Ink Ascending (XVI/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Sometimes when things seem darkest a flying carpet will come and swoop you off and carry you to the answer to all your pains.

In the lands of Romance you will battle ogres and dragons.

You will find bottles containing the secret hearts of djinn.

Dashing princes will bend their head to look at you, their eyes gleaming with that ancient light of Romance.

They will say: “I see you have come here.”

. . . but no.

That is not right.

The carpet—that seems right.

But not the rest.

The girl is surfacing to consciousness and something is not right. The Prince is not standing over her. That is someone else. He is not saying, “I see you have come here.”

He is saying something else.

The girl focuses her eyes.

It is Minister Jof.

It is Minister Jof, and not the Prince.

He has said, if anything, “I consider you to blame.”

She shakes her head, just a little. She turns her head. It hurts to do this, but she turns her head.

Is that the Prince?

It is Riffle. He is washing his hands.

And there:

Dr. Sarous, glum and sour. Not even speaking.

And there:

The general of the stickbugs. He is approaching. He is lowering his mouth towards the foot of the girl. Dr. Sarous bats at him and he skulks away.

It is distinctly not the lands of Romance.

If anything, it is the murky land of Dismal.

Still, the girl sits up. She makes a game try of it. “How marvelous,” she says. “You, Dr. Sarous; have you been treating our wounds?”

Dr. Sarous’ mouth remains a line.

“Minister Jof, Riffle, you followed me?”

They look away.

The girl makes a face. “Really,” she says, “when one rides a flying carpet to the answer to one’s pains, one is supposed to smile.”

“This?” says Riffle.

His voice cracks.

Something is wrong. No, she knew that. Something is wronger.

She turns.

Behind her there is a chasm, and from that chasm rises a great stone pillar, and bound to that pillar there is a man—

No, a creature like a man—

He is sealed against the stone with molten brass and molten iron. They bubble with great heat. He is sealed into the stone, and the nerves and veins of him run uninterrupted into the rock. Marked in a great circle around him are the symbols of the seasons, and the zodiac, and of time. His flesh in places gaps to show bones and organs beneath.

He is Cronos.

His eyes are open.

They can see the specks of his left iris and the light on his left pupil. They can see the agony in it.

His right eye is burnt ruin.

He is the crust of the world. He is the mechanism of time.

He is aware of them.

He winks.

“Oh, don’t,” says the girl.

His face crinkles, just a bit, around his pain.

“Oh, no,” she says.

It is not words. It is simply an implication in his expression. But it is there all the same.

I see you have come here.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

“This is what I experienced in delirium,” says Minister Jof. “A shadow came. It flicked by. It caught me up. Then I was here, with Dr. Sarous extracting the splinter from my eye.”

“For me,” says Dr. Sarous, “it is essentially the same. There was a confusion of stickbugs; I caught the general’s lapel and fell.”

“I am done with this,” says Riffle.

He looks dissatisfied.

“Enough with the business of saviors and killing God. I propose we push the girl over the edge, thus putting the throne of the world in our debt; we then retire to Sarous’ kingdom, where he shall appoint me his high executor and allow you minor appointments in his administration. In exchange, I will advise Sarous as to how to live with the knowledge of his corruption; all of us see profit.”

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, although everybody calls her the imago. It’s short for imagoro, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She’s staring at the face of the titan in the pillar.

“Is this how it begins?” she asks.

Riffle looks at her.

“Is this the first moment of our history?” she asks.

“Hardly,” says Riffle.

But Ink turns on him and she is burning with the power of the interpretation of ended things and her voice cuts across all his thoughts and she says, “Cronos was laying on the sand.”

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Cronos was laying on the sand.

To what end, time?

The stickbug general is a mean and dirty creature. His heart is small and rotten. Time is the vehicle for his resentment: a field in which he may experience things that are not gorging on child flesh, not stickbug sex, not hiding against a tree.

Time is a vehicle for pain and for hunger and for fear without satiety.

There is a heat that washes off the girl as she says these words and it drives the stickbug general flinching back. But this does not quench the stickbug’s determination. If anything it affirms it. Things are too uncomfortable. The girl must die.

Cronos was young. He was young. He was so very young. He was tired. He did not know who he was.

He was a castaway on the shore of the world.

He lay there and he did not move.

The sun was very hot.

It began to burn him.

When his skin turned red he made a strangled sound and rose to his feet and he staggered off to find a cave.

To what end, time?

Time is a vast reach filled with disorder. Time is the vehicle for Riffle’s discontent: again and again it slews him from his purpose. It drives him to the end of narrow aims and imbues his broader projects with a sense of dim futility. It is littered with elements he cannot incorporate into his closed designs.

As the girl speaks Riffle becomes aware of a deep and timeless agony. It is not hers, nor his, nor Cronos’, but the agony of Ge.

He cannot solve it.

He cannot even begin to solve it.

He cannot ignore it, either; and so, in that moment, imagoro, he hates Ink Catherly with a burning passion.

All around him rose the deep voice of the earth.

“My child,” said the earth. “Gotten of a sinful father.”

Cronos put his hands upon the rock.

It was wet. It was hard. It was rough.

“I have a mother,” he said.

Joy rose from his stomach to burn through him. “I have a mother, I have a father, I am a child of the heavens and the earth.”

To what end, time?

For Dr. Sarous time was once a playground: an opportunity to make all things well. But the more deeply he studied the world the more things he found that were not well. The more he bent his fallible eye to scrutiny, the more it seemed that the world was a fractal made out of errors built on errors, noise stacking on noise, with virtue nothing more than an emergent pattern on the whole. In the end, his dream unraveled; time seized his prize from him, and his pride.

It hurts him, to hear the joy in Cronos’ voice.

The world is sick, he thinks. Where is its shame?

“Be not proud to be Uri’s son,” said the earth. “For he first thought of shameful things, and cut away the wrongness from the world.”

A question lies hard on Cronos’ mind, but it is not a question that the earth can answer.

“What is the proper manner of my shape?” Cronos asks. “Ought I be tall or short? Have I three legs or two?”

“Hide yourself,” said the earth, “between the sea, the sky, and the land, and wait for darkness, and I will show you how your father has injured me.”

Though confused, still Cronos obeyed.

He shaped himself into a thing that could make webs and he spun a web between the sea, the land, and the sky. He hung there, waiting, trying to decide how many legs a titan has.

The sun left the sky.

The world grew dark.

The web trembled and shrank. The vault of the stars came down and pressed close upon the world. Cronos shivered in the dark.

To what end, time?

Time is a vehicle for evolution. That is why Minister Jof fears it.

He loves evolution. It is his work. But he fears it. To change— to grow—

He is Minister Jof.

Where could he go?

He does not allow himself to imagine that he is fallible; that he is imperfect; that there is an upwards arc. And those times when he does—when it slips through into his heart that we are unfinished, mean, imperfect creatures, and Minister Jof no different—are exactly the times when he cannot imagine any means of becoming better.

He can feel change coming. It echoes in the words of the history of the girl.

He shutters his heart. He focuses on his judgments and his spite.

He turns away.

The clouds lit with pink and scarlet fires. The earth ground open and in it were pools of darkness and green and coldest indigo. The sky rubbed against the earth and fires slipped from it into the depths and danced upon the waters there. The wind blew. It came down off the hills and it roared across the plains. It chilled the peaks of the mountains and bent the trees of the forest. Stars fell and lost their fire. The chasms under the world ignited. The world and sky strained against one another and the sky grew damper and the air began to taste of rain.

As the sky coupled with the earth, the earth said, “For whom have you made this world, o my love?”

And the sky said, “For Oceanus; and Tethys; and Hyperion; and Theia; and Coeus; and Phoebe; and Cronos; and Rhea; and the birds; and the trees; and the insects; and the flowers; and the naiads; and the oceanids; and the teeth gnomes; and the antelope; and the burrowing things; and the climbing things;” and he went on in just this vein for quite some time.

