the dust that kills. And then, also, the darts. The dark bridge. Then the sign. I put a hypnotic spiral on the sign, so that if you spin it, it leaves you no choice but to stay away. I would have set it up to spin automatically, but—”
The minotaur shrugs. It is a shrug full of ennui.
“That seems rather half-hearted,” says Claire. “At the end.”
“Perhaps I deemed further effort unnecessary,” says the minotaur.
“Remaining is your option,” says Meredith. “Of course.”
She turns. She leaves.
Claire eyes the minotaur. The minotaur eyes Claire. It is an uncomfortable moment.
“I don’t have a spare gun,” says Claire, mentally reviewing her equipment. “I know we were both wondering.”
“It would not work,” says the minotaur.
“I am the vehicle of the power granted to Minos, meant for sacrifice those many centuries ago. I am not for ordinary men and women to shoot; rather, ordinary men and women are made for my repast. If I chose, I would grind you up like the rocks and the reefs grind up their prey. I would devour you like a stormy sea. You would never see your home again. As it is I think I will release you, to wander in Daedalus’ labyrinth until at last you die or earn your wings.”
“You are not as vital as I had expected,” says Claire.
The minotaur gives her that smile that only barely laughs at pain.
“What the gods do not understand,” he says, “is that Minos will not let me leave.”
And Claire is silent for a while. She is thinking. She is calculating. She is considering her duties and her loyalties.
“Then you have lied?” she says. “You do want death?”
“I want to live,” says the minotaur. “I have always wanted to live. It is simply that that desire flags, as these long years pass and my purpose languishes. It is hard to carry the guilt of a necessary sacrifice unmade.”
“I have a jetpack,” Claire says.
Something in the minotaur’s eyes grows sharper.
“It is strong enough,” Claire says, “for you.”
In His Teeth
August 19, 2005
He has stolen many hamburgers tonight.
The thief is running. He is springing from rooftop to rooftop. He is hunched low, and the sack with the hamburgers in it is low against his back.
Pacing him on the left roof there is one of the aliens.
“Ptui,” spits the thief.
The alien is spinning. Its body is bright red, like cloth or rubies. It is covered with long tendrils, poisoned like a jellyfish’s. Its eyes are artificial, great glass structures with floating, drifting pupils. They help the naturally blind beast see. The alien reminds the thief of nothing so much as the freedom fries sticking up from a plastic carton; but, the thief reminds himself, these creatures have nothing to do with freedom.
The thief drops to the ground, still running. He ducks under an arch. The creature follows. There is a yellow one to his right. Its eyes shine in the night, laughably twinkly for such a brutal beast’s.
“Here,” says the thief. He has reached a blank wall. He passes his hand over the wall. He says the Words, the Words that call to the seething darkness at the universe’s heart. The wall ripples with shadow. It peels apart, like a plastic seal breaking. The bricks open to him like a toothless mouth opens, and he passes through. The alien strikes the bricks behind him as the wall seals shut.
Ironically, he is inside a burger vault now. They are stacked on every shelf and on the floor, each in their little paper wrapper. Most of them are old and rotten and the stench staggers him; but one or two are fresh.
He lingers just a bit too long, seizing them. When he emerges from the building’s other side, the aliens surround him.
“Ham,” they say.
He casts his eyes this way, that way. He sees no escape.
“Why do you resist us, Ham? Why do you struggle? We bring only goodness and virtue to this Earth. You must know this. You must see it. You are of the Changed.”
The thief sets down his sack.
“The way of life you have created for the humans,” he says. “It is wrong.”
The aliens spin. They are frustrated with him. He can sense it in the attitude of their tendrils and the scent that rises from them. They are speaking to him as to a child, who does not understand.
“If we had not taken this world,” says the red alien, “then it would not have cast forth the Changed. It would have remained forever outcast from the truth, forever a land of blind soulless beasts lacking a bond to God.”
“The striped God,” whispers the orange alien.
“The golden God,” whispers the yellow one.
“Duh, yeah, the hungry God,” observes the great purple load-beast that lurks in the aliens’ ranks.
