Exposition Answers Emptiness with Digressions (V/VII)

This can’t be happening, Liril thinks.

Her eyes scan the room frantically. This cannot be happening. This is the monster’s office. Someone is going to stop Melanie. Someone is going to save her.

Then it clicks.

Then the knowledge clicks.

There is Melanie, right there, in the white coat of the monster’s service. There is Melanie, right there, with a nametag on her coat. Blessed by the authority of this place, assigned its power, given righteousness and suzerainty in the monster’s place of business.

No one is going to stop her. No one is going to chase her out. The world itself is broken; gone entirely unreal.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


March 18, 1995

“On October 28,” Melanie says, “1989, Jane escaped our purview.”

Liril is listening.

She can’t help listening. She doesn’t want to listen, but she can’t help it. She maybe even wants, for the first time in a long time, to not listen, but there is nothing in wanting that helps her to not be.

Not being was always Jane’s trick anyway. A dead girl can do that better than a cracked doll ever could.

“She did so in the following fashion,” Melanie says. “She constructed a boy named ‘Bob,’ in the image of her brother, and he set her free.”

Liril had promised herself once that she’d go back, after she finished being angry, or upset, or frightened, and carefully think through all the decisions that she’d made. Then at the time, remembering forward, she’d be able to see what the right decision will have would have been, and know that she was responsible to herself to act on it. Regrettably this promise bore little fruit; she was quite capable of calming herself, asserting control, and clinging to the conclusions that she would later make, but rarely did she actually go back, after times of trauma, and consciously revisit the errors she previously had made.

Maybe if she’d thought about it later, she’d have figured out what Melanie was getting at. In some ways, she sort of did.

In others, she did not.

She put aside her Highlights. She stared at Melanie and her eyes were circles of silver pain.

I will let you hurt me, she thinks, and maybe you will see that you are hurting me and stop.

“In this particular case,” Melanie says, “Bob was a traitor. He did not have what it took to oppose the monster. But ultimately his own nature betrayed him. Quite unwillingly he found himself freeing her from Central, extracting her from our reach, and marooning her in the sky. If I believed she had planned it, I would say it was brilliantly done. Since she did not, I must admire her good fortune.”

There is a pinch of sudden confusion.

Liril does not understand how Melanie can know what was planned and what was not.

“It was the monster’s own eduction,” Melanie clarifies, and Liril’s puzzlement clears away.

“Then,” Liril says.

“It is a cautionary tale,” Melanie says. “Evoke a labyrinthine god and he may imprison you on a world of wood, between the Earth and the moon.”

The wanting moves through Liril in great waves. It causes the room to waver; to spasm, sometimes; to burst into patterns of grey-blue light.

“How lucky she was,” Melanie says. “To have a brother to base a brother on. I feel sorry for only children like yourself.”

Liril tries to focus her eyes on Melanie but she can’t. There are only strange reflections from the lamination on her tag.

The sands dripped through the hourglass

And the hour of the wolf closed in at last

And life is sweet and the sun is high

But the flesh and the fire are born to die

“Well,” Melanie says, and she straightens, and pats Liril gently on the head. “I have to go. Gods to study, forms to fill out, and all. Did you know, there’s some really exciting work being done right now on the fae?”

“Take it back,” Liril says.

Melanie’s smile fades away.

It’s not until it fades that Liril realizes she was still seeing it, gleaming in the dark.

“Oh,” she says. “Oh, no,” she says. “That simply wouldn’t do.”

I don’t want to want things, Liril pleads.

There’s a bit of silence. Melanie squeezes Liril’s hand.

“Do you know,” Melanie says, after a moment, “I’m not that fond of it myself?”

Newton’s First Law (4 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The baited hook falls, falls, falls.

There is a pause.

There is a great crunching and munching of teeth.

“Perfect,” says Martin smugly. He glances slyly at the Roomba. “See, if you had a better set of lexemes, you’d be able to admire that cast.”

The Roomba’s “I don’t want to get eaten” LED lights up.