And as he said these things the earth sighed, “Ah,” for these things were precious to her.

But in the later hours of the night it grew halting and slow, that recitation of the sky. “And for the platypus;” he said, and he thought, and he sought for words, “and the sandpipers; and the dogs—“

And there he had run out.

And fire blazes everywhere throughout the world and Cronos said, “. . . but what of Ophion?”

And the earth trembled and Cronos understood a thing, and he said, “. . . but what of Ophion? But what of siggorts? But what of woglies? But what of all the exiled things? But what of these?”

And his question made no impact on the sky, which only spun, and gave him a ruffling about the head, and said, “Do not love ye evil, child.”

And then the sky withdrew behind the curtains of the dawn.

And Cronos thought of Ophion, and the siggorts, and the woglies: o my loves.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

In the end they are too small.

In the end they are hopeless and dismal, all of them.

But dharma moves.

Ink is stepping back. She can tell what moves in the wicked hearts that face her: one to three murderers, and one to three who will not help. She is stepping back towards the chasm. She has no idea how she will survive a screaming plummet into unknown depths but she has fallen from high places a fair amount recently and is starting to trust her ability to improvise. She suspects that it is less of a danger than her four companions, but:

“You know what the coolest thing ever is?” she asks.

The general of the stickbugs shakes his head.

It’s not actually negation.

He’s just breaking the spell of her words.

“People,” Ink says.

And she grins at them, flush with an echo of Cronos’ joy, as Minister Jof looks away; as Dr. Sarous and Riffle exchange dark glances; as the general of the stickbugs scuttles towards her with murderous intent.

Freaks, the lot of you, thinks Ink Catherly; o my loves.

And then there is the miracle.

She steps back.

Behind her, dharma moves. The titan’s hands stretch forth. He catches her. And in that motion they see it. They see it in the motion, all four of them. They see the motivation for time.

They see the purpose for the crust of the world.

He holds at bay the price of our imperfections, and behind them our happy endings; he bears the immeasurable weight of all these things.

Time is Cronos, standing there in the crust of the world, bearing his impossible burden, so that before our histories and our stories end in bright perfection, we that are imperfect have the opportunity to grow.

Though people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

It is the terrible truth of Heaven and Earth that the Elysian Fields await us all—

Well, except for the woglies, and the siggorts, I suppose—

That the Elysian Fields await us all. That we are accepted as we are by the actual and the ideal, and bent by destiny towards an inexorable fate of bliss for ever. And that it is only by the sleight of Cronos and his work that we may have a chance, before the end, to make ourselves worthy of that ending.

That he does it for them no less than any other: for Riffle, and the stickbug general, and Dr. Sarous, and Minister Jof.

Thus we say, however rare that it might be that purpose changes, or life evolves: dharma moves.

For just a moment, as he lifts Ink from that place, four of the five who remain behind recognize those great and horrible truths.

As for the fifth, it is over already.

Jacob’s carpet releases its hold upon its fate and falls: flutter, flutter, flutter, down through the storm below.

As performed in the Gibbelins’ Tower on October 20, 2005, in remembrance of Ink.

  • But we’re not quite done. Tune in TOMORROW for the unbelievable epilogue:
    THE BEGINNING.
    Then the letters column! Then back to Sid and Max—and let’s see if we can’t finish up The Island of the Centipede this November!

That Even the Least of These May Know Joy (XV/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

It is two minutes to midnight on June 2, 2004.

The ziggurat of Dr. Sarous has fallen. The dust is clearing. The crowd, that has been full of screaming and disparate urges, settles.

There is limited time.

Riffle scrambles up the ruins of the ziggurat.

He cries, in a great voice, “They have ascended!”

He must unify these people now, he thinks. He must turn their focus to him.

“The imago and the doctor have ascended,” he shouts, “to hunt down God and purge from him his moral decay—“

It is sickening, the sudden realization that he has miscalculated. Not the people. Not the situation. Not the ziggurat beneath his feet.

The paramedics—

The hounds of Sarous’ kingdom, the hunters who brought the degenerate in, the body for whom Sarous’ campaign against immorality was a game of power and not a holy quest—

He had not even considered that they might have guns.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Earlier, earlier, earlier.

So Cronos came down. He looked at a pool of water in the deeps that swelled with the fire given by the sky. And in that pool the earth strained to make a nymph, so that the water rippled and splashed; but between the pulses of that labor, the water stilled, and for the first time Cronos saw his own face.

“I am rugged in the nose,” he said, “and wild in the eyes, and angry at the fate of the unworthy things that are bound below.”

“It is so,” said the earth.

“I am their avenger,” Cronos said. “I am Cronos.”

“Then come deeper,” said the earth.

The earth called a gathering of titans. Cronos walked deep into the world. And the hollowness of Ge called out to them through all the chambers of her, “If you will obey me, we will answer this vile outrage of your father, and return the siggorts and the woglies to the land.”

The room grew chill with fear.

“But to strike at our father,” Rhea said, “is not correct.”

The attention of the earth turned to Rhea. It looked into her. It said: “Have you fallen, Rhea, into your father’s sin?”

“We may not oppose him,” said Rhea. “He would jerk the chains that bind us and we would dance away into great pain. We have no voice in the world of our father. We have no mechanism for defiance. And if we should crack the sky— oh, mother, if we should crack the sky—“

And here her voice was near to breaking.

“What then?”

“Castrate him,” said the earth, with calm brutality. “Sever from him that quality that I need to engender life. Then what will it matter if the sky has broken or Heaven knows no sway?”

Rhea, horrified, shook her head.

“It is not correct,” said Oceanos.

He was a man of water. His shape washed about. At times he would fill the cavern with water and with salt and then recede into his form. The words of him were water too.

“You fear this too?” asked Ge.

“If it is not correct,” said Oceanos, in his washing voice, “then it will not happen. How may I implement an action that will not happen? The concept is a nonpareil of futility.”

“We are all bound by Necessity,” said Coeus. “In all this world only our father the heavens is free.”

“He will cast us out as unworthy,” said Hyperion.

“There is no hope,” Oceanos confirmed.

The cave was very dark.

“Mother,” Cronos said, “do you ask us this in vain? Do you ask for the impossible and the incorrect?”

But the words fell in emptiness into the chasms of the world.

They left no ripples and the silence pulled at Cronos’ heart.

It tugged forth words from him: “I will do this deed.”

Joy rose in the earth. The earth rejoiced. The chasms of her resounded with song, such that all across the world there rose an alleluia. And the deer turned their heads to listen and the hummingbirds paused in flight and the worms that ground inevitably through the soil shivered with that song and even the sky took note and joy in it for that the world was pleased.

And to the woglies and the siggorts in their hell Ge said:

“My children!

My children, o my loves!”

But they did not hear.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is two minutes after midnight on June 3, 2004.

A piece of stone has stuck itself through Minister Jof’s eye.

He is shivering.

He is sweating.

He does not know whether to try to attract the attention of a nurse or orderly or paramedic or surgeon. He wants to, but a sense of foreboding fills him. It occurs to him that the combination in one discipline of medicine and moral governance threatens the integrity of them both.

He is terrified but he is not in as much pain as he would have expected.

Perhaps that is the shock. Perhaps it is the peculiarly airy composition of the stone. He does not know.

He arches his back in a great shudder and goes still.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

It is three hours after midnight on June 3, 2004.

A confusion of stickbugs swarms down.

They stand at the edge of the path.

They are tall. They are thin. They are horrible, marvelous, and strange.

They look down over the edge at where the girl has fallen.

They are not even paying attention to Dr. Sarous. They would let him pass in peace; save for momentum, which is not so kind.

“Hey,” says Dr. Sarous.

He is slipping.

There is a confusion of stickbugs and he is slipping.

“Hey,” he says.

Then he is grasping the general of the stickbugs in what would be the most marvelous act of courage if it were intentional; he is grasping the general, and he is swinging him out over the edge, and they fall.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: The earth took Cronos away from his brothers and his sisters to a secret place.