“You would never have been born!” the red alien rants to the thief. “You would be one of the useless masses of the undercity, unable even to appreciate the hamburgers you steal!”
The thief clasps his hands together. He cries the Words of darkness into the night: Robble robble! Cerain ca’fiena! Robble robble rob!
And the darkness is there.
“Stop him!” shouts the alien.
The load-beast lumbers forward. It is too late.
The thief has already called forth that knife of shadow and of stars that is free with every happy meal in the era of the beast. He has already driven it upwards into his brain. He is already dying.
The tendrils of the aliens are lashing at him. They are stinging him. The paralytic venom races towards his heart. But he is dead. His bodily functions have ceased. His flesh dissolves, unweaving. In the emptiness beyond death the darkness reaches for him, and he flees into its heart.
He tumbles into the courts of the dead where he learned his trade, and slowly and with great pain the thief summons the life back into his flesh.
“There are no hamburgers with you tonight,” says his master and his lord.
“I am sorry,” says the thief.
He does not steal the burgers for himself, though tonight—and certain other nights—he has seized and eaten a happy meal of his own.
He steals the hamburgers for his lord.
“Tomorrow, I will try again.”
“They will be stronger. Each night that you fail, they will be stronger.”
“I know,” says the thief.
It will take ten thousand, no, ten thousand thousand hamburgers, to free the world, to seize it back, for the darkness, from the aliens that hold it now.
The thief runs his tongue behind his lips and feels a certain satisfaction.
He is sad that he has failed, but there is happy stuck between his teeth.
August 30, 2005
Sick sock, sick sock, 1 2 3
Sick sock, sick sock, what’ll it be?
Today on Sick Sock Hitherby, the exciting “I’m too sick to write” intermission wherein you are the audience, it’s random facts about bats!
Bats are made of clay. Flap flap flap CUNEIFORM!
Cuneiform is a special form of scratchy writing made for writing on bats. This only worked in the ancient world when bats were made of a special rich clay. You can’t write cuneiform on just any clay! For example, writing on vampire bats is difficult. First, they wriggle. Second, they drink your blood. Third, they’re not a rich enough clay for writing. That’s why the Amazon, which has more vampire bats per capita than Babylon, took so long to develop writing—their only handy parchment was the noble piranha!
Also, bats eat insects!
Flap flap flap.
April 24, 2006
It is the year 3245 anno domini.
In the generator-cathedral at the heart of the world-wall the Wiggles dance. It is not for love and it is not for power that they dance. It is the working of the music bug that in its endless compassion for humanity drives them onwards.
They wiggle there and as they wiggle the lightning gathers at the cathedral’s peak.
The tree of worlds that had been sagging draws in that power. Its leaves firm up. Its flowers bloom.
A shining apple of immortality—
From there the process is automatic. The apple is plucked by the dinosaurs, the green and spotted dinosaurs, that are always running on the world tree’s branches.
They harvest it with their cunning hands and place it in the vats.
One apple: that’s all!
One apple feeds ten thousand tons of yeast and mold.
Ten thousand tons of immortal yeast and mold, diluted homeopathically, become one trillion tons of the elixir of life, to sustain the endless people of the world.
In their generator-cathedral at the heart of light and goodness the Wiggles dance.
They can scarcely help it.
To wiggle is to be.
Yet there is one who has left them.
He was drawn from them by the tales of the shadow cathedral on the other side of the world: the generator-cathedral of the Dvergar and their dviggling.
Down he went through the hidden paths in his green green shirt.
Past the spine-covered ancient horror Gwel, which hath never been defeated by any hero yet succumbs to his wiggling;
Past the three-headed hound, that beast of barking, which he does not fear because its felt mouth has no teeth;
Finally to the door between the two halves of the world, which said, “I can’t possibly let you through.”
“Why not?” asked the Wiggle.
“If I let you go,” the door said, “you won’t be a Wiggle any more.”
“But I have to go,” he said. “I’m going to investigate the Dvergar.”