There is a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.

“I’ve got her,” Martin says.

Here is how it came to pass.

The morning of June 1, 2004, had gone well for Martin. Sukaynah was placid, made happy by the falling of apples. Mei Ming, insofar as he could guess, was giving serious contemplation to his ideas. Jane, overwhelmed by the task of piecing together histories in the broken lens, was uncharacteristically quiet. And there, shining amidst the aisles of Costco, he’d found a flat of delicious Fig Newtons: 125 packages of 24 cookies each, bundled together, 5x5x5.

The flat shone like the stars.

He took it home to the tower and set his purchases on the counter. Jane descended like a vulture, but—

“No,” said Martin, flush with the power that was in him.

“No,” he said. He held out his hand. “Not the cookies,” he said.

Jane pouted, but Martin did not bend. She tried to sneak around him to the cookies. Martin stood firm, like the sentryman of Heaven.

“You can’t eat 3000 cookies by yourself!” Jane protested, driven at the last to the employment of reason. “You’d turn into a cookie. And explode!”

Martin said, dramatically, “I’m willing to take that risk.”

But Jane’s star was in ascendance. She made her very best face at him. He trembled under the power of that face. Her eyes bored into his. “You have to share them with everyone in the tower,” she said.

“I have to?”

“Yes.”

And sometimes Martin wonders why he made her, why he shaped her from the ruin that he’d found, why he’d bothered to bring an ending to the firewood and to Bob: but not today.

On June 1, 2004, he loves her; and with gloatful satisfaction says, “That’s more than 2800 for me.”

And against the glow of that brilliance Jane can offer no protest.

Martin leans back. He prepares to reel Sukaynah up. He spins the wheel on his fishing pole. It turns easily at first but then it slows down. It gets harder and harder.

“Will you keep your promise?” Martin says.

He’s sweating as he struggles with the line.

“Glugnuh?” Sukaynah says, meaning: Promise?

“Because I gave you a cookie,” Martin says.

“Ah,” says Sukaynah.

“You said that if anyone fed you cookies, that you’d be able to break free, but that you’d have to eat the tower and the sea and the sun.”

“‘orry,” Sukaynah says. “‘ut, ieyah.”

Martin is sweating. He’s trying to reel Sukaynah in but he’s making very little progress.

“Because I have to admit,” he says, “I don’t actually want you to do that. And also, this isn’t working very well.”

“‘y ‘ot?” Sukaynah asks, meaning Why not?

The Roomba’s “Newton’s First Law?” LED lights up.

Martin glances at it. He shakes his head irritably.

“Hush,” he says.

The line goes still and trembling.

There is a momentary hush.

Then there is anger from below. There is a thrashing in the sea. The hook tears loose and Martin falls back and Sukaynah shrieks, “But this isn’t a cookie!

“What?”

Newtons are fruit and cake!

The tower shifts, the tower shakes. The Roomba slips free from the newton on which it is impaled. The imago slumps to lean against the tree.

The crust of the world cracks.

In the distant west there is a sound: Whump!

“Oh,” Martin says.

Hard on the Heels of Ink’s Legend (I/I)

And in her last glance in the mirror, as he carries it away, she can see a great tower that is not her tower; and beyond it a sea of surging chaos; and an Ink who is not herself, but somehow possessed of that which is forbidden to her in Hell.

The mirror cracks.
— Ink in Emptiness

“Oops,” Martin says.

His fisted hand goes to his mouth and he stares, half in horror and half in involuntary amusement, as the lens Necessity cracks.

The crack becomes a webwork of cracks, spreading across its surface like marching ants.

The pressure in the chaos swells.

Then:

Martin can hear Andhaka screaming. The beast’s voice is audible even though Mrs. Schiff is quiet.

Martin thinks, Andhaka is unsettled and disjoined from her. I should go and offer her stabilizing advice, such as, “Do not throw good money after bad.”

Martin realizes that he is tumbling through the air. He does not like it when his goggles break so he curls in his neck. He does not bother protecting his cheek from a razor-edged shard of history.