There the rock swelled with the fire of the sky and birthed grey flint in the shape of a sickle, and the sickle’s head spanned the space between two mountains, and it whispered, “I will cut. Take me to your hand and I will cut. Take me to your hand, o my love.”

And Cronos stared up at it and said, “So vast.”

“Then be vaster,” said the earth.

So Cronos made himself into a giant and he stood at the boundary of the whole world and the sea and he looked down and he saw that it was good. The surf crashed against his feet and the sky brushed against his shoulders and the great mountain-spanning sickle fit neatly in his hand.

And the sky felt a tickle of foreboding.

“What do you there?” asked the voice. “For I had not thought you capable of planning evil, o my son.”

But Cronos lifted his right foot from the land and stood between the ocean and the sky, his weight outside the boundaries of the world, and he said, “I am not doing anything.”

There are no deeds beyond the boundaries of the world; so this was so.

And Cronos made himself a space between the worlds and crafted himself a guard of horn to be the sickle’s hilt and waited there for the sky to descend upon the earth.

That night the sky sank low upon the world and murmured words of love and fires sparked everywhere across the grass.

And the sickle whispered to Cronos the secret of its magic and Cronos understood.

He stepped into the world and sound.

That even the least of these may know joy: for even the woglies and the siggorts in their Hell, and for all the rest of a bad lot besides: for even the great evils, and the little horrors, and the twisted failed dreamers like Riffle, like Dr. Sarous, like Minister Jof: he stepped into the world.

In Uri’s Kingdom, nothing happened that was not appropriate. This was the law.

Cronos said, “To serve a corrupt regime is not correct.

And he

And people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

And he ripped the sky with the sickle; and the genitals of his father fell into the sea; and from this act, and in due season, rose the anakim, the erinyes, the incandoi, and the melomids.

Ink and Anarchy (X/XVI)

[Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

“You have the signs of moral degeneracy,” says the doctor of the deeps. “The wounded hand; the lightly wounded throat; you carry a small parcel; your hair is dark. You have avowed the intention to kill God. Let us call it stepladder syndrome.

This term is patterned after the pattern of the marks.

“You deny it,” says the doctor. “Thus, we add to your diagnosis acute hyperrachia.

He stands, face uplifted.

He is bathed in the cold blue light of phosphorescent worms.

The pathological perception that one is well. The manifestation through symptoms and their alleviation of a false state of wellness. If a patient presents this disorder, they are confused. They affect wholesome, healthy innocence through the psychosomatic imprint of their syndrome. This is an innocence that they do not possess. Orient them: they will deceive you. Restrain them: they will fight you. Medicate them: they will conspire, much as those in the grip of senility or paranoia, to reject the medications. Yet the hyperrachic immoral are not well.”

The girl stands before him. She is fifteen years old and her eyes have the look of a wild creature’s.

“Do you understand,” the doctor asks her, “why I say you are not well?”

“‘Cause I get wogly burps,” says the girl.

He looks at her.

His expression suggests the word: Eh?

So the girl works her diaphragm for a moment. Then she burps. It’s one of those deliberate burps that you only do when you’re alone or on a doctor’s ziggurat or you want to be rude. She chews for a minute, then she spits out a wogly.

“Like that.”

He doesn’t know whether to write this up for the journals or to bleed her for defiance. He’s totally nonplussed. That’s how unexpected a wogly burp can be!

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: “Save for Cronos, and the woglies, and the siggorts, I suppose.”

That’s . . . it cuts in there.

Something for everyone, said Rhea, something, something, something, save for Cronos, and the woglies, and the siggorts, she supposed.

He lay with her that night, Cronos with Rhea, and in the course of seasons she bore him a daughter.

This was earlier than the last history. Maybe about 12 pesserids before the end of the Second Kingdom. She lay with him and she bore him a daughter. And most fathers would have been happy, because, you know, perfect adorable daughter, but Cronos wasn’t one of that kind.

“I will make this world into a torture chamber,” Cronos said.

“Gii-whii!” answered Hestia, as he held her in his arms.

She wriggled her toes and hiccupped and guarded with her power the hearths and houses of the world.

“Listen,” Cronos said.

He looked up at the stars.

“This world is bound to forms,” he said. “To concepts. To the ideal. But I have made the work of my life the severing of that bond.”

Hestia’s face grew very still and intent.

“I had forgotten it,” he said. “But still, it is my work. And there is only one way that it may be done: I must make the forms abhorrent to themselves. I must make the edifice of right and wrong and tradition and form and even structured thought a crime.”

The world revolved around him, as it does, when one sits upon the throne of all the world.

Rhea’s face grew very pale.

“Cronos—” she said.

The teeth of Cronos set on his daughter’s arm. He bit it off. He chewed. He swallowed.

Hestia wailed, thinly. Her blood fell upon the earth.

“Shh,” Cronos said.

He put his finger to her lips. He looked at Rhea.

“The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny,” Cronos said, “and there is no answer to it within the structures of the world.”

The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny.

He opened his hand, and there was a wogly in it, and I took it. This is one of the few interactions that we are allowed between history and the now: the taking of woglies. I took the wogly from him, because Dr. Sarous was going to kill me if I did not, and I chewed on it and I sucked away a bit of blood, and then I burped and spit it out.

Cronos didn’t even seem surprised.

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everybody calls her the imago. It’s the name of her website, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She’s standing there in a white straightjacket and the holes along its arms gape in the darkness like little mouths. There’s two orderlies holding her still. They stand behind her, and to either side, gripping the blunted ends of the straightjacket’s arms.

In front of her there’s an altar with a blackened trench for blood.

On the other side of it there is Sarous, the doctor of the deeps.

The wind is rushing past them. They are high above the cavern ground. They are on a ziggurat built of great stone slabs. Beneath them mills the crowd.

“What the Hell?” says Sarous.

“They’re all through my diagnostic criteria,” Ink lies sadly. “They’re rendering dubious and undefined the very concept of my health.”

She coughs in a fashion that seems sickly but under closer scrutiny reveals itself to be a profound flaw in medical science.

“Undefined,” says Sarous. His voice is flat.

“In this world,” says Ink, “there are only three healthy things. To recognize that one is imperfect, and to seek perfection. To recognize that hope is not lost, and to embrace it. And finally to normalize one’s condition, blinding oneself to all the ways in which one is already perfect or in which there is no hope. But thanks to these woglies I can’t tell if I recognize my own imperfection or not, much less the ways in which I’m already perfect. It’s just too difficult!”

She kicks the wogly.

It hisses.

Dr. Sarous has a horrified look.

“It’s terrible,” lies Ink. “The closer you are to finding out how healthy I am, the more your results vary. They hooked me up to the ultimate diagnostic catheter and it exploded! The diagnostic focus of a doctor’s mind intrudes on me—snap! It hooks straight into madness. It’s why nobody will treat me any more, even if I make my sad pathetic ‘I have wogly burps’ face.”

Ink demonstrates.

The wogly, irritably, begins to eat the integrity of Dr. Sarous’ ziggurat.

The clouds of Dr. Sarous’ nonplussedness coalesce into anger and move towards icy confidence. Ink opens her mouth to say something and interrupt the process but a wave of dizziness shakes her mind. Perhaps it’s the tightness of the straightjacket or an infection in her wounded hand.

By the time her world clears it is too late.

“Argumentative hyperrachia,” dismisses Dr. Sarous. He picks up the wogly. He hides it in his palm. “It is not sound.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

“I’m just being helpful,” says Ink.

“You might think so,” Dr. Sarous says. He jerks his head. It is a signal. The orderlies push Ink forward to lay across the altar. “But you’re not.”

“I could have hurt you,” Ink says. “But I didn’t want to.”

Dr. Sarous palpates her back.

“I think the organ of your failings is here,” he says.