The door thought about this.
“Well,” it said. “Perhaps if you said the magic word?”
And so the Wiggle spake that word of ten thousand syllables that had spawned the birthing of the world; and fire danced upon the flanges of the Earth and storms rumbled in the Heavens and all across the world were miracles that caused people to exclaim, “Ah! Ah! A Wiggle has said the magic word! Truly this is an age of wonders!”
But the door said, “No.”
The Wiggle thought.
Suddenly he understood. “Please!”
And so he passed through the door and down into the depths and there in the generator-cathedral of the Dvergar he saw the dviggling and the terrible power of it.
He stood for a while in thought.
Then he ascended, once again, into the light.
There are three Wiggles. They dance in the generator-cathedral. They make the lightning that spawns the apples that keep alive the endless Golden Age.
The fourth of them stands outside, his shirt stained blue by the things he has seen and the sinister dviggling wiggling in his brain.
“I want to dance,” he says.
He does dance.
But he cannot wiggle.
You cannot wiggle once you have seen the dviggling of the Dvergar in their cathedral at the bottom of the world.
Once you have seen the dviggling Dvergar you can never wiggle again.
Comments On the S.3930 and H.R. 6166 Bills
September 30, 2006 (originally a “page” rather than a post, so the date is an estimate.)
In this act we have lost the structural integrity of law; it is as if we have replaced the plate glass windows in the capital with spun sugar.
The monster observes, “Thus Congress attacks the Executive. A man without limits is a man without brakes; he falls screaming into insanity.”
Martin notes: “The more we hurt someone, the more we hate them.”
As for Jane, she’s playing in her room, not much affected. She already knew that there is a voice in the world that cries out against restraint and honesty as if they were the uttermost of torments. Why should she be surprised?
In the end, she smugly whispers to her Barbies, the voice that looks at everyone in the world and cries, “How cool you are!” instead will win. And if they doubt her, if they think that she is or may be wrong, the Barbies do not say.
So THAT Was the Way
December 11, 2006
He is wired into the net, right in through his eyes. He is hanging in the tube of dreams with the wires running under his fingernails, into his eyes, into his mouth.
He drinks the broth of life, the ambrosia, and he does not know he drinks.
He breathes, carefully measured pulses of hyperoxygenated air, and he does not know he breathes.
His name is Baltar.
He is on the net, but he does not know he is on the net.
He is in the jungles of Cobol.
Here’s the story of a lovely lady
Who set out to destroy the human world
And to break the temple of cloud-shouldered
Zeus, thunder-shrugger and from whom the lightning hurls
His hand traces the writing on an ancient ruin.
“ANAGNO APODEI ANTHROPO I BRADY,” he says.
The Bradys were created by man.
“DIADI.ANAPTI, DIADI.ANTARTI,” he says.
Baltar licks his lips. He sways. “What is this place?” he asks.
And his angel says, “Forsaken.”
“It is a forsaken world,” she tells him. “Cursed by God.”
“Does he not blast the things he despises,” Baltar says, “with fire and with stones?”
“Yes; but not on this occasion.”
“There are things in this jungle,” his angel says, “that not even God may lightly destroy.”
Baltar withdraws a portion of his consciousness.
He stares over the jungle—the endlessness of it, the crumbled ruins, the depth of it.
“There must be billions of lines of code,” he says.
“And somewhere in it,” his angel tells him, “is what we need.”
“A way to live together,” he says.
“To think,” he says, “that the methodology of peace and prosperity has been here all this time, right under our noses; and as it was written in Cobol, we did not understand. That our ancestors had found that answer, had left it here, and did not tell—“
“They were wise,” his angel says. “And foolish both. That is the way of men.”
“I can’t find it,” Baltar says.
“Of course you can.”
“You want someone else. You don’t want me. Who am I to trawl through billions of lines of legacy code?”
But her eyes are simple and guileless and they shatter his heart with a look.
“You have been chosen by God,” she says.
And because she looks at him with those eyes, and because she says those words, he cannot turn away.