The chaos has manifested a cocoon. It would be smart to deal with that but instead he finds himself thinking about how best to use it to tease Jane.

It’s really important to tease Jane in a crisis because she is so hard to freak out under normal conditions.

He hits the ground hard.

He is rolling. His cynicism goggles, darn it all, crack. They let in just the tiniest bit of the real world’s light. It is like a slice of horrible rose in amongst the construction-paper green.

His shoulders hurt.

His hand falls on squirming dust.

He looks up.

Jane has a knife. For a dizzying moment, he imagines her showing him the treatment he had shown Bob—

Such an incredibly funny concept! It’s almost impossible not to laugh, but because he knows that’s the crack in his cynicism at work he bites it down—

And then he realizes that it is a story more than it is a knife. It is a fragment of Necessity and it is tuned to something happening right now, right this moment, somewhere in the world.

He names it. He caresses it on his tongue.

Hard on the Heels of Ink’s Legend.

Time, which he hadn’t even realized quite had stopped, starts up again.

Fetches

. . .
He [builds]. He creates. He gives integrity to the world. He works, very hard, for a very long time.
Then comes the axe: first for the wogly, and then for Bob.

Fetches are a kind of god. They sever things from the world, seal them away in labyrinths, maze the paths so that the outside and the inside may never learn of one another. They may bury true things so thoroughly as to make them false, save only for the existence of the fetch: thus we say that they are secret-keeping gods.

Known fetches include
Bob, who hid Jenna from the monster in the firewood world;
Daedalus, god of the labyrinth;
Ii Ma, who keeps the place without recourse; and
Yasodhara, who kept the secret of Prajapati’s suffering

Fetches are close cousins to the contemners and the demons, but they are not limited by moral judgment in what things they lock away.

Character Profile: Jane

“I could be an anentropic zombie, ” Jenna proposes. “Instead of rotting, I’d grow ever more beautiful! And I could be a mime!”

“I don’t want you to be a mime.”

Jenna pretends to be an anentropic zombie trapped in an invisible box. “Look! I?m inside an invisible box! It’s a sealed system, so the order constantly increases. That’s my noncompliance with the principle of entropy at work!”
The Tunnels (I/IV)

Jenna has straight black hair to mid-back and dark brown eyes. If one assumes a birth in 1969, she would be 35 at present. She has the physical characteristics of the people of salt: a thin lower jaw, bordering on deformity; pointed ears; and a gray undertone to her skin, which is sandy in color.

Her mother is Tara; her father Ben; her brother Sebastien, the hero. Her last name is unknown.

In the early 1970s, the monster started looking for her. To evade him, she died, revived herself, and hid in the tunnels. The tunnels seem surprisingly populous, as she met Ninja Tathagata, Dukkha, Mei Ming, Vicious Lily, and Evasive A there, in addition to a number of giant spiders, demons, Duck, Boar, Cow, and Coyote. At some point, the monster found her.

In 1989, she was living in a cold place. The monster had renamed her Jane. She had a mother and a brother named Bob. Unhappy, she fled to the firewood world and tried to make her life there. It didn’t work, and sometime between then and now, Martin found her and remade her. He kept the name Jane.

“Let’s visit everyone in the universe and fix their lives!” Jane says.

“I’m busy,” Martin says.
Jane Confronts the Problem of Martin

In the histories, Jane has straight black hair to mid-back. She has dark brown eyes. She is six years old. She has some of the physical characteristics of the people of salt, to a lesser degree than Jenna: a thin lower jaw, slightly pointed ears, and a gray undertone to her sandy complexion.

In the legends, her age, color scheme, and degree of evident inhumanity varies. The chin, hair, facial expressions, and attitudes are the primary constants. She’s been a lot of different girls in the legends, but they’re all Jane. (The ears are explicitly round in most legends and pointed in a few. Your humble author would probably have made the skin and eye color consistent, but there’s fan art already in the works from a less complete description. One must hope that this ultimately inspires cool collages of Jane-girls in future works.)