“That’s the kidney, sir,” an orderly says.

“Slightly to the left.”

“Ah.”

“I still don’t want to,” Ink says.

“That’s the hyperrachia talking, my dear.”

“I could have said, ‘You have Melissa’s disease.'”

Dr. Sarous goes still.

“Because it’s contagious,” Ink says. “She said.”

Dr. Sarous does not move. He stares at the imago’s back.

“Sir?” the orderly says.

“It’s probably in the same general category as stepladder syndrome,” Ink says.

“How do you know about her?” Dr. Sarous asks.

“You inherited her backpack, probably,” Ink says. “So you’ve got a small parcel. And your hair is dark.”

Dr. Sarous holds up his palm.

“But my hand is fine,” he says.

“Is it?”

There’s no wogly in his palm. Not any more. There’s a red mark bitten into it where the sign of moral degeneracy would go.

  • Tune in TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, or maybe THURSDAY for the next exciting installment:
    INK ASCENDING
  • Special bonus! Updated through Chapter 2, but not yet converted to WordPress: the timeline.
  • And, since I’ll forget myself if I don’t tell you: pesserid (pesз:rid) – pre-temporal unit measuring the escalating {pitch, intensity, fervor} of a situation; related to basirat and pessos.

The Treason of Minister Jof (VII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

In Sarous’ kingdom it is always gay: the atmosphere is one of conviviality and festival. Streamers hang between the great stone buildings. The lamps writhe with glowworm-given light.

Minister Jof is drunk, or, rather, let us say, considering his station, “in quite good cheer.”

His hat sits askew upon his head.

A streamer winds around him, caught on his long nails.

“The only problem,” he confides to the barkeep. He leans forward. He’s whispering. “The only problem in this whole great happy ending is a niggling moral unease.”

The barkeep polishes a mug.

He used to be a mole, this particular barkeep. He used to be a mole. But he grew up, here in the crust of the world, and now he is a man.

This barkeep has evolved, and now may speak on moral issues.

“You might want to get that looked at,” he suggests.

“What?”

“Ain’t no need to have moral unease in Sarous’ kingdom,” says the barkeep. He gestures with his nose to the shops across the street. “Sawbones there’ll fix it all up, if’n there’s a qualm.”

Minister Jof looks.

There’s a sign. It’s hanging from the sawbones’ shop. It says, “Jimmy Q, the Sawbones, Physicker and Qualmer. I can make your problems disappear!”

“I love this kingdom,” Minister Jof exclaims.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Minister Jof brushes in past the dangling beads of the door and Jimmy Q looks up.

“Moral or physical?” he asks.

Minister Jof hesitates. He looks a bit aback. He harrumphs.

“Right, then,” says Jimmy Q, as if Minister Jof had answered.

He’s a slate of a man, is Jimmy Q, born right from the rock, and he’s still got a sharp bit of stone for one hand. His other hand, though, it’s as dextrous as you please, with long graceful fingers, pale and smooth. He pulls down a breath mask from a shelf and puts it on and he walks up interestedly to Minister Jof.

“Worm?” says Jimmy Q.

“Pardon?”

“I mean, before. Before you grew in moral stature. You were a sniveling little worm, right?”

Minister Jof’s lips thin.

“I don’t see—“

Jimmy Q grins with his even grey teeth. “Don’t nevermind that. Just getting my bearings on your physiology. What’s on your mind?”

He taps Minister Jof’s knee but isn’t surprised when it doesn’t kick. He takes Minister Jof’s pulses—a man’s got six pulses, down here in the weary kingdoms beneath the world, and Jimmy Q knows how to take them all. He looks at Minister Jof’s tongue.

“It’s eh moragh calm,” Jof explains around the tongue depressor.

“Oh?”

“There was this girl,” says Minister Jof. “This very devil of a girl. I couldn’t keep up with the things I’d been doing once I met her. Everything got all shaken up— are you, I mean, you’re not going to cut me, are you?”

He’s just noticed the bottles of preserved organs along the wall, and in particular, the one labeled, “Treachery.”

“Not for a qualm,” Jimmy Q says. “We don’t have to cut people to get out a moral qualm, here in Sarous’ kingdom. Best damn moral medicine in the world, here. Why, anywhere else I’d have M.D. after my name and not a Q; not that I’m complaining.”

“Ah.”

Minister Jof is a bit fidgety.

“I don’t know much about this moral medicine at all,” Minister Jof admits.

“There’s nothing like it in all the world!” declares Jimmy Q. “Why, this is the only place in all the world and sound where a man can feel guaranteed of getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night in a state of total moral confidence. Braces you something fierce, morality does. And if you don’t spit it out, my friend,” he says, and he’s turning towards his vials and his decanters, “I can certainly use an emetic.”

“I told the nurses she was going to kill God,” says Minister Jof in one long burst of sentencing. “I told the nurses she was going to kill God or at least ‘whomever’s sitting on the throne of all this world.’ That she was a destroyer. And they paid me for it!”

“Nurses,” mutters Jimmy Q.

He looks fiercely at Jof.

“Were you lying?”

“Well—” says Minister Jof. Slowly, his dignity gathers around him. “Well, no.”

“Really?”

Minister Jof nods.

Jimmy Q laughs. “Kill God, eh? And you’re feeling guilty about turning her in?”

“They said they were taking her to the ziggurat to be bled,” says Minister Jof.

The sawbones is still laughing. He’s sorting through his pills but he’s laughing, these chuckles that come and go, and Minister Jof flushes.

“Laughter is the best medicine,” he says, “but not when you are doing it to the patient.”

Jimmy Q tosses Jof a conscience pill.

“Boy,” he says, in complete disregard for the Minister’s station, “if they’re taking her up the ziggurat, then she’s in an advanced state of moral decay. Riddled with degeneracy! Now, you can’t honestly think that someone in that condition wouldn’t have betrayed you, can you?”

Minister Jof stares.

“Gulp it down,” Jimmy Q says.

So Minister Jof puts the pill to his mouth. He swallows. He continues to stare.

Slowly, the burden lightens from his heart. Slowly, it sinks in.

“Of course she would’ve,” he says.

He’s smiling.

“You’re a good qualmer,” he says.

Then he glares.

“You’re laughing again.”

“You cut a man open,” says Jimmy Q, “and rip the malign nerves right from his chest, and people say, ‘you old sawbones! That’s nothing much.’ But give a man a pill and a few good words, and he’s all ‘damn fine! Good God, that’s fine qualming!’ Here! Here in Sarous’ kingdom! Here where there’s the best medicine for morality in all the world!”

Minister Jof feels obscurely guilty.

“Well, it’s not like I’d want the malign nerves ripped out of my chest,” he says. “I mean, I’m a Minister.

It’s a tactical error, he realizes. It’s the kind of thing he wouldn’t have said, were he not in such good cheer.

He licks his lips.

“Not that I have any,” he says.

But Jimmy Q doesn’t seem to have noticed his error. The sawbones is lost in his own salugubrious thoughts.

“It’s the cuttin’ that I like,” admits Jimmy Q, not like he doubts the rectitude of Minister Jof, but more like it’s a tragedy.

  • The histories of Ink Catherly continue TOMORROW, with:
    THE GOLDEN AGE

Ink Interrupted (III/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

Once upon a time a worm had a thought.

I make my own dark judgments.

Coiling in the crust of the world, hating the dark and the soil and itself and all the other worms, it had that thought.

It fell like a hammer upon the walnut of its brain.

It was shattering. It was terrible. It split the darkness into light. The world shook. The world shone.

The cold still darkness of its mind split into great whirling clouds suffused with thought. It was a pain, it was an agony, but the worm knew it as a joy.

Such was the birth of Minister Jof.

The worm rose and took on the form of a man.

He assumed the ten refinements and the thirty-two virtues.

He dressed himself in Minister’s black.