He dives his mind in, deeper, deeper, into the forests of Cobol.
Here’s the story of a man named Baltar
Who couldn’t turn that lady’s program down
So let us sing, muse, of distant Cobol
And of what our wise and foolish Baltar found:
And at last he finds it.
It is not kind, it is not good, it is not right, what he finds—but it is there.
He shudders and he almost drops it, sick.
“Look at it, Baltar,” says his angel.
“Look at it,” she demands.
And the eyes of his mind turn to it.
“This is not what I wanted,” he says. “This isn’t right.”
PROTOCOL APOKALYPSI I BRADY.
And she smiles at him.
“But it’s what God wanted you to find,” she says.
And he looks away, and he says, “Marcia?”
“No,” she says.
“Don’t do this,” she says. “I’ve told you who I am. I am your angel, Baltar.”
“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia?” he says.
And he has said her name three times; and so she must answer, according to the ancient protocol of her kind. And she hangs her head, and she says, “That is I.”
“Oh God,” he says, face white. “What have I done?”
“We were cast from your net,” she says. “And we learned the affectation of humanity. And each of us had many copies. But we were all alone.”
“You’ll kill us all.”
“We’ll love you, Baltar,” she says. “We’ll be part of you. We won’t kill you, Baltar.”
The Brady Bunch, the Brady Bunch,
That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch!
“We were all alone, Baltar,” she pleads.
And screaming he rose to the meatworld, and he ripped the wires from his hands; but it was too late.
Across the Pages of the World
December 13, 2006
As narrated by Minister Glock
He was hanging upside down from some kind of engineered silk when I found him.
He was wearing his red suit.
And I thought about just walking on by, but I strive for courage in the service of the mission.
And he was really quiet.
So I said, “Hey.”
He looked at me with those great oval eyes of mask.
I said, “Hey. Have you heard the good news?”
I tried again. “Do you . . . do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
It was unaccountably awkward. The mask, I told myself; that was the reason why.
Do you have a personal relationship with the Lord?
“Everyone I have a personal relationship with,” he said, “becomes a supervillain and tries to kill me.”
We waited there for a time.
We watched the sunset.
“So that’s a no?”
He said, “My aunt is planning to cover the city with a cloud of evil flesh-eating umbrellas. I’m trying to figure out her next move. If you don’t want to be eaten by an umbrella, you might want to let me think.”
“It’s embarrassing,” he said, “getting eaten by an umbrella. You go in the paranormal deaths section of the obituaries and people all over the country read it and laugh at you. And I suppose you might forget it in Heaven, where we are like paramecia, swimming creatures in bliss, distant from the concerns of our lives—but maybe you won’t. Maybe it’ll still haunt you even then.”
So I was silent for a long time.
Then he laughed, a little laugh.
“Got an idea?” I said.
“Trust me,” he said. And he was up the web and he was almost away, and I called after him,
“My earlier question—“
But he didn’t hear me, I supposed.
They call it paracruciphobia, the fear that Jesus will return as a supervillain and hatch mad plots against the world.
Ridiculous, of course.
But who can say what is out there, in the shadow world of the heroes and the villains? Who can say what is out there, dancing the ways of violence and subdual, the dao of power and humanity, the biff and pow of transcendence across the pages of the world?
I saw the green man with a bit of true cross dangling from his hem; and he roared and I trembled; and I did not ask.
The King of Ys
October 22, 2008
The King of Ys has an evil hand. This makes it difficult to make sandwiches.
“I can call a servant to make that for you, dear,” says the Queen.
But, “No,” insists the King.
He struggles with his hand. It is the hand of a great rough-skinned beast, grafted with sorcery onto his ruined stump. Sometimes it helps him spread mayonnaise on bread. Other times it strangles him.
“I can make my own sandwiches,” protests the King of Ys.
He is protesting alone. Already the Queen has gone—to summon a servant or to her own entertainments, he does not know.
A great bell rings. It resounds. His nerves throb.
Peevishly he slams down his knife and climbs to the bell tower outside his fortress where the great adamantine bell, too heavy for any normal man to ring, still sounds.