In the histories, Jane attributes her nature to monster-inflicted wounds, but does not consider him the source of her being. She was waiting—until the last moment of Chapter One—for the wind to change, so that she could change the world.

Legends specifically featuring Jane are probably the best reference point for why the legends are important: even though they haven’t really “happened,” and even though Jane remakes herself a little for most of them, they’re the lion’s share of her life experience (as herself) to date. They’re also the clearest indicator of what she’s thinking about.

A list of Jane legends in Chapter One includes:
Two Great Tastes Scanning Things Stomping The Awa Classifying Things Jane’s Father
You won’t get much out of Dumping Glue on a Log, Avoiding the Use of Exclamation Points, and Static right now. That will change.

If there’s more you want to add, feel free to post it in comments, either now or over the course of the next chapter!

Timeline

Jane holds Broderick up. “Broderick never tells me that he is right. He never tells me that he is wiser, or smarter, or better, or knows more. He never tells me he’s doing the right thing. But sometimes he is.”
— The Girl and the Rat

Third Kingdom
 
1715 BCE  Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed.
Lia and Amiel are spared.
Maya turns into a pillar of salt.
1315 BCE  Tantalus begins his quest to learn the secrets of the gods.
1290 BCE  Pelops woos Hippodamia.
1223 BCE  Spring  Thyestes considers redeeming his line, then rejects the notion.
1212 BCE  Aegisthus becomes a monster.
Cyane, a nymph, becomes Magic A.
Pelopia plans to become Evasive A.

Best-laid plans of mice gang aft agley; possible implications regarding human project management.
— Broderick summarizes Thyestes (III/IV)

Third Tyranny
 
703 BCE  Ella becomes the first hero of Lia’s line.
586 BCE  Kingdom of Judah falls. Earliest possible date for the Mylitta/monster confrontation.
538 BCE  Babylon falls. Latest possible date for the Mylitta/monster confrontation.

Jesus-loving mice display successful integration of church, state, cheese.
— Broderick summarizes The Interpretation of Spam

Fourth Kingdom
 
715 CE  Sabin weds a Princess

Rat-run airline creates pre-boarding security maze.
— Broderick summarizes In a World Rapidly Turning to Cards

Fourth Tyranny
 
1925 CE  Vicious Lily is created to advance the cause of Impressionism.
1973 CE  Jenna and Sebastien live in a cedar house.
1974 CE  January The Pandora Squad begins stocking the tunnels.
Jenna hears about the monster for the first time.
April Jenna dies, revives, and goes to live in the tunnels.
1975 CE  Karen succumbs to woglies.
The monster pulls Mei Ming from the shadow’s womb.
1976 CE  Daniel deals with Mr. Banks and Ms. Bell
1980 CE  Midyear Alan is born.
1981 CE  December Jenna meets Ninja Tathagata and Dukkha.
Ninja Tathagata leaves behind a forest.
1983 CE  Winter The spiders in the tunnels go hungry.
1989 CE  Winter Bob meets the wogly.
The firewood world is born.
1997 CE  Martin visits Mei Ming.
1999+ CE  Erin becomes Forbidden A
2001 CE  Martin meets the monster.
2004 CE  January The shadow eats Mr. P.’s arms.
April 3 Martin’s letter reaches the monster.
April 17  Tainted John begins his one-year pact.
April 18  Micah surrenders.
Note to Readers

Feel free to post comments now and over the next chapter suggesting items you’d like included in the next publication of this timeline.

Rats demonstrate a perfect Marxist state.
— Broderick summarizes The Problem with Elves

Bob (III/IV)

It’s 1989. It’s cold. It’s almost winter. The grass is dying. The air is sharp and black. Bob is out on the balcony. He looks down at the city. He sees a wogly.

The wogly has the deepest, bluest skin and two winky eyes. It’s shaped like a torus. Inside the wogly it’s empty.