All these things arose from the transformative power of that thought; and ever since, he has run from that thought, like a wolf from the lightning, like a cat from the spray bottle, like a worm from the shattering power that split the walnut of its brain.

In a certain place, and in a certain time, and to reward a girl for the miracle of her existence, he picks a worm and he crushes it with his heel.

It is dross.

It is a failure.

It will never evolve.

“But it had an arm,” the girl protests.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

A chill passes through the gathered ranks of all the worms. Those that have been writhing go still; those that have been still begin, uncomfortably, to writhe.

“—there,” says Minister Jof.

He twists his foot.

“You may carry forth its karma as your reward for having hands.”

The girl tries to figure out where everything went wrong.

She’s told him that her name is Ink Catherly. That’s usually step one and it doesn’t get anything killed. She’s told him that everybody calls her the imago, which is step two. But then—

Oh!

“Everyone calls me the imago,” she says. “Because—“

Minister Jof gestures peremptorily.

“What?”

“That is not a proper name for a girl,” he says.

“What?”

“‘The imago.’ Consider: it proudly proclaims your evolution, yet clings to the nature you held to before. It is like naming yourself ‘Book II’ or ‘No Longer An Idiot’. Are you still what you were, or are you something new? Pick one or the other. Do not wobble uselessly between them!”

“Agh! Iiyegh!” shrieks the girl, and clasps her head.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: This bit’s from a little earlier, I think.

It was the end of the Titanomachy. Cronos stood alone and bereft of all his allies and his strength. Zeus made judgment on his father.

“It has come to my attention,” said the lord of all the gods, “that you carry on your back the price of imperfection. That if you should let it lay, then things shall end forever and forever and we shall all know our happy ending and be done.”

“Will you be taking up this burden, then, yourself, milord?”

Zeus made a horrible face. Really, it was impressive. The world rang with the iiyegh! of it.

“It is my judgment, rather,” said the lord of all the gods, “that you shall wear it forever.”

And Cronos laughed.

It was a horrible laugh. It was a funny laugh. It was the kind of laugh that a man laughs after his son cuts him open, throws a thunderbolt at him, casts him off the throne of the world, and now wants to sentence him to carry an impossibly heavy weight forever and ever.

“I can’t possibly do that,” Cronos said.

“Why not?”

“If I were strong enough to carry it forever,” said Cronos, “then I would not feel the pain of it now.”

“Heh,” said Zeus.

And he sank Cronos’ body into the substance of the world and he poured molten brass and iron over his father’s legs and arms and chest to bind him to the crust with chains that would never break. He marked the space around his father with the symbols of the seasons and lay him down below the world to keep his intemperate and loving mother far at bay. He set his judgment upon the man who had wielded first the sickle of grey flint and he called this torture Time.

Ink is fretting. She’s flailing like Sailor Moon caught in the middle of her transformation sequence, only, you know, not naked, and inside her skin it isn’t all pinky rainbows.

“Everybodycallsmetheimagobecause—“

But Minister Jof has already waved her away.

“Go,” he says, cutting over her words. “I won’t have anything to do with worms once they’ve evolved.”

“But I wasn’t a worm,” protests Ink. “I was a fictional character.”

Minister Jof smiles.

“Oh, darling child,” he says. “You must not accept as gospel the experiences you had in those times before you were yourself. By definition they are garbled. If we could understand them, if we could really understand them, we would have been ourselves already.”

“I was an investigation of the nature of the self,” Ink Catherly protests weakly.

“Naturally,” says Minister Jof. “Now, scat.”

“Damn it!” says Ink.

Ink stomps her foot. There is a squish.

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago.

‘Cause small and dirty things have the power to evolve, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

  • Tune in next week for the next thrilling installment in the series that August forgot:
    RIFFLE! (BEING THE HISTORY OF INK CATHERLY AND THE RAT)

Ink Asymmetric (II/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

It is the peculiar character of the kingdoms in the crust of the world that the creepy crawly things evolve.

Worms, and rats, and even fish:

In the darkness, nurtured in its womb, they grow.

It is the opinion of Mung, in his classic Symmetric Ontology, that this represents one half of a cycle in continuous equilibrium. Reasons Mung, “For centuries we scholars have doubted our own existence on the grounds of its statistical improbability. Why should we be present at the historical accident of transition? One by one the lesser creatures shall grow great. Yet so many of these crawling things remain! The chances of our existence in this defining age of fervent growth seem unworthy of consideration: yet here we are.

“I suggest,” writes Mung, “that all things that exist are necessary, or at least highly probable. The universe must be such that the chances of our standing here today are meaningfully great. Thus I propose a harmony of purpose between the surface and the crust.

“Here, in the womb of time, the worms and rats and stickbugs will grow great. We will begin as filthy things. We will become as people, then as saints, then finally as God.

“Rising to the surface, we will cry, ‘Here am I!’

“‘Here am I, the lord of all this earth!’

“The sun’s rays will fall upon us. They will give us Vitamin D but they will destroy us. On the surface of the world things will grow corrupt. Things will devolve. God will become as a saint, then as a person, then as a filthy thing. From Heaven we will wriggle our way back down into the earth, into the womb of time, wherein once more we may begin to grow.”

Hail to the scholar! In the arms of such advice we may proceed with certainty in all the matters of the world.

Into the cavern of Minister Jof there comes a girl.

She is ill-favored, in the eyes of Minister Jof, but still remarkable for all the things she has achieved. Two hands, with fingers. Legs and feet. Hair. A cantankerous tendency towards being wrong, the most definite indicator of humanity, and grubby blue overalls designed by Sears.

“Can you tell me how to get to the surface?” she asks.

And Minister Jof snorts.

Kindly, he says, “It is too soon.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

The girl squats down. She holds out a finger for the worms to sniff, forgetting, as many people do, that worms have no sense of smell.

One of the worms bumps her with its head.

“It’s too soon?”

There is a strange and squelchy feeling in Minister Jof’s heart. His dharma, that has been stiff and dry like left-out bread, begins to move.

“You have come quite far,” he says.

It is her presence, he thinks, that works this change in him. His first success. His first real witness of the power of the world to bring forth change.

To begin as a worm and gain the attributes of humanity: so marvelous! So profound!

Evolution is the first miracle and the last.

So he is kind.

“You have come quite far,” he says. “But consider this. On the surface, there is the sun. It is a giant ball of fire. In its presence you would catch fire and burn. Your hair would ignite like ten thousand torches. Your clothes would flame. Your eyes would look up at the sun and they would melt and boil and run down your cheeks like lava. Thereupon you would cry, ‘If only I had listened to Minister Jof! Truly, he was my friend.’

“And there is more,” adds the Minister. “On the surface, you would devolve. We have that with certainty from Mung. Your fragile humanity, beset by the corruption of that place, would fade. You would turn into a corpse, at best, and at worst ten thousand worms, and wriggle blindly back into the earth.”

“I hadn’t considered that,” says the girl.

“Here is my advice,” says Minister Jof. “If you must test the surface, first nurture yourself here until you have at least twice as many limbs and twice the brain capacity. Then it is reasonable to ascend, and look upon the surface for a time.”

“But I already have twice as many limbs,” says the girl. “If I doubled them again, I’d have eight!”

“We are people of the soil,” ripostes Minister Jof. “The surface has nothing to offer us but death.”

“And vitamin D.”

“Death,” says Minister Jof, “and vitamin D.”

The girl looks down.

“Still,” says Minister Jof. “I must congratulate you that you have come this far.”

The girl smiles a little.

“Pick a worm,” says Minister Jof. “Any worm. I will crush it in celebration of your victory.”

The girl looks up. Her eyes are round.

“I can crush worms on my own,” protests the girl. “Also, I don’t want to crush a worm that could become a person!”

“‘Two competing arguments strangle one another,'” quotes Minister Jof.

The girl runs her hand through her hair.

She thinks.

“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “But everybody calls me the imago—“

Minister Jof has set his eye on a worm. He points.

“That one.”