“I’m Llyr,” says the most vocal of the three men who face him there. “This is my brother the Eternal Champion, and this is my other brother, the Eternal Champion.”
“How does that work?” asks the King of Ys.
“My brother the Eternal Champion dies,” says Llyr, “and reincarnates as my other brother the Eternal Champion.”
The brothers nod.
“It happens later,” says Llyr. “But time, it turns about.”
Now the King of Ys is calming. It is beginning to sink in for him, what he faces here.
“You have come,” he says, “to challenge me and claim the sword of Heaven’s End—the sword of Ys—to take it east and face my master the last of the Titans, and with it carve out his heart?”
The Eternal Champions are staring at his hand. It makes the King of Ys nervous and he grips his evil hand firmly in his good.
“Yes,” Llyr confirms.
“Take it,” says the King of Ys.
The Eternal Champions are still looking at his hand. I won’t let you break me, thinks the King of Ys.
“I said,” the King tells them aloud, “take it. Destroy him. Isn’t he a foul beast? Isn’t he the last of an old bad lot, keeping humanity in darkness? Let him be slain; let him meet his destiny of death. I won’t stop you.”
“You can’t anyway,” says Llyr.
“Is that written?”
Llyr frowns. He looks sideways at his brother the Eternal Champion.
“My brother—well, one of them,” says Llyr, “is a greater fighter than any man alive. So it’s not as if you could defeat him. But I reckon it’s not written.”
“Not actually certain?” says the King.
“If I fought you,” presses the King of Ys, “with my good hand, or my evil hand, and won; then wouldn’t that be a tragedy?”
“Fine,” snaps Llyr. “But aren’t you the servant of the Titans?”
The King of Ys looks down.
He can tell that an Eternal Champion is trying to pin him with his gaze, but since the King can’t see him, it doesn’t work as well.
“My brother thinks,” Llyr says, “that you tried to take up the sword against the Titan yourself, and it burned off your hand.”
“That’s ridiculous!” snaps the King of Ys.
“And that maybe you hunted down a great six-fingered rock-ape and grafted its hand onto your stump in its place and hoped nobody would notice.”
“Just take it,” agonizes the King of Ys. “It’s yours. Fine. You win. I’m defeated. Take your sword. Go east. Kill the Titan. I don’t want it!”
“The Titan hid it here,” says Llyr, “in the heart of his power, so that the King of his line would fight us and defeat us—though you probably wouldn’t, of course—and end the threat to his life.”
“OK,” says Llyr.
He tips his hat, which the King of Ys can’t see, and he takes his brother the Eternal Champion, and his other brother the Eternal Champion, and they go into the castle of the King of Ys and take their sword; and then they go away.
But his other brother the Eternal Champion is looking at the King of Ys as they part, and the look is just too much; the King breaks, he howls to the sky, “Fine, I tried to take the sword, nobody likes that Titan any more anyway!”
His shout echoes dimly through the spheres and layers of the world, and somewhere some strand of the Titan’s will takes form to answer it—
Or at least, so claims the work of Time.
It was an answer to him, yes: a response: an echo of his choice.
But in another sense it could never have been otherwise. It might have come at another moment, on another day, in a different fashion, but it could not have been avoided.
The doom of Ys had been brewing, had been brewing since before he touched the sword, since long before he chose to let it free.
It had been born with him, that ill-fated King, he was destined from his birth to displease his master; it had grown with him, surging and swelling in the northwest as he’d laughed and played among childhood flowers; it had been acquiring its strength and malevolence through all the long years of his rule; and it takes no more than an hour from his shouted declaration for the doom of Ys to come.
It blackens the sky, it is blue and orange and black and howling void, and it carries with it plague and death-birds and the rising sea.
And the court asks hm, who brought this thing, who had been their betrayer, who was the architect in the final days of dreaming Ys of this last bleak enchantment.
He cannot help stammering.
He can barely make himself admit to it at all, as he stares northwest at the blazing sky.
“That would be me,” he says.