Bob’s never seen a wogly before. He hops up onto the balcony railing. He walks out across the sky. He stands, silhouetted against the stars. He cups his hand under the wogly and holds it up close to his eyes. He listens to it hiss.

“What are you?” he says.

It rotates. “I am a wogly,” it says. “I am devouring the integrity of the world.”

“Ah,” says Bob. He attempts to crush the wogly. It squishes but it does not crush. He grasps the wogly in both hands. His thumbs enter the emptiness inside. They turn cold, and begin to die. He attempts to snap the wogly. It does not snap. He retracts his hands and shakes them.

After a moment, Bob says, “I’d rather you didn’t.”

The wogly rotates again. “Blame the river for its flooding. Blame the thunder for resounding. Blame someone for being born. But you cannot blame a wogly.”

Bob frowns. He grasps the wogly close against his heart. He wraps his coat around it. He walks back through the sky to his home. He knocks on the window of his sister’s room. She answers, opening it wide.

“It’s almost time for dinner,” she says.

“Jane,” he says, “are you happy?”

He sees her smile.

“This world,” he says. “You like it?”

She chews on her lip. “So-so,” she says. “It’s kind of cold.”

Bob smiles. He finds direction. “Then I suppose that we must save it.”

The girl frowns a little. “It’s almost time for dinner,” she says, didactically. “We can’t be late for dinner. Mom won’t like it.”

“It’s a long time off,” he says. “Let’s build a world out of firewood.”

She makes a face. Then she ponders. “There is rather a lot of firewood,” she says.

He looks at her. His heart is growing chill. He sets that concern aside. He gives her his best smile. It catches on her face like a fire, and she smiles back. “That’d be fun.”

She invites him in; and they gather up the wood; and he takes her hand, and they walk into the sky. In the starlight, there’s a nimbus around her, like a flame. “This is your element,” he says. “This is where you should be. Here. You’re beautiful, here.”

She laughs. “Silly.”

In the sky, under the moon, they lay down the firewood. They build a world. It’s five hundred miles long and ten miles deep. It has lots of firewood animals and firewood cities and firewood people.

The girl starts. “Mom’s calling,” she says. “We have to go back.”

Bob hesitates. “Go without me,” he says.

“Nuh-uh!” She shakes her head vigorously. “It has to be both of us.”

“I’ll just be a minute?”

The girl hesitates, then nods. She skips down through the sky; and as she falls into the shadow of the world, the nimbus fades.

Bob takes out the wogly. He sets it down. “Eat this world,” he says.

The wogly considers. It rotates once, twice, thrice. “I’m a wogly,” it says. “I eat whatever world I happen to be next to. But when I’ve eaten all this world’s integrity, you’ll be sorry!”

Bob departs. He knocks on his sister’s window. She opens it.

“We shouldn’t have used all the firewood,” she says wryly. “Mom’s ticked. No dinner for us.”

Bob frowns. “That’s not fair,” he says.

The girl’s eyes meet his. A firelight flickers deep inside them. It wobbles. It moves like a drunk dog on a short leash. It’s sick.

“It’s just dinner,” she says.

Bob hesitates, a long moment, because it’s not. “We’re both her children,” he says. His voice is curiously tentative. “That’s okay, right?”

She sits down on the bed. Then she curls her arms around her legs. She shakes. He moves to touch her, to sit by her, to say something, but she gestures fiercely with her chin and he does not.

“No,” she says. “No. No. No. You’re not.”

A muscle in Bob’s cheek twitches. “I have to be,” he says. “I’m your brother. That’s how the world works.”

She looks up. “Are you real?” she says.

He checks. He is. There are ways and means of knowing such things.

“Yes,” he answers.

She takes his hand. She drags him out the window. She does not fall. They walk through the sky back to the firewood world.

“Here,” she says. “We’ll live here. And we’ll be terrible beasts, and they’ll all tremble before us. All the firewood people. We’ll have seven hundred teeth. We’ll have five hundred claws. We’ll have LAW rockets. And I’ll have the fire around me, and you’ll be my brother, and we’ll be safe.”