It’s a worm with a little bit of an arm growing out of it.

“What?”

“Look at how small and deformed its arm is,” says Minister Jof.

Ink focuses her eyes. She sees its arm. Her jaw drops.

“Wow,” Ink says.

“Exactly,” says Minister Jof.

“A prime example,” says Minister Jof, “of a failure to grow.

“It mocks me,” says Minister Jof, “with that stunted, withered limb.”

Ink utters a clipped word:

“What?”

But his foot descends.

  • The ten refinements of Minister Jof! The man named ‘No Longer an Idiot!’ Ink remains dressed, and Cronos dons clothes of brass! Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    DOOM COMES TO US ALL. (or whatever it winds up getting called.)

  • And here’s a special bonus! Some notes on the geography of Hitherby Dragons may be found here.

Ink Immeasurable (I/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

Previous histories of Ink Catherly:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

In the weary kingdoms beneath the world there is no sun and there is no moon. The rivers run chuckling and dark. The bugs thrive everywhere. In every direction they stick forth their legs. Some surfaces are barren and dry. Thick slime covers the rest.

Dharma moves.

From the worms there rises Minister Jof. From nothing, he becomes.

The passion of his birth torments him. He casts about for purpose. He sees the other worms. They are wrapped in shells of blindness and self-contemplation.

He smiles.

He conceives his purpose.

He shatters the shells around their minds. He awakens them. He affixes them with little tags on which he records the details of their lives and teaches them the language of the world.

“From this lofty height,” come his brass-bound words, “I will train you to have selves.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

“To enable your becoming,” says Minister Jof, “we must have measures.”

The worms look at him.

“We divide the substance of the world into the tellurean and the empyrean,” lectures Minister Jof. “Good rises. Dross descends. In this fashion we transform the bitterest truths into a pure and noble substance. One in three of you—“

Here he pauses. He contemplates.

He nods.

“One in three, I have decided this, shall be the dross. The rest may ascend further towards humanity. Now order yourselves on your present achievements, least to best.”

They seethe in the chaos of the nematodes.

“You hesitate,” says Jof. “And naturally so. You are prey to the limits of your purpose and your vision. Your minds are small and given to the weaker sentiments. That is why you must rely upon my judgment and disregard your own. That is why I am obligated by our natures to sever you into parts.”

His choice of words distresses them.

They writhe.

But severing us, they seem to say, will only make more of us to cull!

“Impudence!” roars Minister Jof.

He stomps his foot.

Salt sifts down from the ceiling.

The worms go still.

Into the room, drawn by the noise, there staggers a girl. She’s a teenager, really, covered in clods of dirt from where she shimmied through a thin crack into the crust of the earth. She’s carrying a backpack several years too young for her.

“Hello?” she says.

Minister Jof’s eyes fall on her.

“See?” he says.

It is his natural assumption that she has evolved, under his ministrations, from a worm and into human form.

“Hands,” he says. “Feet. A thinking brain—“

Here he hesitates. He coughs. He is unwilling to immediately extend this judgment to another being.

“—or at least one capable of mimicking the higher functions of our thoughts. Look, you, worms! Here is what I expect you to become!”

The worms turn. It is the strangest thing. They turn. They look at the girl. They do not look with their eyes as they have no eyes. They look at her with their grayish circle-marked heads.

Bloody hell, they seem to think. Bloody hell!

There goes the curve.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: In the darkness Cronos strove.

His task was back-breaking. Heavier than Atlas’ burden was the storm beneath the world. Yet Cronos strove, alone and helpless to do otherwise, while his father laughed and his son reigned over the world.

One day when it seemed to Cronos that his strength would finally give out, Demeter came down to join Cronos in the darkness. She made a sacred ritual of shushing, going, shh! and hush! though Zeus, of course, could choose to know.

She studied him for a while. Then, at her bidding, the roots of the plants came down through all the darkness and wove into the crust to lighten Cronos’ burden.

Later Poseidon chose to hold back the weight of the storm with all the pressure of the seas.

Hades, too, and Hestia, and Hera, and even Ophion. Ophion came to coil upon his chest and softly drip its venom in his eye, and Cronos smiled, and Cronos smiled, and he cried out through his cracked dry lips his joy: o my love.

One day as Cronos struggled Zeus spoke to him in dreams. Zeus said, “Why do you choose this destiny, o father?”

And Cronos said: “Dharma moves.”

“Hee,” laughed cloud-shouldered Zeus, king of all the gods.

Dharma moves.

“My name is Ink—” says the girl.

“I am Jof, Minister to the Evolution of the Worms,” interrupts Jof. “I am humble; ‘Your Eminence’ will suffice.”

The girl blinks at him.

‘Your Eminence’ will suffice, mimes one of the worms; or, perhaps, it just wriggles.

The girl laughs.

The room goes still.

Dross, thinks Minister Jof, with a sudden, overwhelming passion. Frivolous, unregenerate dross! Here is a worm that shall not see human form.

His foot lifts up. He stomps. It writhes.

“You see how it is,” he explains to the other worms, “for those too lazy or incompetent to strive.”

And to drive the point home, he leans down. He peers at its tag through his magnifying glass. He studies its performance number. “A 12—“

He pauses.

How very awkward it is,

That 12,

In the weary kingdoms far beneath the world.

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    INK UNTANNABLE!

The False Enlightenment (II/III)

The problem with Meredith exploding is that she gets everywhere. She turns into water and foam and salt as she explodes. There is even a cute little octopus. These pieces are vigorously distributed all over, so that the monster’s shiny tie gleams with water and the red Persian rug is all salty and the octopus is over there being cute and drying out on the hard concrete floor.

Meredith evaporates slowly over time and gets into the ventilation and then the sky.

Meredith leaks out over time and gets into the ground.

The remnants of her run in rivulets down to the sea.

People say that when you die you return to the universe. The lie of independent existence cessates; the impulses that make the self do not dissolve but rather retreat to their primordial forms as part of the larger world.

So it is with Meredith.

She is not a god of the sky but there is Meredith in the sky.

She is not a god of the ground but she is there in the ground with the vegetables and the worms.

She spreads up into the fruits.

**

The monster is making a sandwich. The sandwich is on whole wheat bread. He puts tuna on one side, from the can. He spreads the other with mustard. He puts a leaf of lettuce on it. Then he is discontent.

“It needs tomato,” he says.

So he goes to the garden patch outside Tina’s house and he selects from among the fruits.

“Don’t eat me,” says the Meredith in the tomato.

The monster hesitates, wary, as he always is, of suddenly finding himself in a moral fable.

“Are you a magic tomato?” he asks.

“I am a magic tomato,” Meredith confirms. “I don’t want to be eaten.”

“Of course not,” says the monster.

He takes hold of the tomato. With a twist of his wrist he pulls it off the plant. He says, “But it’s your own fault, you see.”

“It isn’t!” protests Meredith as he carries the tomato into the house.

“It’s because you’re in denial regarding your own nature as a tomato,” says the monster, “that this upsets you. It is because you have chosen to conceive yourself in a fashion that denies the flavor of your meat. That’s the only reason we’re even having this discussion—because of the essential dishonesty in you that levies minimization against the flesh.”

He touches his hand to his forehead. He has been working on Jenna for some time and he is tired.

“Here,” he says.

And Meredith catches her reflection in the tie and she sees in it the nature of tomatoes: the ripeness, the redness, the moisture. That she is a thing that may be consumed.

It dissolves the boundaries of her world; and, following that, he cuts a slice from her.

There is no pain, because tomatoes have no nerves and also have no brain.

But there is an ambiguous sense of loss and dysfunction.

The monster tastes the slice.

He frowns.

His stomach makes an unhappy noise.

He goes still.

“What?” asks the tomato.

“You are salty and you taste unaccountably of octopus,” says the monster. “You are a salty octopusy tomato and you aren’t edible at all.”

“Oh,” says Meredith.

He tosses her into the garbage.

There in the dark the tomato thinks, “I have suffered a false enlightenment.”

“It’s funny,” Jane says, sometimes, “that we named the lens Necessity.

“Why?”

“Well, it shows the monster in it.”

“He’s not invisible to Necessity,” Martin says. “He’s just not part of it.”

Articulation: “The Nymph”

To articulate the good—this ambition drove the founders of the Cult of the Worm.

The source of the moral order has provoked philosophical debate for millennia and will continue to do so for millennia more. Accordant to this are debates on what is good and what is not. Such matters did not interest the founders of the Cult.

Their interest lay in the substance of good; the qualities it possessed; its location, its nature, its composition. Their study was quintessentially semantic.

Unfortunately these men and women who pursued this work were damned.

Students of an absolute philosophy must therefore regard the conclusions of the Cult as flawed. To a God-fearing person, as a matter of transparent fact, those blinded to the Lord cannot see the good. Whatever virtue or vice they witnessed in the eddying bulk and power of the worm must articulate only the perversion of the Cult. To pursue a moral philosophy in such a state is like studying one’s own closed eyelids and declaring, “Look, I see the world.”

But where exactly is their flaw?

Where did they deviate from the truth?

It is unanswerable; it is a mystery; and so it is cold comfort with the coming of the worm.

In the principality Steadfast, in Calandra’s time, the word for “fruit” and the word for “have sex” were the same—scham. In practice, when one spoke of scham, confusion was rare. Unless one verbed the fruit or nouned the action, the grammar of the word protected most people from unexpected delicacies. In some short sentences or contexts the meaning doubled; this was a popular subject for low comedy. Even here malapropisms were rare; to more clearly articulate a desire for sex one could say “body scham (body fruit).” To more clearly specify fruit, one could say “harvested scham (harvested sex).” If one were indifferent between the options, of course, desirious of either fruit or intimacy but without a strong preference, the unmodified “scham” sufficed.

Calandra has conceived the notion of killing Sapphire’s great-grandson, Aton-Re, and bringing an end to the Sapphire tribe. This will revenge her for the death of her family.

She does not begin immediately.

Even after the Tribe has taught her everything she needs to know, even after she has left their care, Calandra procrastinates.

Calandra fights the great mud-beast that threatens Steadfast. It breaks her sword and nearly kills her. Then in a secret grotto she finds an ancient virus and uses it to corrupt the insane nanomachines that give the beast its life.

It dies.

Calandra drives the Sapphire Tribe from the western lands. She duels the man Zachary who’d kicked her at her parents’ farm, breaking his arms and impaling him on the rib of a dead behemoth. She uses the shielding device of the Silver Temple to melt the guns of the end and sends the leaders of the Sapphire Tribe staggering away in defeat.

People call her a god of death.

Calandra’s companion for a time is a smolderingly attractive man named Remus. His charm fades when he betrays her and drugs her and sells her to the gladiator pits beneath Firstland. She struggles her way to freedom and drives a double-handed knife into the heart of Firstland’s King.

Nor does Remus escape.

Calandra roams the savage world, a hero and a killer, telling herself that she is practicing the skills of battle, but it is not so.

She is stalling in her purpose because at night she dreams sweet things—such sweet and unforgivable things!—of Aton-Re.

But procrastination ends.

In the snow-covered hills by Northon she finds a man named Stefan who is dying of the worm. He is host to the tiny lethal parasites that are the worm’s precursors.

He is naked. He is feverish. He is in agony on the snow.

Calandra blanches. The mark on her forehead stings. She says, “Aton-Re is summoning it back.”

Stefan mewls.

Calandra draws a thin sword of the old metal. She cuts off Stefan’s head. She is hoping to save him future pain, but the infestation has come too far for that.

Stefan’s head lives on in pain until she burns it.

Calandra’s heart grows hard. She stares off to the south and east. Then she sets out for the land of the Sapphire Tribe.

Calandra’s target is Aton-Re. Her strategy is succinct and practical. She ignores the defenses of the Sapphire Tribe. When someone questions her identity or purpose, she kills them. If there are witnesses, she kills those too. If they have steel, she kills them with her sword. If they have guns, she slaughters them in stealth. If they have the weapons of the end, she induces a misfire using the shielding device of the Silver Temple. They become pyrotechnic for her pleasure.

Thus, without notable incident, she makes her way to the public chamber of Aton-Re. Before her, a horde of killers and acolytes stand. Beyond them, in purple robes, and on a wooden throne, sits Aton-Re.

The Sapphire Tribe draws steel, but Aton-Re holds up a hand.

“Let her pass,” he says.

The acolytes and killers move aside.

Quietly, Calandra walks towards the throne.

“I have dreamed of you,” says Aton-Re.

His eyes are amazing.

“Dreams are a weakness,” Calandra says.

“I would love you,” says Aton-Re, “and from that love take a child; and with the death of that child, I would open the gateway to the worm.”

It is tempting in ways she had not imagined anything could be.

Calandra stops before his throne.

Aton-Re rises. He steps forward. He reaches out, confident.

This is the culmination of dreams and destiny. The knowledge of it exalts her. Her heart is fluttering. She cannot look away from his eyes. But she ignores his hand, because she is also Calandra.

“I’m thinking,” she says.

Aton-Re is briefly angry. Then he releases that anger. His face grows gentle. “You are beautiful,” he says.

Calandra thinks.

She forms a compromise of two desires. She says, “I would love you; and from that love take a child; and then I would kill you and everyone here who does not acknowledge that child as their lord.”

Miracles most often happen in strange and poignant manners, so Aton-Re is not entirely surprised.

“Well, then,” he says. “On the first two steps we are in accord.”

He takes her hand. He draws her into his chambers.

For ten months after their love is a thing of fire; and on occasion, as they lay in happiness afterwards, one asks the other,

“Perhaps, could you consider leaving our child to live?”

And Aton-Re withdraws somewhat and grow distant in his thoughts.

Or,

“Perhaps, when our child is born, could you leave me and mine to live?”

And Calandra’s warm body grows still and she steps in her mind through the paces of the sword katas that she practices each day.

Slowly, their love becomes awkward and more rare with the largeness of her. Finally she is chained down in the birthing chamber with seven midwives and twenty guards in attendance. She gives birth. Two guards take the wailing child from her and offer it to Aton-Re before his throne.

“Bring me the knife,” he says.

And the priests bring him a knife.

“Now,” he says.

His child coos. But Aton-Re does not relent. He raises up the sacrificial blade.

There is a commotion in the back of the room. Calandra is there, scarcely dressed, with broken chains on her arms and legs and the blood of midwives and guards fresh upon her.

“Aton-Re,” she rasps, “we are not done.”

A thousand acolytes and killers move between her and the throne, seven with old weapons and the rest with new. More than eight hundred die when Calandra invokes the shielding device of the Silver Temple and the old weapons burst and shrapnel and spurt flames.

Calandra moves among those who still stand and she begins to kill.

They fight: oh, they fight, but five and six of its members at a time, the Sapphire Tribe dies. Calandra is relentless and Calandra is remorseless and Calandra no longer has any reason whatsoever to hold back.

While she fights, Aton-Re attends to the business of their child.

She does not watch. She simply hopes that when she finishes with the obstacles her child will have life remaining.

Then there is a noise, and the Sapphire Tribe casts themselves prostrate. The gate is open. The air is full of light. The floor at Aton-Re’s feet is covered in baby’s blood.

Calandra looks up with a snap towards Aton-Re.

“I have won,” he says simply.

Her eyes are like the abyss. With a sound halfway between terror and remorse, he drops the corpse of their child and draws his sword.

“Calandra—” he starts to say; and then she kills him and sends the pieces of him to each side and she howls as she kills and that howl carries the rage from her to the corners of the world.

She stands there, then, limp. She is frozen. She is empty. She has shrieked out all her pain.

Mechanically, she turns. She looks at her child. She waits.