He doesn’t tell her about the wogly. He just builds. He creates. He gives integrity to the world. He works, very hard, for a very long time.

Then comes the axe: first for the wogly, and then for Bob.

Scanning Things

Jane walks past a bird. “Hi, bird!” she says.

Jane scans the bird. It has two wings. It is covered in feathers. It has two feet. It stands on its feet. It has a beak. It uses its beak for biting things. It can also sing.

“I’ve learned some important things about birds!” Jane says, and walks on.

Jane sees the sun. “Hi, sun!” she says.

Jane scans the sun. It’s very big, but also very far away. It’s made of fire. Four horses pull it around the sky. The horses are made of fire. They tried ice horses once, but they melted! It wasn’t the smartest idea. The horses wear sunglasses. That’s because of the glare. If you pulled the sun, you’d wear sunglasses too!

“I’ve learned some important things about the sun,” says Jane, “but that really seemed to be more about the horses. I find that disappointing and I will write a letter of complaint.”

Jane giggles. She’s not going to write a letter of complaint! She likes scanning things!

Jane walks by a siggort. “Hi, siggort!” she says.

Jane walks on. Then she blinks. “Wait!” she says. “I better scan the siggort!”

Jane scans the siggort. It has two wings. It is covered in feathers. Its stomach is roly-poly. It has two long legs. It has a wheel of knives. It’s innocently vivisecting passersby and leaving their corpses for investigators to discover. It has a long yellow beak. It uses its beak for smiling. It can also sing.

“I’ve learned some important things about siggorts!” Jane says. “I wonder if I should report it to Animal Control.”

Jane thinks hard. “No,” she decides. “It’s vivisecting people innocently. That must mean it’s okay. If it were a serious problem, then I would have scanned it as vivisecting people guiltily.”

Very good, Jane! It’s important to apply logic to the situations in our lives.

Jane passes a wogly. “Hi, wogly!”

The siggort incident wised Jane up! She doesn’t dilly-dally—she scans the wogly! Who knows what it’s up to now?

The wogly has pale blue skin and two winky eyes. It’s shaped like a torus. Woglies say “hiss!” Inside the wogly it’s empty. Integrity leaks out of the universe into the wogly. It’s not eating moral integrity—it’s eating the integrity things have that make them the way they are. It’s a serious problem, but someone else will deal with it.

“Wow!” Jane says. “I think that’s the first time I’ve learned about woglies!” She takes a piece of paper out of her pocket and writes WOGLY on it. It’s important to keep track of the events in our lives! Then she folds the paper up and puts it away again.

“The wogly is scary,” she says, “but someone else will deal with it.” She walks on.

Jane passes Martin. “Hi, Martin!”

Jane walks on. Then she blinks. “Wait!” she says. “I better scan Martin!”

Martin has two legs and two arms. He also has a face. He is not Bob. He’s slouching against the wall. Jane should give him her My Little Tao doll.

“Hey!” says Jane. “You’re messing with my scanner!”

“It’s still a source of absolute universal truth, even if I can change what it says,” Martin points out.

Jane frowns. She can’t argue with that! “It’s rude to push people,” Jane says, “but you’re a special case.”

He is, you know. PUSH!

The Truth

While waiting for dinner, Jane and Bob made a world out of firewood. It was five hundred miles wide and ten miles deep. It had lots of firewood animals and firewood cities and firewood people.

“Jane! Bob!” said their mother. “Look what you’ve done! How are we going to burn our firewood now?”

“But Mom!” said Jane. “We were bored!”

“You are very bad little children, ” said their Mom, and sent them to bed without supper.

Jane and Bob were very angry. So they snuck out to the world they had made and became monsters. Each had seven hundred teeth and five hundred claws! They also had LAW rockets.

That’s why firewood is so afraid of people. It’s not because you might burn it. It’s because you might turn out to be Jane or Bob!

Silly firewood. Jane and Bob aren’t real! They’re just a story somebody made up.