“I will kill the worm,” she says. “Or I will die.”

But it is not the worm that rises from the gate Aton-Re has made. It is a pattern of pink and purple light. In that radiance, Calandra recognizes shapes she thinks are wings, and hands, and soft and gentle eyes.

And with a terrible grief Calandra says, “You are not the worm.”

It will be called the nymph of sighs, or the builder. It grows to encompass the world, and where the light of it falls there is brightness and there is calm.

Calandra stands before the greatness of its core. She is trembling.

“Why aren’t you the worm?” she rasps.

“I am that principle that was articulated in the worm,” it says. “I am that timeless word that has been spoken as savior, worm, and spirit.”

And so it ends.

There came from that day a time of great joy and healing upon the Earth. There came for a time the pleasantness of love—full and unflinching, granted by the timeless word onto the world. There came a time when there was no child born that was not wrapped in the wings of the nymph, with that solace and that recourse from the cradle to the grave.

And such is the nature of the language of that time that we cannot say if the nymph would claim the worm. We cannot say whether the worm was a true articulation or a false one: only that that yearning for the good at one time had the worm as answer, and another time the nymph; only that the thing Aton-Re reached for was a thing that Aton-Re could not comprehend.

And were worm and nymph God, or were they mortal things?

Was it the Eloah of the hierarchy who came to us in such great forms, or were they flesh?

It is a mystery. We cannot know.

Articulation: “Calandra”

In the madness of Aton-Re he called out to God. He said: set a new order on this world. Bring us a new covenant.

In his dreams he walked in windy places.

He saw a shape that was not a shape. He heard sounds that were not sounds and dwelled in light that was not light.

Slowly Aton-Re comprehended that he looked upon something larger than the world. He heard strange noises: like the clicking of locusts, like the crackling of fire, like the searing of flesh, like great brass trumpets.

He said: God articulates his name in so many ways because I cannot understand any of them. He is like the parent speaking to a child of death, saying, “It is sleep. It is going away. It is stillness. It is cold,” when it is not.

All these sounds and lights and changes, concluded Aton-Re, were a hundred groping attempts by the world to show Aton-Re a thing that Aton-Re could not comprehend.

The shape beyond them was ineffable.

And Aton-Re said: a man goes to sleep in darkness, and rises in the dawn. With such disparate acts and choices does he articulate a single will. Though my vision is not what others have seen before, no less shall I articulate the will of God.

Then his dreams fell into darkness. He saw the shape of God no more. Instead he saw the twining of worms and the sequencing of DNA and endless lines of code, and, every night and with white heat, a vision of Calandra, whom Aton-Re would love.

Certain Firstland visionaries spoke from time to time of “the pink mist,” by which phrase they referenced the descent of enlightenment from Heaven to the philosophers and Princes of that place. This color meant to them an enlightenment too subtle to be red: the pink of the dawn, of the aurora, of blood diluted by water and by soap. The pink mist was a sacred vision and much beloved by the depictional artists of the time.

In the remains of Foreston it was not so. Pink mists, or pinkies, referred to the nematodes they used to turn their soil—despised and filthy for their resemblance to the worm. The term had all manner of unpleasant connotations; it featured frequently in ribald poems and certain raucous songs. This prompted a certain belligerence towards Foreston in Firstland, which eventually culminated in Foreston’s annexation and the taking of its people as sacrifices and as slaves.

Calandra is born to civilized folk. She’s raised as a farmer, with her brothers and her sisters and her parents and a handful of stockbeasts. She loves her life and she doesn’t really get that there’s anything more to the world than a handful of farms and the little town nearby where the blacksmith lives.

Then the Sapphire Tribe comes.

Twenty-two of them walk the hills outside her farm. She sees them coming. She calls out to everyone. But when her family rushes out to see what’s going on, her father dies. Her mother dies. Her siblings start falling over dead.

One of her brothers falls on her, and she topples under him—she’s not very big—and then, unable to scream because he’s heavy and she’s scared, she just lays there.

The people of the Tribe come down the hill.

“Think there are more of them?” one guy asks.

She can see him. He’s got stubble and he’s only got one hand. He’s carrying a revolver of lumpy metal that, as it happens, he made himself.

“Doesn’t matter,” says another. His name is Zachary. She’ll kill him later. “Em’?”

Em’s the leader. She’s the one with a real weapon—one of the guns from the end, that just kills whomever she wants it to.

“Take what you need. Kill anyone who jumps out at you from hiding. There’s enough food here to get us to Sixdock.”

There’s a dissonant outrage in Calandra now. It’s burning in her.

She squeaks, from under her brother, “I’m still alive.”

There’s a slight pause.

Em’ squats down. She rolls Calandra’s brother Edward off of Calandra. She stares at the girl, who has now fallen silent again.

“Is that a problem?” Em’ asks.

Calandra doesn’t even breathe. She’s horrified that she spoke at all. Then Zachary kicks her. She coughs. She casts a frightened glance sideways, catches his expectant eyes, and realizes he’s demanding that she answer Em’; so Calandra says, “You’re acting like I’m not. Alive.”

“She’s calling you out, Em’,” laughs Zachary. “Think you can take her?”

“I bring the end of everything,” says Em’. “I bring the tide that will drown humanity and the sword that will kill it and the fire that will destroy this world forever.”

“Oh,” says Calandra.

Em’ licks her finger. She sketches a mark on Calandra’s forehead with it. The mark turns red like meat. It burns like a brand.

“Those that live, shall serve my purpose.”

Then she strikes Calandra on the head, shoves her in the barn, and locks the door.

The lock holds for seven hours before it breaks.

There is a strange fever that takes Calandra. It is not all physical. It is principally grief and rage and hate. For weeks it lasts, while the Sapphire Tribe murders Sixdock and seizes the Silver Temple as its own. She is broken, nonfunctional, drifting through the farm like a tormented ghost while that fever consumes her.

At night she dreams of Aton-Re.

Then one day she sets out east, to the lands of the Sapphire Tribe. She is very thin and somewhat older when she gets there. She is ragged and almost unrecognizable. But the mark burns on her forehead and the men who find her treat her well.

They teach her murder. They teach her ruthlessness. They teach her destruction.

They do not ask her what she will do with these skills. She finds it funny that they do not ask. They simply assume that she will join them, that she will take her place as one of the acolytes or warriors of the Sapphire Tribe. When in her rage she wounds her instructors this is seen as a sign of a prodigy. When she screams at Maton-E, the man who instructs her in the faith, when she descends into mad howling at the cruelty of it, he does not flinch.

“It is difficult to understand the worm,” he says.

He gestures towards the sky.

“We are adrift in a world greater than anything we can know,” he says. “We are small. We are pitiful. We are pawns. But we may seek the good.”

“How is it good?” she demands.

“Why is anything good?” he responds.

She sputters at him.

“We did not find the worm,” he says, “through ‘how’s and ‘why’s. We cast our eyes in the direction of good. We looked towards those things we find good—pleasure, family, peace, honor, love. Then we looked beyond them. In the immeasurable distance down that line we drew towards goodness we saw the twisting, heaving bulk that is the worm. You ask me how, but I can only say ‘where’: it is the virtuous beyond. It is because the world is hollow that we do not understand.”

“I will kill you,” she says.

“Me?”

“All of you,” she says. “All of your Tribe, and Aton-Re. I will leave you as corpses for the worms to eat.”

Maton-E looks up at the sky.

“You dream at night—”

Calandra flushes brightly. She turns her head away. “That is not relevant,” she says.

“Ah,” says Maton-E. “You deny it.”

Calandra grits her teeth. Then, slowly, she relaxes.

“My dreams are my dreams,” she says. “My path is my path.”

“Your path is hard,” he says.

And she is sobbing; and he holds her; and the moon is bright. This is the beginning of Calandra’s procrastination, for she does not kill the Sapphire Tribe that night.

Articulation will conclude tomorrow or Wednesday.